Monday, January 19, 2015
One of the many unfair things about the world is the relatively short life span of a dog. The average time man's best friend gets on this earth is 12 years. I'm not asking for 75 years, like a human, but 12? C'mon, God! For as much joy as they bring us, and as much joy as they get out of being here, dogs get a raw deal when it comes to life expectancy.
My dog, Lucy, passed away this weekend. She lived to be 15, so I guess I'll take that. She beat the average. But I would have liked another 15 with her.
She had been extremely healthy for most of her life, but in November she tore the ligaments in her left knee. I worried about surgery on a dog that old, and my vet advised me to wait a few weeks to see if she would adapt to the injury while we managed the pain with meds. By mid-January, amazingly, she was almost back to normal. We were taking our daily walks, she was doing everything she normally did around the house (with the exception of going up and down stairs). Life was, for the most part, regular again.
Just as I thought we had gotten past the knee injury something hit us out of left field: seizures. The first one happened early last Wednesday morning. In her bed, which is right next to mine, she started groaning. When I turned on the light, she was stretched out and shaking. She had wet her bed, too. Then she sat there, seemingly in shock. The next morning, there was another one—it happened in my arms, as I was carrying her down the stairs (like I had each morning since her injury). The next day, I took her to the vet.
Lucy was an Australian Cattle Dog (known as a Heeler in these parts). They are a smart, robust breed. They are almost never sick, but because they are so active and don’t know how to slow down, they are prone to injury. Lucy was always on the go, physically and mentally. Some dogs sleep all day, but Lucy seemed to abhor sleep. Instead, she relished being on guard at all times, watching over me and her home. She wanted to be around me at all times. When I would leave the house, she’d look at me as if to say “Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re about to betray me by leaving again!” Then, like all dogs, when I would come home she acted as if it was the single greatest thing to ever happen to any dog—and she reacted this way all 10,235 times I walked though the front door.
The last thing Lucy ever wanted to do was run away from home. I could leave the front door open for a week and she wouldn’t even think about fleeing. Once, my neighbor was keeping her for me because I was going to be gone all day. While in my neighbor’s back yard, Lucy dug under the fence, escaped down the alley, turned the corner, came back up the street, walked to my house, and sat on the front step until I came home. How many dogs would do that?
Lucy was a runner. Not a distance runner, but a sprinter. In her younger years, I must have heard “that’s the fastest dog I’ve ever seen” at least a thousand times as I was playing fetch with her at the park. One year at work we held the “Ticket’s Fastest Dog” contest on the track at Lone Star Park. Lucy won. What made Lucy’s victory even more impressive was the fact that upon hearing the starting gun she turned and started licking the face of the girl who was holding her, giving the other dogs a big head start, which she soon closed down. That was her first and last official race, so she retired undefeated, 1-0.
I probably should have entered her in some of those agility contests, although I worried about her having too much athletic success too soon and it ruining her, like Michelle Wei. Not only did she have great speed, but she could cut on a dime, a la Barry Sanders, and she had a vertical of about six feet. She was also a swimmer—I took her to Galveston a lot, where I’d throw a tennis ball as far out into the water as I could, and she’d retrieve it, diving over and under the breakers to get to it. She could do that all day.
Something happened one day which showed me that Lucy always had my back—literally—and it’s one of my best memories of her. We drove to her favorite place, the park. I opened the car door and she jumped out, as always, and started running around and sniffing things. I leaned into the car to get her ball out of the backseat. When I turned back around to face the park, there was a giant Rottweiler standing right in front of me. He seemed friendly enough, but before I could process what he wanted, Lucy came out of nowhere, at warp speed, and got between me and the Rottweiler—then went for the neck of the Rottweiler to drive him back and away from me. The Rottweiler, who probably weighed 100 pounds to Lucy’s 40, turned and ran away. Job done, she came back over to me and stood guard to make sure nobody else messed with her owner. I always felt safe with Lucy around.
Lucy was a rescue dog. Friends of mine had found her as a puppy, in the rain, on Skillman, at night, with no collar or chip. They couldn’t keep her, and since I had just moved into my first house, and had a yard, and loved dogs, I decided to take her. I would like to think I gave her a good life. I was home from work most days late morning, so we spent afternoons and evenings together. She ate well. She had a soft place to sit in every room. She got to run at the park or go for walks every day. She played in the ocean and hiked in the mountains. I think it was good ride.
Because of her age, I should have been more prepared for the end. I wasn’t. I had convinced myself that Lucy was so healthy that she would live to be 18, maybe 20, especially since she had adapted so well to her knee injury. But, in reality, she was dealing with not only a bad knee, but arthritis in her spine, failing vision and hearing, and, in the end, something that was lurking in her system that finally manifested in seizures. Ultimately, it was just too much, even for a tough, resilient old girl like her.
Watching her demise over the last five days was awful. This best friend of mine, who had always been so alert and full of energy, was suddenly struggling to do everything. It’s one of the things about being human or animal that really sucks: having a will to live, but having a body that disagrees. Sometimes the will to live wins a battle here and there, but ultimately, the failing body always wins the war.
Lucy spent her last weekend at home. Her health was going south in a hurry. The seizures were taking their toll. On Sunday, I had to make the difficult decision to put her down. An owner is caught in that terrible middle of wanting to wait long enough to see if the pet will improve, but not waiting so long as to prolong the pet's agony. I hope I got it right, for her sake.
I was able to spend the last 36 hours of her life by her side. I rarely got more than an arm's length from her. I didn't shower, I ordered delivery meals, and I slept next to her. We had one last weekend together to say our goodbyes. Her vet, Manny, graciously made a house call on Sunday evening to put her to sleep. She went quietly and peacefully, and in her own bed in her own home. Her final few hours were hard to watch, but at least I was with her, my hand never leaving her soft black and grey coat.
I was by her side when she took her final breath. I didn't think I'd be able to handle that moment, but I'm really glad I was with her. There was a beauty to seeing her misery brought to an end.
I’m going to miss her incredibly. She was my constant companion for 15 years. She never got mad at me, never ran away, never disappointed me. She was a loyal, wonderful dog. I will probably never have children, so Lucy was the closest thing to a child that I will ever know. I loved her completely. I cried a lot over the weekend, and more today as I came home from work for the first time to a house with no Lucy. As I walk around and see the places where she used to sit, sleep, eat, and greet, I find myself longing to see her come into the room one last time.
In her final days, I held her and petted her as much as I could. After a seizure, I would spoon her to comfort her. She always had my back, and I hope she knew that I always had hers, too—right to the end.