Fly Free My Furry Friend

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Today my mind is on a different sort of free flying.  This isn’t the kind that requires airline miles, boarding passes, security screenings, and seat assignments.  This is the kind that allows an old soul to leave a broken and worn out body and once again fly free.

So please, if you are just cruising for the “deal of the day”, feel free to skip this post. 

Small, skinny, but strong shortly after we adopted her in 2001.

Small, skinny, but strong shortly after we adopted her in 2001.

Several months ago I talked about the tough decision we were facing as my beloved old husky suffered some pretty significant mobility impairments right before we were set to leave on a trip.  As a 14+ year old medium to large breed dog, she had been in steady decline for a while, but at that point she pretty suddenly stopped being able to easily get up and walk forward.  We had a vet come to the house, and I thought the chances of them being able to help her at that time were slim to none.  I prepared myself for the worst.

To my surprise, it turns out with some pills and injections she was able to regain some of her mobility, and we went on our trip while the dog (very, very slowly) walked the two blocks over to my parents house where she would stay while we were out of town.  After our trip we maintained those twice weekly house calls and injections for several months, and then shortly before my second daughter was born over the summer we decided to stop the shots.  For one, we could no longer really afford them with my husband between jobs at the time, but it also was just time to stop medical interventions at that point.  She didn’t need to be poked and prodded any more.

During those spring and summer months she no longer was even able to comfortably walk the two blocks to my parents house to be watched while we went out of town.  As luck would have it we didn’t go out of town much during those months since we were either expecting a newborn or caring for one, but when we were unavailable someone would have to come to our house every few hours around the clock to let the dog out.  Thankfully we had my parents available for that undesirable duty, but if we didn’t, we would have had to hire an in-home pet-sitter for our elderly dog as no other caregiving arrangement would have been feasible.

Greeting when I would return from NYC for visits

Greeting when I would return from NYC for visits

During those months every week or so I would notice a change in my furry friend.  She had long since stopped running, jumping, or going upstairs, but I saw her become slower, more isolated, more tired.  Just when I would think it was time she would have a day where she would do a small jump, explore around the yard ears perked with curiosity, and be just enough of who she was to keep on going.

I didn’t want to selfishly keep my friend with me longer than I should, but I didn’t want to prematurely extinguish her light before she was ready.  I had to know she was ready.  I didn’t want to time such a major and emotional decision around a trip, a new baby, visitors, etc…though given how intense the workload was caring for an elderly inside dog I wouldn’t judge anyone who did make the call for some more pragmatic reasons, but I wanted the decision to be based 100% on her.

She traveled cross country to enjoy snow!

She traveled cross country to enjoy snow!

So, we kept going.  I not-so-secretly hoped she would decide on her own time to go, but she was too tough for that.  She had been with me through college, first jobs, big moves, boyfriends, getting married, starting a family, and expanding that family.  Her mind and her body may have been failing her, but her spirit was going to hold on as long as possible.  Longer than anyone thought possible.  She had been a fighter since I adopted her from a shelter many, many years ago, and she would be a fighter until her last day.

Yesterday after feeding the baby around 4AM I went downstairs to let Kayla out as I had for years.  As had become typical, I had to say her name many times and nudge her along gently to get her to go out, but she ultimately went without complaint.  She never complained.  It was a nice cool early morning with the first birds starting to stir, so I decided to let her stay outside while I went back to bed.  This wasn’t our normal routine, but the weather was nice, and she was having so many accidents in the house at this point I was happy to hopefully avoid one by having her stay out a couple of extra hours.

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After we started our normal day, I saw her laying out in the yard in a way that looked like more of a collapse than a peaceful nap.  The thought entered my mind that this was the day.  I had some “false starts” before where I made the appointment and canceled, but this was different.  She wasn’t actively dying from what I could tell, but she was done living.

I called the vet and said the words in as normal a way as I could muster.  They told me that had an opening tomorrow and I said that was no good.  We, or I, couldn’t handle a countdown clock.  It had to be today, and it was.

They prescribed pills to make her very, very sleepy in advance of the actual appointment.  She wasn’t moving much anyway, but we wanted to be sure there was no fear and no struggle.  The pills were hand fed mid-afternoon in a McDonalds hamburger courtesy of some added peanut butter spread to make sure they didn’t fall out.  She was given some cool water from a bowl to wash it down as she lay in the shade in the grass.  She had lost interest in pretty much everything else in the world, except food.  Food was still the highlight of her day.

About two hours later the vet and vet tech arrived.  The pills had done their job and Kayla lay in the same spot in the shade where she had been since enjoying her hamburger.  She didn’t move, didn’t struggle, and hopefully didn’t hurt.

The vet did her thing and then Kayla was free.  She was free to again run, leap, play, howl, and prance.  Boy could she prance.

As for me, well, I miss my friend.  Most of her had been gone for a long time, but I find myself missing her spirit and her presence which had remained until the end.  For better or worse the demands of life with a newborn prevent me from being able to really comprehend the order of magnitude of the change and the significance of the conclusion this chapter all at once.

I will notice the change as the downstairs is empty when I finish a 4AM feeding.  As the order of dog food I placed online last week (to earn miles) arrives today.  I will notice her absence as I go to refill a water bowl that isn’t there.  As I sit outside and look at an empty yard.  As I hear a noise and it isn’t the dog walking around the house.

Taken the first year we were together

Taken the first year we were together

Taken the final day we were together

Taken the final day we were together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We will get another dog.  This time it will be one that is there as a companion to my daughters as much, or more, than it is to me.  But, it won’t be another Kayla.  Kayla was my dog, my companion, my first responsibility.

That same responsibility that allowed me to select her out of the line-up of hundreds at the shelter required me to make the final call yesterday.  I hope it was the right one.  I think it was the right one.  I know it was the right one.  But, that doesn’t make it an easy one.

Fly free furry friend, fly free.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I must have cried a half dozen times reading this article. I’ve been through what you went through several times when I was kid. When I had to do it as an adult with a cat I also rescued from a shelter, I was especially traumatized. Now my family has a wonderful cat my son adores. No animal can replace another but they do bring joy. The pain never goes away but it does get easier. My thoughts are with you.

  2. I’m sorry for your loss. Dogs are like family to us too. We had to put two dogs (both dachshunds with back problems, common with them) and we cried for a long time. Our current furball is larger German Shepherd mix, a rescue, is almost 12 yrs old now.. we dread the day when she passes. Sending you warm thoughts!

  3. What a beautiful baby. She was so lucky to have you. As a mom to my own senior chronically ill fur baby – my heart and thoughts go out to you.

  4. I’m sorry for your loss. You gave her a wonderful life.
    This post is especially timely for me. My 17.5 year old black cat Trixie died today. She was born the spring I graduated law school. She was my only friend when I moved to Ft. Worth and studied for the bar. I didn’t know a soul. She kept me company and was a good friend. She was my baby before I had babies.

    I took her to the vet this morning knowing it was her time. She died before they could even inject her.

    Losing a furry friend is so hard. Kudos to you for giving a homeless animal a good home. All doggies (and kitties) should be so lucky.

  5. Oh Summer, my heart is breaking for you right now! I had the exact same experience with my wonderful dog Josie. She was my companion and friend for 14 years, and when it came time for her to go, she died in my arms, in much the same way you described above.

    So, so hard to say goodbye. But yes – Kayla and Josie are now flying free.

    The best thing someone said to me during that time was how all of our wild stories about Josie (and for you, Kayla) would eventually take on a mythlike quality. That was true for sure. Not a week goes by when we don’t laugh happily or shake our heads with wonder at some crazy Josie story.

    Sending good thoughts your way.

  6. *lots of tears*
    I am so sorry, Summer. In recent years, we have been where you are now and it is the saddest thing ever. 🙁 These precious souls are angels here on earth and they continue to live in our hearts forever. Kayla will always be a part of your family. Hugsss

  7. Thank you for sharing this part of your life. I dread being in your position with my huskies soon, your words put a lot of perspective and soul to this reality of life. My sincere condolences.

  8. Never in a million years would I think a travel blog could make me sit at my desk and cry like a baby. Your post brought back a flood of memories of my first two dogs. Sierra lived to be 11. She passed from bone cancer. She loved to be outside and the day she didn’t want to get up and go out, was the day we let her leave this world. She was a fighter and lasted 3 weeks longer than the vet gave her. Guinness (130 pounds of pure love) passed a couple of months shy of 14. He succumbed to old age and mobility issues. For him, it was the day he couldn’t stand to eat his food. You did the right thing-doesn’t make it an easier but it was time. Now Kayla is running around with Guinness and Sierra with no worries or pains. Our second set of dogs are 5 and I love them just as much as the first two.

  9. I’m so sorry for your loss. Our dog went over the rainbow bridge in August and we still can’t believe he’s gone. We had a ton of unopened dog food when he left, and donated it to a shelter. Please consider doing the same.

    • Thank you – lovely idea. We gave it to my parents dog, but will do something for homeless pets to honor Kayla.

  10. thank you for this incredibly beautiful remembrance & tribute, as well as the re-cap of the last 24 hours of Kayla’s life. I was so moved by it. You are not afraid of engaging the pain of grief, and are thus able to experience the highs offered by profound joy as well. And now, … you have “a spirit friend” watching over you …

  11. That is truly heart breaking to read. I’m sitting in a hotel lounge trying not to make a fool out of myself after reading your story.

    My wife and I had to put her parents’ 2 dogs down within a few months of each other. They’re not even “my dogs” and I had little relationship with them, but it was easily the two hardest events I had to deal with the entire year.

    We have a precious little 5-year-old we adopted right after we got married and I can’t even fathom going through this with him. I’m so sorry for your loss. Your tribute is sweet, painful, and perfect.

  12. Summer: Thank you for sharing. It is such a tough decision. I could not say Max’s (Maxwell Jerome Beagle, Esq.) name for 6 months after his death. He and a long line of Siamese cats were all rescues….an approach I highly encourage. I believe they”know”.
    Love,
    Paul

  13. As someone who has been in your shoes more than once, this is a very tough decision to make – but you made the right one. Being able to help our companions escape their pain is a gift in my opinion, and you have given that gift to Kayla. You’ll miss her, but this is what was best for her, as well as you.

  14. Thank you to those who shared your thoughts and support. Dogs are such special members of so many of our families and their loss is never easy. I am thankful to have had so many years with her, and now that she is gone we get to remember the good times and hope that her spirit is again running free. Until we meet again…

  15. So sorry for your loss. I have been down that road myself, and it is painful.
    The best that you can do for them is to be there for them at the end, as they know that all will be okay when you are there.

  16. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. We adopted a shelter dog (schnauzer-terrier) mix two years ago. We always had cats growing up, so this is my first time around a dog. She has become such a big part of our family, and our 12-year old son adores her. I can’t imagine a day in the distant future when she will no longer be with us.

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