It’s The Little Things

The things you notice after you lose someone or something you love.

Two weeks ago Nina was doing so well that I bought an extra two cases of food because I was worried I’d run out. She was sparkly and bouncy.

And then as that week progressed she stopped eating so well. The little hitch in her step and occasional trip she’d had for a while progressed to outright falling. She’d been sitting down to eat for a while, but now she wa swaying and sticking her legs out at odd angles.

That weekend, last weekend, it was like she fell off a cliff. Eating less and less, falling more and more. She had been frail (she was just a few weeks aways from 16 years old after all) but this was different. Sunday she ate just a token bite of her Sunday pancake. It was cold and windy but we bundled her up anyway and took her around the block in her stroller. I took pictures. I knew it was coming to an end. As we walked, she looked back at me as she often did, meeting my eyes in that way she had.

Monday at work I wrote in her chart that she’d had a rough weekend. Dr Stein said to bring her in Tuesday. That night she was restless and woke me up by walking on the control for the heated bed pad and turning it on.

Tuesday at work she had diarrhea and seemed very dull. But she had a fever, so maybe she was sick! Maybe it was pneumonia again or something. We put her back on Clavamox. I decided I’d force feed her for one week only in case that was what she needed to get over the hump. We put her on two different appetite stimulants. I said I just needed to know if this was a bump in the road. Or the end of the road. I gave her a bath on Tuesday, because she got poop all over herself.

She was a dog whose dignity did not depend on things like that. She was the queen after all. She tolerated the bath and blow dry with her usual grace.

That night she was restless, and she woke me up by getting herself trapped between the wall and the dresser. Appetite stimulants can have strange effects is what I told myself, but I could see she just wasn’t right.

Wednesday she actually ate a couple of bites on her own! I allowed myself to feel slight optimism, but I could still see that there was something neurological happening. I took her to work with me so I could feed her small meals throughout the morning. We gave her a cautious amount of subcutaneous fluids to hydrate her (you have to be very cautious with this in dogs with cardiac issues). And then a co-worker called and told us of the unimaginable tragedy that had killed one of her dogs.

Wednesday she got worse through the day, and the knowledge I’d been carrying in the back of my head forced its way to the front. Jim and I lay on the floor with her that night, and she told us. I don’t mean she spoke English, but she told us just the same. She was done. She was ready.

Thursday morning I texted Linda and said I was so sorry to do this after the trauma we’d all experienced the day before with the co-worker’s dog, but we had to put her to sleep that day. She was ready. One of the other instructors at agility kindly agreed to take over my classes that day.

Caroline at work came in and asked how Nina was and I told her. She hugged and cried with me. Then suggested I come home to spend the day with her. I walked in at home and she came to the baby gate like usual, looking surprisingly perky, Jim cautioned me that she was really wobbly (as in “don’t get your hopes up”), and then one of the other dogs brushed against her and she fell. I had always been Nina’s sunshine, she always brightened up when she saw me, and that was it.

I’d stopped on the way home to get her a Tim Hortons old fashioned plain donut, her absolute favorite. She took one piece to humor me, but spat it out. Jim had gotten her to eat a couple of bites of baby food, but that was it. I made ramen for lunch, also her absolute favorite. She ate a few noodles (probably also to humor me), but that was it.

I sat there with her all day. I took pictures. I cried. I wrote her obituary.

And eventually it was time to go. That last car ride to the vet is always, always, always, such a journey. Her warm weight wrapped in waterproof pads on my lap. It rained. I kissed her nose over and over again.

We let her walk around the clinic while we waited, she didn’t want liver, or peanut butter, or even one of the Hershey’s Kisses that we keep in a jar and bring out for euthanasias (the jar is labeled “goodbye kisses”). I lay on the floor with her. I told her over and over again how much I loved her. I kissed her nose, her fur was wet with our tears.

And then it was time. We gave her the sedative injection and she took a deep breath and relaxed on my lap. We stroked her and hugged her and kissed her. She got so sleepy so quickly as they often do when they’re really ready to go as she was. We put a catheter in. I sat back down on the floor with her on my lap, her head against my chest. I told Linda we were ready. I kissed her nose and told her that it had been a privilege. And she was gone.

Euthanasia when it’s done right is beautiful. It’s a very heavy burden those of us in veterinary medicine carry (even when it’s not our own pet, we cry with every one, every one affects you, you are ending a life). But it’s also beautiful. To give something you love so much a peaceful and painless death when their time comes, when it’s the last thing you can do for them, is beautiful. When it’s done right, they just drift away.

Friday, the day after, was sunny. I visited Sue and we cried. I tried to train my dogs but my heart wasn’t in it. Jim and I took all the dogs for a long walk in the sunshine.

We cry all the time. Of course we do. You don’t love and lose a dog like Nina every day. I see her everywhere. I am so glad she got to be in the house, to bless it with her presence. I am so glad she got to be happy and sparkly in the house. We needed that.

I told a friend yesterday that it’s like she was this magical creature who was somehow MY magical creature. We had nearly 16 years together but now it seems like a dream.

And now we are faced with then mourning. And the last of all the things. Washing the pile of waterproof pads she’d used. Vacuuming the hair that was hers. Washing the last bowl she’d used. Washing the water bowls and refilling them, washing away the last traces of her. And today we will make our usual Sunday pancakes. And for the first time in almost 16 years she won’t be here to demand and eat her rightful share.

But between that first time our eyes met and I knew she was meant to be my dog and I was meant to be her person, and that last breath she took in my arms, hopefully feeling loved and safe and warm and at peace, there was so much. So much joy and and running and barking and agility and travel. So much love. I hope we gave her a good enough life. I hope we gave her the life and love she deserved.

There will never be another Nina. She was my soul dog. When we looked at each other there was a connection that transcended species. She was my sunshine and I was hers. I don’t really believe in metaphysical things but I so hope I will see her again.

It was a privilege.

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