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Sunday, October 6, 2013

When Love Hurts

Yesterday, I killed my beloved old dog. It was done for all the right reasons, but my mind still struggles. I made the decision out of love, but it still feels as if I killed her.

She was 15 years old, and her hip dysplasia and arthritis were making it very hard for her to walk. She still had a good appetite (not surprising for a Labrador/beagle mix), but even that wasn't as robust as in the past. When I came home from a week-long trip, she walked to greet me, but gone were the whines, wags and happy kisses. The next morning, she had a great deal of trouble on our walk, going sideways in a crab-like fashion and breathing with difficulty.

It was then that I knew that Mila was telling me that she was ready for the next phase in her life. I had prayed for a sign, so I would know that she had decided to move on. I did not want to make that decision solely on my own; I needed for her to give me a sign. I certainly wanted to respect her wishes, no matter how painful for me.

So we walked slowly home. I woke my daughter to let her know and to give her an opportunity to say good-bye to Mila. She offered to go with us to the vet clinic, something I know was not easy for her, but an offer that I greatly appreciated.

When we got to the clinic, I let Mila take her time and sniff the bushes in the front of the building. Inside, I offered her some small dog treats and beef-flavored chews. Mila was not nervous and panting as she had been on previous visits to the veterinary clinic. I believe she was ready. She understood why we were there, and she was at peace. The staff had prepared a room for us, with a quilt spread out on the floor.

As we waited, Mila looked into my eyes three or four times. I believe that she was saying "Goodbye and thank you. Thank you for rescuing me and giving me a wonderful life, and thank you for letting me go with love." I sat on the floor with her as the staff made their preparations. I insisted that they shave the spot on her leg and insert the catheter in the room with me, so I could comfort Mila. The vet gave Mila a sedative to relax her. I was on the floor beside her. Although she had lost most of her hearing, I believe she knew what I was saying to her.

Mila put her face against my chest, and I held her close. One hand gently scratched her chest while the other rubbed her ear as I held her tightly. She passed away quietly, and she is now reunited with Jack, Toby and Gage.

Being able to release a beloved animal companion, whether a dog, cat, horse, rabbit or gerbil, from a failing body and pain is a blessing, albeit it a very painful one. I take some comfort in knowing that I sent Mila on her way to Rainbow Bridge with love. I was with her until she took her last breath, and she saw my face as she closed her eyes. She felt my hands stroking her fur and she rested her face against my chest. She was safe and at peace. It was as peaceful a passing as I could have asked for.

Still, deciding to end an animal's life, even to release it from pain, is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching decision. It is something that I knew was coming, yet I could in no way prepare myself for the pain it caused. And yes, I still struggle with the idea that I took her life. Yes, she could be frustrating and stubborn. Yes, I got tired of cleaning up pee from the floor. But that pales in comparison with the love we shared. She was the most loyal of the dogs who have shared my life. I love Mila, and I will always miss her.

I love the lighting in this photo, and how determined Mila looked as she walked toward me.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Silent Footsteps

The footsteps shuffling down the tile hallway are silent now. No more the wimpers as she sleeps, feet moving in chase of an elusive rabbit. Stilled is the heart of the hunter that caught and killed a road runner just a couple of years ago. Silent is the howl of her beagle voice. Quiet is the nose that once explored millions of unseen scents in the air and on the ground, earning her the name Mila the Explorer. No more is that sensitive nose that seemed to know what was in the shopping bag before it was even unpacked.

I catch myself going to look for her when I come home, to make sure she is OK and take her outside for one of her many potty breaks. When I hear a dog walk into the room where I am writing, I wonder which yellow dog it is. And then I remember -- there is only one yellow dog in the house now. There is but one bowl to fill each morning and evening, only one leash to attach to but one collar.

Mila was not an easy dog in her youth. Seemingly discarded while pregnant, with no microchip or collar, it appeared she had never set foot inside a house. She was not house trained, she hid behind the furniture, and she never learned to play. She did, however, learn to appreciate the comfort of a soft dog bed. She suffered from separation anxiety, tearing down drapes and doing some $300 in damage to plantation shutters. Even years later, she would chew up remote controls, books and shoes. Later still, she settled down and became less destructive. But she would wander through the house looking for me if I moved to a different room from where she was sleeping. And if I left the house, I often would find her waiting by whichever door I had exited.

Mila was aloof and disliked a lot of attention. She hated having her nails cut and would tolerate only a couple of minutes of brushing. But she enjoyed our nightly snuggle on her bed, the belly rubs when she was being silly and rolling around on her back, and having her soft ears stroked. And oh, did she love a good neck massage.

It is these things, along with the most beautiful gold eyes I have ever seen, and her unrivaled devotion to me, that I will always remember. Rest well, my Missy Lou, my Piglet, my Sweet Pea. Run free, with no pain and no bad hips or arthritis to slow you down. Follow your nose wherever it may lead you. And know, my faithful friend, that we WILL be together again, never to be separated. I love you, Piggy.