As a kid growing up, I had a lot of pets. I think I can remember something like 5 dogs, dozens of cats, and various birds, hamsters, fish. I would mourn when they “disappeared” but we were never without furry companionship for long. Outside of a few that were lost to accidents (traffic) or illnesses, many simply were not there from one day to the next. My mom would tell me that they were too nice a pet and some mean people had taken them away. So, you can imagine that I grew up not liking my neighborhood very much because I thought it was populated with pet “stealers”.
From the time I left home at 25 I wanted a pet but couldn’t for various reasons due to allergies of the people around me. I had pretty much given up until I was about 36 years old and my wife and I got our little Bichon Frise, Casey. I’m sure I wrote all about it back in 2003/4 as it led to a lot of … “fun” times in some cases. The point, though, was that we had our first new family member (after having gotten our first car and home together and gotten married). Cassiopeia, named after the constellation of course, was known only as Casey to everyone else. She fit in with us so wonderfully and grew to be an incredibly intelligent dog. Her patience with the children was beautiful and we never worried about her.
As she got older, she became more assertive in the sense that she demanded (such as it were ) to be trusted to handle herself and soon enough she had free reign of the house even when we weren’t home. True enough, there were no “accidents”. In the last couple of years, she still pushed the boundaries on certain points (like trying to jump on the couch or sleep on our beds) but she also understood that it was a privilege for her to share those spaces with us When she did, she was quite happy, of course.
One interesting thing about her was how she seemed to have been prone to issues throughout her life which always seemed just a little bit out of the norm and which were always resolved thanks to my wife’s diligent search for answers – from the skin rashes she had as a pup to the weird crystals in her urine to treating a herniated disk with acupuncture! You know, when you think about it carefully, she was almost helping us prove that we could handle anything that came our way and that we could beat it together – which is pretty much what you could say about Kyle’s extreme asthma (and allergies) and Charlize’s open-heart surgery.
But, as I wrote a few weeks back, things turned for the worse again and the medication given us had horrible side effects. What I didn’t write after that was how we had blood work done on her and it came back that she had extreme iron deficiency which could have been caused by one of three things, two of which were terminal (leukemia or a bone marrow disease), one of which was degenerative (AHIA). We put her on prednisone and changed her food and within a week all the weight she had lost was regained (no food was denied her and she ate like a queen!). She was still a little lethargic but in good spirits. We took another urine test and all was good. We had another blood test scheduled for this week. But we never made it.
Last week, things began to degenerate again. By Friday, she was having trouble going up stairs and not eating. On Saturday, it got worse. She was no longer going up stairs, she shuffled a lot more, she looked miserable, and her weight had dropped even lower than before. She hadn’t eaten in two days and then… her stool went liquid and bloody. Her body was breaking down and there was nothing left we could do that wouldn’t require lots of invasive procedures and thousands of dollars.
It was an excruciating day to get through but as the evening started rolling in and she started whimpering in pain, we knew it was it. We had made a promise that we would not let her suffer and she was now at that state. This was the one “issue” we could not come back from. All the research we did about showed that she literally should have died 3 weeks ago when the symptoms first showed themselves. We gained those extra weeks by our efforts but now it was the end.
I can’t quite put it into words, although it’s a simple enough task. Maybe I don’t want to put it into words because it’s so painful to write about. Just thinking about that weekend I can see everything unraveling before me like a movie and I can’t sit back like a viewer because the size of the emotional hurt is something I never expected in my life. We were saying good-bye to a member of the family, handing her over to the doctors and knowing they couldn’t “fix” her. Walking into a clinic with arms full and leaving with an empty blanket. Watching her slowly “fade” away while always looking straight into our eyes… the pain of the truth that she was more than just a “dog” and that she was truly part of the family… it was unbearable.
We had been mourning her for a long time already – if not specifically these last 3 weeks. Every day we saw her, thinking that this could be “it” was painful. Sharing the news with Kyle and Charlize was very hard, especially Charlize. Her casually asking a few days later if Casey would still be there for her when she was bigger was just as hard. Trying to plan and execute a pre-birthday party for Kyle all the while seeing this little pooch just lying nearby, knowing we couldn’t ease her pain was too much. Finally saying good-bye… was heart-wrenching.
Going back home and confirming with the kids that she was gone was not easy. Going through Kyle’s birthday was not easy – especially as this was the first birthday she missed. And that’s where I really started feeling her absence. James and Melyssa couldn’t be here for Kyle’s birthday, so although we missed them, since they’re not always here you don’t get a sense of a “piece” missing. Casey… well Casey was supposed to be here! Casey has always been there to greet in the morning and trip over in the evening. This time she wasn’t. And bit by bit, it was like more little stab wounds hit us as the lack of her presence was felt. The door chime is usually followed by a bark… not any more. Walking through the door always meant a white fluffy face looking up at you or jumping on your legs… not any more. Getting dressed in the morning always meant a yawning stretching dog rubbing its nose on the carpet… not any more.
And then, yesterday, when James and Melyssa finally got home from their trip, I went to see them after work to (a) tell them the news, and (b) take them to the movies. Breaking the news to them was just as hard as 2 weeks ago telling them how sick she was. All I could think of was my telling them at that time that “it doesn’t mean she’ll be gone while you’re on your trip” and that being the trigger for them to break down… and now the reality that that’s exactly what had happened was being revealed.
We honestly thought she was going to pull through from this. At worst, we expected that we were going to have to be giving her a pill every day for the rest of her life – almost like a lot of people have to do! Maybe we were trying not to think of the alternative, maybe we were conning ourselves… but I think it’s more to the point that she had regained her weight that first week and had shown some sparks of who she was…. Now that everyone in the family knows, perhaps we could heal. I’m sitting here typing this and all I can think of is how she should be at my feet right now keeping me company… but she’s not… and my feet are cold… and I’m out of tissue.
I can (and will one day) replace the family pet, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop missing my Puppy. :(