Tuesday, January 30, 2007

When it's time

Yesterday morning, I called our veterinarian to schedule Shiloh's euthanasia. [breathe. breathe.] While I was on the phone, crying, Shiloh turned to look at me and I felt like I was summoning the executioner. I told myself the whole time that it's days away, that I could change my mind, but there's a part of me that knows it shouldn't be days away. It should probably have been days ago. But how are you supposed to decide that? My God. I know people go through this all the time, but that's a meaningless thought next to the sight of my dog looking at me with her old cloudy eyes.

I know it's time. Her essential Shilo-ness is gone. Has been for a while now. It's been months since she "talked" in her Chewbaca voice, sounding absolutely flummoxed that one would dare stop petting her belly. She was so bossy! She can barely walk now. My back kind of hurts from leaning over and supporting her 80 pounds as her legs slip out from under her across the treacherous kitchen floor. Damn floor -- I almost feel like it's the floor's fault. She's okay on carpet and outside on the patio, but she obstinately continues to seek out any scrap of bare floor she can find. And then she can't get up on her own. I'm up three or four times in the night, down the stairs to help her move, hearing her nails scrabble as she tries to get up, or roll over. She must be so uncomfortable.

Age hit her fast. I haven't had an old dog. . . ever. When I was a kid we had a big Alaskan malamute named Anouk, but after we moved overseas and she didn't take well to apartment living, my parents found a malamute breeder in Belgium to sell her to. She really did go to live on a farm. I swear. There were even pictures of her with her puppies. But my mother's heart broke when she had to trick Anouk onto a train with a stranger, and there were no more family dogs after that. Scroungy cats, yes. And cats live a blessedly long time.

In my early 20s I adopted a black lab mix from the pound and named him Milo. I had him for a year, a long, fraught year. He was a biter, as it turned out. He nipped a kid who ran past on a busy street, and then when the kid's dad tried to shield him, he bit the dad's watch off his wrist. He chased a horse and rider in the Oakland Hills and I couldn't catch him, and I thought there would be a terrible accident and I was frantic, and scrambling, and I could not catch him for some of the longest minutes of my life. Then he bit a paramedic on duty, bad, and that was it. We had done several obedience courses. There was nothing for it. Milo had to be euthanized. It was horrible, and I didn't plan to get another dog. And I didn't get another dog. My parents did. Shiloh.

She was a year old, a perfect specimen of a Siberian husky, at the good old Human Society. The reason she was given up? Cuz she scapes. [sic]. We used to joke about that family that had her before and we called Shiloh the "scaper." Those poor spellers were right, though. She did escape. Did she ever. Huskies are known for it, their independence and wizardly ways of getting out of yards. Oh, and their demonic speed. Ever try catching a year-old husky with the fierce joy of freedom in her eyes? Well, let's just say it's good exercise for you and you don't stand a chance unless it's really hot out and she's driven home by thirst.

My parents were living in Marin County then, the wedge of land that the north toe of the Golden Gate bridge sets down on. They were far north, toward Wine Country, out by the Petaluma River surrounded by wetlands and scrub oaks, and when I moved back in with them for a few months to save money for art school, Shiloh and I fell in love. She used to come and put her chin on the bed and I would wake up staring into her slightly crazed mismatched eyes, one blue and one brown, and we'd go walking or jogging on the levees and in the woods. Long, long walks. Sometimes I'd let her off leash, but I knew if I did I wouldn't see her until she got thirsty enough, many hours later, to give up her precious wildness. Then she'd find her way home from chasing foxes and deer and sleep like the dead for hours. Man, was she fast.

When I moved out, she moved with me. I absconded with my parents' dog. Jim and I met right away, and in a year we moved in together and Shiloh was our dog, but not really. She was always mine. She's never been cuddly or needy, never tried to win anyone over. For years now we've referred to her as our "downstairs neighbor" because even when she could still go up the steps to where we were working in our studio, she wouldn't. And last fall she got old, like age fell out of a tree while she was walking under it and it just clobbered her. Never having had an aging dog before, I had no idea it could happen like that. When we decided to do the radiation for her cancer, I thought we were looking at the inevitability of the tumor coming back in 8 to 12 months, that we would have to decide what to do then. It never occurred to me her legs would essentially stop working in four months, that her personality would be lost to befuddlement, that she could become a creature just existing, not living, in such a short time.

So. Shiloh's vet is coming here on thursday. I don't think I'll be leaving the house much this week.

[Here is an article I found on pet euthanasia that helped me think things out a bit.]

A few months ago, with her sweet step-brother, Leroy:

When she was young:

and I was young too, and my mom's old tomcat was still alive:

with her Auntie Em:

Predator in action (when Jim fed her a teddy bear that was a gift from an old boyfriend):


Jim Di Bartolo said...

Hey Sweetie :)

Ugh. As painful as this is and will be, I can't help but smile when I see these old pics of Shiloh. She looks so gorgeous and FIERCE in these old pics! She's had a very happy and love-filled long life with walks EVERY day and spoilings-galore. It doesn't make it much easier though, but it does help to know that you and your parents saved her from the pound, because really, who knows what could've been her fate otherwise? (remember that statistic: 70 million domesticated dogs and 10 million in the pound -- ugh that's so sad :(

And for the record, she had already -- independently of me! -- started chewing on that old bear ... (I just gave it back to her the following day :)

Love you and her, Baby :)

Anonymous said...

Oh Laini I know this is so hard for you and Jim. Shiloh is such a wonderful. sweetheart of a dog. My mom scared me away from big dogs growing up, only allowing us to have what you refer to as "kickball size dogs!,", but over the years Shiloh really helped me to see that big dogs are where its at! The way she would so daintily take food from people's hands, all those quirky expressions she has and that tongue as long as a shovel...She has had a life of much joy with two loving owners who never went a day without showing her plenty of love and affection (when Shiloh wanted it that is!) Sending you huge hugs and love. Dogs are little professors of love all wrapped up in fur and Shiloh I know will really be missed but do take comfort that she has had a fantastic life stuffed with great walks, food, a feisty canine companion, and surrounded by humor, art, color, and warmth all her days with you all.

Debi Ward Kennedy said...

I don't know you, my dear sweet soul, but I have walked this path. As I read your words, the description of your friend's inability to stand and walk, your act of holding him up many times a day, watching his personality fade away just tore into my heart and made me remember being at that exact same place, feeling what you feel. I am crying as I write this, missing my own sweet Sammy (who was actually my daughters' dog, but he lived here in our one-level house because of his old age). We lost him two years ago, had to make the wrenching decision you have made, had to hold him and talk to him and cry as we said goodbye.Had to watch our daughter put her nose on his nose and cry and say 'I love you, Pooh Bear'as the doctor gave the shot.

And he lifted his paw and placed it on her hand and looked right into her eyes, as if he was saying 'I love you too' right back. Precious.

My thoughts are with you, that your 'goodbye' will be something that brings comfort to you both. Bless you....

Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

My heart aches, aches, aches for you Laini.

Just last night I lay awake for some reason, though it has been more than 3 weeks since Figaro quite suddenly grew ill and had to be put down, desperate for his fuzzy, fat warmth. I lay awake regretting even the hour and a half that he was back in the emergency vet's lab as they took blood for tests. It was clear to me when we brought him there what needed to be done, but I fought it.

Two years ago, My mom, her husband, my husband and I all huddled around Dylan, a 17 year old Husky/australian shephard blend my mom referred to as "your brother" in the vet's office.

This grief is as real as any other. It will hurt like any other loss, and it should because they add SO much to our lives.

If I can offer any support, please ask.


Kari said...

Oh sweetie, I'm so sorry. Hope he can enjoy these last few days on earth. What a difficult time. Hugs to you!!!

Sam said...

I am so sorry Laini.

I wish I had something nice to say
to make you feel better. But I don't.
My heart aches with you, as I said before,
I am in a similar situation with my cat.


Julie said...

Wishing you peace as you spend these remaining days together.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my sweet Laini. I'm so, so sorry to read this. I know how much you love Shiloh. I wish I had something profound to say, but I don't. I'm just sitting here, feeling your hurt, and wishing with all of my heart that these next few days together bring you all peace, and that your memories of Shiloh bring you joy after she's gone.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for you. There's not much else I can say. Just that you're in my thoughts and that I send you lots of hugs.


Kristy said...

Sometimes, there aren't words enough, so, I'm just sending you both my hugs.

Goddess Leonie * GoddessGuidebook.com said...

oh dearheart~
blessed be to both you and shiloh,
what a life of love you have shared together.
sending both of you peace, light and healing as you assist her make her rainbow journey.
with love and light,

Tinker said...

Oh, Laini! My heart goes out to you and Jim, all of Shiloh's family...I've been in that position and it's such a hard call to make. The heart doesn't notice if our friends and family walk on two legs or four - it loves just the same. You've been a generous and true friend to Shiloh, as she has to you. May your last hours together be peaceful, sweet and loving. Wrapping you all up in loving, peaceful thoughts as you set her spirit free to run again.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Laini - so sorry to hear this. I know this was a tough decision, but it sounds like the right one. Love to you, Jim and Shiloh.

Kim G. said...

So sorry that this day has come sooner that you hoped. I'll be praying for a peaceful and good day for you all on Thursday and that things will go well and Shiloh will feel loved as much as any dog can. Thanks for sharing the pictures - he's a sweetie pie!

Deirdre said...

Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry it's happening this way. I don't have any other words, just my heart aching for you.

madelyn said...

oh love, i am weeping...
i know...exactly.

that's it.

i know.


(all this pain i know you know
is because you have this great
love...and it stinks.)

Unknown said...

oh laini, I'm so sorry. I remember when my childhood dog died. I was 20? and she was 16 and not doing very well. since the whole family was home we took her to dove lewis and the onry old thing died outside the vet's office in my mother's arms (her favorite place). I'll be thinking of you.

Claudia said...

So sad to have to say goodbye to such a companion.

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to you... it's a difficult, difficult time.... sending you a gigantic hug.

Left-handed Trees... said...

I don't even know what to say...I'm so sorry about Shiloh. She is a beautiful dog and has obviously been a truly loved companion to you (and Jim!). I will be thinking of you and wishing you well...

Anonymous said...

Hi Laini - I'm a fairly new reader here - so sorry to meet under these circumstances. There's not much comfort to be found, I know; I've been where you are. Know that I'm joining the many others who care & hurt with/for you.

I'll keep you & Shiloh in prayer, especially on Thursday.

Ali Ambrosio said...

I'm so sorry that you are faced with this decision. It is never, ever easy, although most of the time we know it's the "right" decision. I've had to put down a dozen of my old pets due to illness. It is such an awful thing and I want to cry just remembering it. I also want to cry thinking about you and Shiloh. It's so hard to say goodbye. I'm so sorry, I hope you can have meaningful, wonderful last days together.

Frida World said...

Dear Laini,
Wishing you courage and strength and lots of loving support (seems like that won't be a problem given that lovely comment from your Jim). What a horrible experience to have to go through, it seems our ability to develop these humane options comes with these terribly hard choices.
This is a beautiful post about a beautiful and obviously very loved dog.
Sending lots of love.

Deb R said...

I'm so sorry, Laini. It sounds like Shiloh had a wonderful life and life and like you've made the right decision, but it's still SO hard. Sending good thoughts your way~~~~~

Rampian said...

Like Jim said, Shiloh looks so fierce and beautiful in those old pictures. It's nice to see how he was as a youngster. He was very lucky to have you and Jim in his life. It's cruel that we love these animals who live such shorter lives than us. This is one of the most difficult decisions you can make---I wish you strength and send you my love.

luzie said...

Oh Laini, I'm sorry. Sounds like Shiloh had a wonderful time on earth staying with you. She's a beautiful dog. I know what it's like to make the decision to put down a beloved pet.. I felt awful taking my bird to the vet, knowing what was about to happen. I wish you lots of strength in these tough times. xo

Jamie said...

What a beautiful tribute to Shiloh. It sounds like she's been a great companion on your adventures. I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm sure she knows how much she is loved. Big hugs, Laini.

[a} said...



Anonymous said...

When I saw the SS prompt this week, I was forewarned, but not prepared to see a near likeness of my Siberian Husky (closly related to malamutes, as you know). My dog is in doggie heaven, too. I wish there was a way to bring you comfort about the loss of your dear Shiloh. It's obvious how much you loved her and she, you.

Anonymous said...

difficult time for you but it's a good decision. i've been through this before, once with our rat and it's hard. sending you hugs and good energy (although you don't know me, but i know how hard this is and all the good blessings that one can get mean a lot).
be strong....

Annie Jeffries said...

You have written a beautiful tribute to your dear friend. My heart is with you during this hard hard time. Annie

Colorsonmymind said...

Sometimes illness helps prepare for death it seems. Where your love for the animal or person far outshines the longing for them or the sadness you will feel when they are gone. Your desire for them to no longer suffer infuses you with courage to face their death.

I am sorry that you have to face this.
Shilo is so very blessed to have such a loving, fun and caring set of owners.

I will be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.


Barb T. said...

I'm so sorry for what you are going through. How wonderful that you can have this source of support, even from those of us who do not know you personally. I hope it helps ease the pain a little. I have had so many friends and acquaintances go through pet loss, I finally gathered up all my internet resources I had bookmarked and put them on a Squidoo page: http://www.squidoo.com/petlossandgrief Perhaps you can find something there to comfort you as well.

I have a cat-shaped candle holder given to be by a friend when Chloe died. I light it whenever I hear about a cat who has crossed into spirit. I don't think my candle-kitties would mind holding vigil for a beloved dog; it will burn tonight for your Shiloh.

Patry Francis said...

How wonderfully you described her. I feel as if I really KNEW that dog.

Jone said...

What a lovely tribute to Shiloh, My heart breaks for you.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Laini, I'm so sorry. (I've been way behind in blog-reading, so I'm late getting here.) Big hugs.

P.S. Your N.Y. trips looked wonderful!