Saturday, August 20, 2011
The Final Journey (A Significant Other Matter)
I met her on the examining table of the pet hospital I used to work at a lifetime ago. You met her briefly here, again here, and watched her in a little mischief here. I marveled at the sweetness of her disposition that day in 1998, and later, after I adopted her, at her remarkable emotional sensitivity. I still do.
She saw me through some tough times – my divorce, bouts of tool throwing, and the agony that was my life during 2009-2010 (a little of which I told you about, most of which I did not.)
I saw her through her own tough times, too. A cancer scare involving surgery in 2009, surgery, pins and a cast in 2002 (an injury specific to racing greyhounds - we were so proud!), and, in a bizarre coincidence, the loss of that same leg to cancer in 2010. She held up during her challenges much better than I ever have.
Freckles has a star power unlike that I’ve ever seen. Crowds cheered her as she honored the loss of her leg in the 2010 Tucson Day of the Dead Celebration. In 2004, she co-starred in a photo shoot for the Muscular Dystrophy Association's "Fill the Boot" fundraising campaign. She got the job done in half the time it took the "professional" Dalmatian used in years prior. It’s rare that I don’t hear whispers as she dances down the street, “Look! A Dalmatian!” People are often so bedazzled by her spots and sweetness that they completely miss the fact she’s down one leg. And when they do pick up on this, they are always inspired and touched by her agility and spunk. Jaws drop when people learn that this active young pup is really 15 years old. Walking her feels like community service - she brings so much inspiration and joy to all the people whose paths she crosses.
One day this week, during our daily “morning games,” I felt a mass in her belly. An ultrasound told me what I already knew. She doesn’t know it yet, but this will be her end. There really isn’t much to be done, and the medical details are purely academic at this point. I don’t know how long it will take. She doesn’t have any symptoms yet, and although it is unlikely related to the prior cancer that took her leg, that tumor moved so fast, it doubled the size of her leg in less than a week. Although she usually spends her summers in the custody of her “Daddy,” this year she’s coming to Utah with me. I don’t know where we’ll live, and I don’t know how I’ll afford not living in the free apartment usually provided to me, but we’ll find a way.
And so, I will be with her as she embarks on her final journey. I suspect, in that strange twist of fate I've experienced before, it will be the dying who comforts the living.
I wrote this post on a quiet afternoon in mid May, with Freckles napping by my side. She passed peacefully on August 19, at the age of 15 and a half, as we lay quietly spooning, just two days after our arduous return to Tucson. A spotted vase of flowers now marks her window look out perch. In one of her final gifts to me, she, who could not walk in her last days, summoned her strength to hop across the house to greet me at the door. My grief is unbearable, and my gratitude for having had her in my life overflows.