Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Appreciation

Since Pudding has passed away, I've been so blessed by my friends, both near and far.  To all of you who posted such touching messages of comfort, believe me when I say we were overwhelmed. Your kind words have helped us so much.  I'm sorry I didn't reply to any of the comments, the truth of the matter is I couldn't see to type until now without mopping my eyes.  Every message was extremely helpful and healing, and a mere thank you on my part seems so inadequate.  I'm deeply, deeply grateful.

I grew up on a farm and have seen life and death many times but it doesn't make it any easier.  I've also lost many people dear to me over the years, and I know, she was just a dog.  But those who love animals know the place they have in our hearts.
Pudding was camera-shy, she would always look away from the lens.
Life around here is empty without Pudding.  How I miss her happy barks of joy when I come in the door along with that tap-dancing frenzy she always embarked on.  Teddy is still with us, but he has also showed signs of missing her; he didn't want to eat for a few days and seems lost at times.  His eyesight and hearing are failing ever more and he sleeps a great deal.  I hesitate to pet him as much as I'd like because he startles so easily nowadays, so I save any petting for when he's completely aware of his surroundings. 
 Teddy never was the affectionate fellow that Pudding was; he was always the athletic one with the guard dog mentality.  He does wag his tail now and then, but we haven't heard him bark in weeks.  He doesn't seem to be in physical pain, but we had to increase his heart medication a few months ago, so it is only a matter of time.  We will love him for as long as we're blessed to have him here.

Teddy a few years ago, always with a ball, Mr. Athlete.

I kept a lock of Pudding's hair to remember her by and I have her collar in the kitchen hanging by the refrigerator.  Every now and then I hear her tags jingle when I open or close the door and expect to look down and see her staring up at me with those adoring brown eyes.  I still find myself carefully moving my feet when I am at the dinner table as she loved to rest her head on my foot.  Her bed is still on the couch next to me as I write and every time I glance over at it, I'm reminded of her absence.  The day after she died, somehow my gray jacket was tossed on the couch and my heart skipped a beat when I saw it there in the dim light of late afternoon.  Could it be?  But no, just a ghost; how the heart yearns to see what it wants.  

Pudding and Teddy in better days, sleeping next to me on the couch.
 We buried Pudding by the biggest rocks in our garden; the same place our dear cat Screech was laid to rest.  One of my comments on my last post, from John at Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes was this lovely poem:

This is a poem by Ben Hur Lampman - Where to Bury a Dog

There are various places within which a dog may be buried. We are thinking now of a setter, whose coat was flame in the sunshine, and who, so far as we are aware, never entertained a mean or an unworthy thought. This setter is buried beneath a cherry tree, under four feet of garden loam, and at its proper season the cherry strews petals on the green lawn of his grave. Beneath a cherry tree, or an apple, or any flowering shrub of the garden, is an excellent place to bury a good dog. Beneath such trees, such shrubs, he slept in the drowsy summer, or gnawed at a flavorous bone, or lifted head to challenge some strange intruder. These are good places, in life or in death. Yet it is a small matter, and it touches sentiment more than anything else.

For if the dog be well remembered, if sometimes he leaps through your dreams actual as in life, eyes kindling, questing, asking, laughing, begging, it matters not at all where that dog sleeps at long and at last. On a hill where the wind is unrebuked and the trees are roaring, or beside a stream he knew in puppyhood, or somewhere in the flatness of a pasture land, where most exhilarating cattle graze. It is all one to the dog, and all one to you, and nothing is gained, and nothing lost -- if memory lives. But there is one best place to bury a dog. One place that is best of all.

If you bury him in this spot, the secret of which you must already have, he will come to you when you call -- come to you over the grim, dim frontiers of death, and down the well-remembered path, and to your side again. And though you call a dozen living dogs to heel they should not growl at him, nor resent his coming, for he is yours and he belongs there.

People may scoff at you, who see no lightest blade of grass bent by his footfall, who hear no whimper pitched too fine for mere audition, people who may never really have had a dog. Smile at them then, for you shall know something that is hidden from them, and which is well worth the knowing.

The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master. 

Remembering this poem, I went for a walk last night after dark.  The weather has been very strange this winter, we've gone from bitter cold in November/early December followed by a thaw and a Brown Christmas, followed by a small snow storm and then back to the deep-freeze for a week, but now we're having a thaw one more time.  The temps were in the upper 30's last night as I walked home from my mother's, I usually walk up there to check on her just before bedtime.   

 I didn't take Teddy with me for this walk; he's too tired to go that far now, but Pudding was always at my side.  Since our road is quite remote, I didn't put a leash on Pudding for the most part; she was always close by if I had to scoop her up if a vehicle did chance to come along.  Sometimes she would fall behind to check out a particularly tantalizing smell and then I would hear her little toenails come clicking down the road in happy pursuit.

Last night as I made my way home down our dark and lonely road, a wind sprang up out of the west, gently pushing me along.  Suddenly I heard a familiar clicking sound behind me and my heart jumped, could it be?

 No, it wasn't Pudding I was hearing, it was a newly cast-off oak leaf torn loose from a branch to skitter down the road ahead of me.

The leaf was like the blade of grass bent by Pudding's unseen footfall in the poem...

And finally, my dear friend Sharon sent me this lovely note:

Pudding's Last Will and Testament
Before humans die, they write their last will and testament and give their home and all they have to those they leave behind.  If, with my paws, I could do the same, this is what I'd ask.......

To a poor and lonely stray I'd give my happy home; my bowl and cozy bed, soft pillow and all my toys; the lap, which I loved so much; the hand that stroked my fur; and the sweet voice that spoke my name.  I'd will to the sad, scared shelter dog the place I had in my human's loving heart of which there seemed no bounds.

So, when I die, please do not say, "I will never have a pet again, for the loss and pain is more than I can stand."

Instead, go find an unloved dog, one whose life has held no joy or hope, and give my place to him.

This is the only thing I can give...
The love I leave behind.
I am with you always.

Thank you again for your kindness.  
Pudding: 2000-2014     


Thursday, January 1, 2015

At Peace

 Whenever my heart is heavy, I tend to write.  My heart is a leaden lump in my chest tonight and my eyes are mere slits.  Here it is, just after midnight, January 1, 2015.  Somewhere in the distance, people are shooting off fireworks in below zero temps to welcome in the New Year.

I immediately looked over at the dog beds on the couch to see if Teddy or Pudding needed reassurance that the noise wasn't a thunderstorm.

 Pudding, especially, hates thunderstorms.

 I should say, hated.

Pudding came to us in April of 2009.  I'm ashamed to admit it now, but at the time I reluctantly took her in. She was our dog Teddy's older sister by six months, and she needed a home.  Things at her former home were not good, she'd lost her potty-training at the age of eight or nine, was very thin and in bad need of grooming.

I really didn't want another dog, but Pudding had always had a special place in my heart.  I'd known her since she was a puppy, and she was a love. Somewhere along the line she'd been abused badly and was very timid, every time I tried to pet her, she went flat to the floor on her belly in complete submission.  The first few weeks were rough, she didn't want to sleep through the night and Teddy's nose was out of joint from losing his 'only dog' status.

As time went on, we worked out the kinks slowly, Pudding learned from Teddy that the place called Outside was where they used the bathroom and followed him every time, much to his dismay.  Teddy did learn to tolerate her eventually.  Though they weren't best buddies, there were no cross words or growls between them.

When Pudding realized this was going to be her Forever Home, she simply glowed and flourished.  What a love that dog had for me;  I cannot describe it, I did not deserve it, but I was her world.  Carl said she sat and waited by the door for me to come in from the garden, whining softly. He said she would watch the kitchen ceiling for shadows and when she heard me approach she would bark riotously.  Every time I came in the house from anywhere was a celebration.  She used to tap dance with her front paws in joy and make whining, throaty sounds as she circled my legs, taking one of my fingers gently in her mouth to show her affection.  Licks and kisses, were her specialty.  She was always ready with a kiss.  I gave her a bath and haircut on the 30th, and she kissed me as I groomed her feet. She was truly, truly, my dog.

Congestive heart failure entered our vocabulary two years ago; we knew it was progressive.  First Pudding and then Teddy acquired the diagnosis.  Medications were added as symptoms worsened and we hoped for the best.  Though Pudding had a very close call in May 2013 and again in November, she rallied one more time to the amazement of the emergency veterinarians and came home to us again, joyfully.

On Tuesday night, the 30th, we had a small get-together with some family here.  Pudding and Teddy played the canine host and hostess, patrolling for pats and any crumbs that might fall. 

After greeting everyone,  Pudding decided it was time for her evening meal and entertained the crowd with her habit of scratching the side of her dinner bowl with first one front paw and then the other in a very rhythmic motion as is her custom.

'Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch,' went the left paw, 'Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch', went the right, switching paws over and over.  She would always scratch her bowl for well over five minutes before she would eat.

Carl and I were so used to this noise that we completely tuned it out, but over the years all of our visitors would stare and want to know why she was going through this eccentric aerobic routine.  I explained that in the home Pudding lived in  before coming to us, her dog dish was a gravity-fed affair where the food in the upper canister fell down when the tray was emptied.  Sometimes the food got stuck, apparently, so she had to scratch to get it out.  Old habits die hard, and this idiosyncrasy stayed with her even though her food dish was now a bowl.  We didn't mind, in fact I used to delight in watching her rhythmic motions as she moved her dog dish across the floor.   She really put her all into the routine and it never annoyed me.

On Tuesday night she was in high-form, scritch-scratching her bowl across the dining room floor with our amused guests watching.  I sometimes think she enjoyed the attention, because she was always extra flamboyant with it when she had an audience.  I explained once again that this was just her 'thing' and watched her with proud amusement as she kept it up.  Little did I know this was to be the last time she would give us her performance.

When our guests left after midnight, I took both dogs out for their nighttime potty routine and tucked them into their beds. All seemed well.

Carl came into our bedroom at 6AM to wake me, "Pudding can't breathe very good, I think you need to give her another water pill."

I tore off my sleep apnea mask and went to her side.  She was gasping for air in a steady, rasping rhythm, I knew it wasn't good.  I grabbed a furosemide pill tried to get her to take it, but she couldn't.  I had to basically force her to get it down which made me feel so mean, but it was what I'd been told to do if this happened.

I called the vet's office.  It was New Year's Eve, they're not open tomorrow (today) and they were booked solid.  I told them it was an emergency so they said bring her in and we'll make you fit somehow.
The weather is bitterly cold here, so I wrapped Pudding in her blanket and with Carl behind the wheel, we drove the fifteen miles to the vet's office.  Pudding was struggling to breathe but the effort had lessened a little by the time we arrived.  I knew it wasn't good; I told Carl we'd better prepare ourselves for the worst because I didn't think this time we'd be so lucky. 

When we walked in, they whisked us off to a room and after the preliminary weigh in and temp check, the veterinarian came in with a little girl of about ten years old in tow.

 "Natalie is here today job shadowing me.  Is it ok if she stays for your visit?" asked the vet.

The tears were trickling down my cheeks, but one look at that terrified little girl staring at Pudding and then at me, and I didn't know what to say, so I shrugged.

 Natalie remained in the room with us.  Poor thing.

The vet checked over Pudding and said her heart murmur was definitely worse, but he didn't think she looked too bad.  I sniffled as I wiped my tears away, and he wanted to know what we were thinking, did we want to treat her, or were we thinking of putting her down?

"I'm sure you've had this conversation before, you knew almost two years ago with congestive heart failure what the outcome was going to be," Dr. said.  "If you think this is her time, I'm not going to second-guess you, the decision is yours."

Yes, we did know what the outcome would be.  Some day.  But the decision, the decision was......and the little girl standing there in her cute scrubs had her eyes fastened on Pudding and all I saw was dread.

"What would you do if she were your dog?" I asked.

"Well, that's a bit different, I can ease my dog's suffering if I need to, but tomorrow being New Year's Day, you'll have to go to the emergency vet again if she does decompensate because our clinic will be closed.  We could do an x-ray to see how things look and where we can go from here," Dr. B said. 

I looked to Carl for an answer.  "I think go ahead with the x-ray, maybe you can give her some of the same medicine she had a month ago.  She bounced right back then," Carl said.

Pudding was whisked off to the x-rays and we waited.  I cried (silently, I hope) as we waited.  Thank goodness the little girl job shadow went out the door with the vet.

I was ready to say goodbye.  Well, not ready, I don't think I'll ever be ready, but I was resigned to the fact that this is no quality of life for Pudding.  Carl felt I was being hasty, remember her miraculous return two years ago and most recently, a month ago.

The vet came back in with her and said that the reason she was breathing so hard was due to an upper respiratory infection.  He thought if we gave her some antibiotics and an intravenous shot of furosemide that she had a great chance of recovery.

Dr. said, "After all, Pudding is a tough dog.  She wants to ring in the New Year, too!"

My spirits rose a bit, but not very high.  Pudding was not doing well, and I knew the trip had stressed her even more.  But since Carl and the vet were hopeful, and I'd seen her come back from impossible things before, home we went.

On the trip home as I stroked her silky head, I told Carl I thought we'd made the wrong choice.  But my dear, optimistic husband said she would be fine, you just wait and see.  I usually always trust Carl when he says these things, he is my rock, but this time I wasn't buying it.

When we got home, we put her straight to bed.  She seemed a little more comfortable but as time went on I could hear her breathing from across the room.  By one o'clock in the afternoon, she needed to go outside so Carl carried her.  On her way back to her bed, she collapsed and could not get back up.  I knew we were in huge trouble now.  We lifted her back into her little bed and I called the vet's office again.  Her breathing was still very labored and I told them she seemed to be taking a turn for the worse.

I was told I could bring her in and they'd find a time for us when we got there.  I had called Joel and David to let them know and then texted Abby, Joel's fiancee' at work.  Joel and Abby came right away and we sat and watched Pudding as we tried to decide what was right.  Pudding wasn't struggling for breath as hard as she had been in the morning, but it was still a huge effort.  And now she couldn't lie down, she had to remain in a sitting position to breathe, holding her head up to the ceiling.  She kept dozing off in this position only to have to right herself, it was heart-breaking.  We decided it was time.

I bundled her up in her blanket one more time while Joel went to start the car.  All of us piled into the car and headed out for the fifteen mile drive.  We weren't even a mile from home when the first convulsion started.  Her body went limp, and I told Joel we may as well go home; I think she's gone.  But her heart started again, sadly, and I can say without a doubt, those were the longest fifteen miles of my life.

 I remembered that dogs don't like their owners to fall to pieces because they don't want to upset us even in their agony.  I whispered to her over and over, telling her she had been the best dog ever and I love you, you can go, I need you to be happy again, I'll never forget you, you're my bestest girl, we're going to go for one more walkies, please forgive me, I know you'll wait for me, we'll meet again one day,  it's ok, sweetheart, you don't have to stay, don't fight little one, I love you......She turned in my arms and looked up at me one last time and then, well, then, it was truly over just as we pulled into the parking lot.

Trying hard not to sob openly, I carried her into the clinic, past a customer with a happy young dog at the reception desk who said, "Aw, you've got a sick puppy there."

"No, she's not sick," I said,  "She's dead."

I don't know why I said that.  The technician scurried to put us in an exam room and said the vet would be right with us.  After a bit, a vet came in and looked at Pudding lying there on her blanket, and asked me what I wanted.  At least I think that's what she asked me, I'm not sure.  I hoped my little Pudding was truly gone, and I asked if she could listen to her heart.

She obliged me, ran the stethoscope around Pudding's chest and said, "I don't hear a heart beat."

And I said, "Good."  At least I think I said that, maybe I only thought it.  I was too busy crying to say much of anything.  I still am.  I just couldn't stand the thought of her trying to rally one more time.  She was at peace.

"I'm sorry for your loss.  You can stay in here as long as you like," the vet said and left the room.

I hugged Abby tight; we were both crying.  What a wonderful comfort she was to me in this.

Carl stepped up with Joel, and we hugged.  We wrapped her still warm body in her blanket for the ride home, this time cradled in Carl's lap.

There was a beautiful sunset, I noticed that through my bleary eyes on the ride home. Sunset was always our time for walkies at night, how Pudding loved to walk.  We'd go out in the Back Eight and she'd sniff and explore and then realize she was falling behind and come running to me.  These last two years I made sure not to get too far ahead of her so she didn't run so fast, the vet had said that one day she might be running to me and simply die from the exertion.  I didn't want that.

No, I didn't want that.

Be at peace, my sweet Pudding.

We will always love you.