First, I wanted to start off by saying a great big THANK YOU to each of you for all of your kind words both here on the blog, on facebook, and through private emails regarding my LAST POST about Leah’s age, and how it is breaking my heart knowing what will one day be. For those who are wondering, Nick took her for yet another visit to our vet this week, to talk about her not being able to get up very well, to talk about some morning appetite loss, and to aspirate a lump I found right after her last visit (which turned out to just be a lipoma like I suspected).
At the follow up, our vet assured Nick that we haven’t given the new supplement enough time to work, and even if it fails, there will be more options. He feels since Leah is still eating well at other times, and is not losing weight, that her occasional lack of appetite at breakfast is not a major concern. A lot of you reassured me of the same, telling me that my sweet senior may have quite a bit of life left in her and that 12 & 1/2, although old for an eighty-five pound shepherd mix, is not necessarily a death sentence. A lot of you also empathized with me, because many of you have shared the same sadness of watching your dogs developing difficulties and quirks as they advance in age.
Upon thinking these things over, I’m pretty sure I now know the reason why I am having such a hard time watching Leah struggle to stand, or not greet me by the door like she has for 8 1/2 years, or not lay in the same spot beside my side of the bed where she has lain since the day we adopted her…
Aside from Leah, none of my four legged friends have lived long enough for me to see them decline.
Sure, I’ve seen family members’ and friends’ dogs age, along with childhood dogs belonging to my parents – but none of them were my own. My first companion, a cute waif of a cat named Sashi, lived only to twelve, passing unexpectedly while Nick and I were away on vacation. My dad had checked on her only the day before, and she was happy and very much alive – but the next day when we returned, Nick found her lifeless little body lying in her bed. I’m hopeful this meant that she left me peacefully, in her sleep.
Beyond Sashi, I lost track of two other cats, Midnight and Jasmine, after a divorce, and never did learn their fates. For all I know, they might still be alive at the ages of 19 and 17 respectively. And my still-young-at-eleven-years-old, Whiskers, had to be euthanized due to advanced hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the abdominal cavity) within less than a week of displaying symptoms.
As for our dogs, none have even stuck around that long.
Together, Nick and I took a chance on a shepherd mix named Bruckner, taking him home for a trial adoption when we first decided to adopt a dog about eleven years ago. He wasn’t even ours yet, but I’m pretty sure he would have been – as I’d already decided to name him “Chance.” Sadly, he started getting sick within hours of picking him up, and he succumbed to parvo three days later.
And then there was Harley – the first dog Nick and I “officially” owned before adopting Leah. Only one short year (nearly to the day) after entering our lives, our abused Doberman died quite unexpectedly at the early age of five. Like Sashi, he died while we were away, but unlike Sashi who was in the comfort of her own cozy bed, Harley was in a boarding facility – alone. Along with blaming myself for abandoning him at the kennel so we could go away for our anniversary, Harley’s death speared my heart more than I ever would have thought possible. We had just helped him overcome several major issues, some of which we caused, and then in a blink, he was gone. I felt cheated, as if he had been ripped away from me, as if I had missed out on so many fond memories that were yet to come.
Because of these early losses, I always thought I was cursed.
I wondered what it would be like to have an animal by my side well into their twilight years. Seeing them through any hang ups they had before being adopted by us, watching them grow into wonderfully behaved companions, caring for and loving them until it was time to say goodbye, hopefully, of natural causes. To see them live a good life, and pass at a respectable age.
I always thought it would be easier.
Now, I don’t know which is worse…losing an animal before their time, or seeing them decline, becoming shadows of their former selves, their bodies giving out before their minds. Worrying that they might not go on their own, and knowing we may need to face decisions that don’t have easy or clear cut answers.
Perhaps, when I thought I was cursed, it was a blessing in disguise?