Where do babies come from…??
My dog Max died two weeks ago. Although his legs had begun to fail, he was otherwise in good health and spirits, and his passing was wholly unexpected. We’d taken a long walk the day before and he’d been so full of joy! Rushing ahead, leading the charge, till finally he was so spent he’d practically collapsed. He woke us early the next morning, about 3:30 am, crashing around downstairs. My husband rose to let him out, thinking he had to go to the bathroom. Max went out into the yard and laid down in the grass. He wouldn’t get up, even after John called him several times. His breathing was labored, his tongue hung to one side and his lips felt cold. Something was seriously wrong.
John came and got me, and together we went outside and rolled Max onto a blanket and carried his heavy (150 lb.) frame inside. We placed him gently on the rug, then fetched blankets and pillows for ourselves. We laid, side by side, as if on a camping trip. Petting him, speaking to him, sensing – somehow – that this was the end. Just shy of 4:30 his breathing became almost imperceptible, punctuated only by a few deep gasps. He didn’t seem to be in any pain. John woke the girls in time for them to say goodbye. And then Max was gone.
His swift departure has left a hole in the heart of my family. Max lived with us his entire life, from 7 weeks to almost 10 years. He grew up side by side with our daughters, and neither can remember life without him.
We miss him terribly. But even in death Max remains a steadfast presence in our lives. I see him when I walk the woods, I feel him beside me at the beach. Each morning as I rise, I meet him in the hallway where we parted, and every meal I fail to finish I take out to his yard. 2 weeks ago, Max died, and we buried him under the apple tree. And next year, when flowers bloom from his grave, I will think of him all the more.
A dear neighbor gave us a book of poems to help us through our loss. Many are consoling, some difficult to even read, but the one which has touched me the most was written by Rudyard Kipling and is entitled Four-Feet.
I have done mostly what most men do,
And pushed it out of my mind;
But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,
Four-Feet trotting behind.
Day after day, the whole day through —
Wherever my road inclined —
Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
And trotted along behind.
Now I must go by some other round, —
Which I shall never find —
Somewhere that does not carry the sound
Of Four-Feet trotting behind.
Max and Blackie.
So unlike each other and yet, so fundamentally the same.
A year ago, Blackie survived an interstate move. He spent hours bouncing in the back of an unheated UHaul truck, in a broken waterless aquarium. 6 months ago he survived a second move, one which claimed the life of his tank mate Sunny. We tried finding him some new friends and instead gave him a parasitic anchor worm infection. Poor Blackie underwent extensive treatment over the course of weeks and somehow managed once again to triumph. But even heroes have their time. Blackie the miracle fish, who had given us his all and then some, passed away overnight without drama or fanfare. It was a gentle death. The most any of us could ask.
Much like Blackie, this year Max also rebounded from a horrific infection which nearly claimed his life. He’s always suffered from acute allergies (to what, we don’t know) but 7 months ago, Max was in the worst state he’s ever been. He’d lost nearly a third of his body weight, and his body appeared to be breaking down. I’ll never forget taking him to the Portland Dog Wash, a self-serve facility, just before we moved into our new house. As we gently bathed him, blood literally poured from his sides. His back half was nearly bald. The vet put him on steroids & antibiotics, we switched his food for the MILLIONTH TIME, and we prayed for the best. I don’t know if it was a combination of everything – this beautiful yard, the new allergen free food, the steady low dose of steroids, sheer willpower, love, but over the past 6 months, Max has RETURNED. Our friends and family who saw him at death’s door and see him now simply marvel at this beast. None of us expected him to live, let alone thrive.
Today is March 2, 2010. Max’s 9th Birthday and Blackie’s “death day.” I am not quite sure what the great cosmos is trying to say, taking one life as we celebrate another. So I will close with Happy Birthday Max. And happy trails, Blackie. Here’s to you both.
My heart feels like a flaccid orange and my mind is numb. W/out exaggeration, the past 2 days have simply SUCKED BEYOND BELIEF. YES I know I joke about a whole lot of things, but for once I am totally serious.
Yesterday morning I got into a car accident. My daughters and I are all fine. The car is okay. But I saw first-hand how emotionally charged people can be following a collision, and road rage is a DAMN good reason why handguns should be outlawed. W/out rehashing all the details, I got rear-ended. It was a stupid accident. The driver of the other vehicle did not want to be at fault. Rather than take responsibility for her error in judgment, she wanted to take it out on me. She & her large male companion threatened me repeatedly w/ bodily harm. They screamed. They cursed. I do not like being threatened. I do not like being cursed out by two enraged human beings hell-bent on being right when they are wrong. and especially NOT IN FRONT OF CHILDREN. It was ugly. Very, very ugly.
If I saw these folks on the street I’d think they were a lovely family – an attractive mom & dad w/ a beautiful little girl. But the time I spent w/ them. The threats. It was totally surreal. Is it normal for a grown woman to threaten to KNOCK ANOTHER WOMAN OUT?? I haven’t heard this kind of stuff since I was in high school – and even then, it wasn’t ever directed at me. People I know do not act like this. It’s barbaric. INSANE. People who try to look like middle-class America, driving around in a fancy SUV, dress well, and then act like street thugs? Is this real? For the LOVE OF GOD what are people doing to their kids in this day and age?? When you teach your children to hate first and think later – to play a race card – you are as good as crippling them. They will never be more than that. They will never see more than that. Here in Philly – people act. and they think too late.
I spent all day yesterday dazed. Feeling off-sorts. Saddened. angry. sad again. even scared. Trying to reconcile everything. And then, Last night, after dark, raccoons crept into our rabbit’s fenced-in pen and attacked her. We didn’t even know until after the fact. Our good friend & neighbor, Jim, saved her from being mauled. Locked her in her hutch. Broke the bad news. One look, and I knew she was hurt badly. I could see visible puncture wounds on her right side, and she wasn’t moving her one arm.
6 months ago, I spent weeks nursing this rabbit back to health via syringe feedings. You simply cannot stare into the eyes of a creature that close to death, feeding them as a child, holding them, encouraging them, without seeing them as your own. Prudence had been just this side of the pearly gates, wagging her cotton ball tail through the slats for fun. She bid adieu to St. Peter, and rejoined humanity – for what. For THIS? The indignity of being mauled by a hungry raccoon trying to feed her young. I know that God exists, and I know that nature is cruel. But the injustice is too much.
This morning the ladies and I took Prudence to the vet. I knew what they would say. I knew the options. But I took her all the same. How could I do anything else? To keep something I love in pain, safe, at home? To allow her to suffer b/c I could not bear to lose her would be abject cruelty. But taking her…. In my heart, I knew that I was leading her to death. The chance – however slim – that she had or would contract rabies from the bite. that was all that mattered. How could I live w/ myself it it happened? If she bit me. My children? My heart aches. My beloved rabbit, Prudence, my friend. Who’d been at death’s door and had overcome, blossoming into better health and spirits than she’d ever known.
I’ve written before about my love of pets, and I’ve written briefly of their loss. I’ve introduced you to several of our cast of characters – most notably, Kiwi (my crazy ass bird) – but this post… this is a tribute to Prudence.
Spring through fall, Prudence lives/d in the backyard in a wooden hutch w/ her own fenced pen. It had become sort of a joke, that she was a “free-range bunny”, b/c most days we left the gate to her pen open and she would hop in-and-out at will. Although our yard has open fencing, and Prudence could have escaped if she wanted to, she never did. The most she ever did was hop over to our next-door neighbors to sample the clover. So most days I would gaze out the kitchen window to find a Teletubbie-esque scene, with Prudence hopping from spot to spot in the yard, munching grass. Although we have a ton of cats on our block, none of them ever gave Prudence the slightest grief. In fact, the total opposite. These cats would (no joke) actually come to hang out w/ her. Our one cat Bixby would sometimes laze up on top of her hutch, and our other cat Milkshake slept INSIDE of it. Prudence seemed to think this was just fine, and somehow here in West Philly, it WAS normal. They all just got along. Different. But happy. Prudence was as close to a “wild bunny” as a totally domestic fed pet could get – she’d even felt inspired to recently begin digging a burrow in the corner of her pen, like her rabbit forebears. Somehow she just knew. She knew how. She wanted to. And it was okay.
Tonight, my heart aches. Tomorrow we will bury our sweet bunny’s remains in the burrow she’d been digging these past weeks. A fitting tribute to her work.