I turned in my final final two days ago and am officially on summer break! Returning to school after half a lifetime has been a fantastic opportunity. I’ve learned so much about nutrition, made new contacts and some wonderful friends, and also had the chance to study a few subjects outside my major. It’s fascinating how the fields of nutrition, psychology, sociology, and ethics overlap, how relevant and applicable they are to many facets of life. It’s definitely fostered a much deeper appreciation and understanding of the challenges we all face and broadened my own perspectives. I had to write an essay for my philosophy class, something all first year students must complete, where we describe an ethical dilemma we’ve faced or are currently facing. My teacher told me I should share mine publicly. So I am.
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.