update from the land of the missing white dog

We miss Tala a lot. Of course. Need it even be said.

Somehow I have gone from abject grief to poignant acceptance quicker than I expected. I have no idea why this is. With each dog we have said goodbye to, eventually I get to a place where, thinking of them, I feel sad but at peace -- fortunate to have had their love, assured that we did everything we could for them, and a kind of happy-sadness at their memories. My heart still aches for Tala, but somehow I'm at peace with it.

Everyone is asking about Diego. He is doing really well. He seemed "off" for a couple of days -- he seemed to be waiting for Tala to come home. For all we know, he still is. But he has quickly adapted to a new routine, and seems almost like his usual happy self.

I miss the howling, and the rough-housing. I wonder if Diego misses it, too.

I'm grateful that I was home for almost a full week before we suddenly had to say goodbye to Tala. If I had been out of the house at work and union meetings, I would have missed precious time with her. I'm also grateful that the decision was completely obvious. As soon as we saw the chest x-rays, we knew.

I'm having trouble reconciling myself to why we didn't help her sooner. She was having some symptoms, but we attributed them to her chronic spine condition and to age, never imagining something else was going on. She was struggling for a few weeks. But was she suffering? The thought of one of my animals suffering is unbearable for me. My brain tells me we did everything we could, and even if we didn't, we can't go back and re-do it. But my heart is not fully on board.

Tala's death has made me think about all love and all mortality. I'd say this is a sign of age, but in fact each time I lose someone I love, I feel this way. Our ability to love is infinite, but the creatures we love are always finite. And since we human animals are aware of our own mortality, we know that our love will lead to loss. But love we must.

I envy those people who believe in an eternal afterlife. When I say goodbye to someone I love, I realize what a beautiful fiction that is.


Lorne said...

Your post reflects the feelings that all pet owners have when they have to say goodbye. I think the peace that comes is a result of knowing that we made the right decision, and that the suffering has ended. Thanks for writing it, Laura.

johngoldfine said...

I can forget about Chloe for a few hours, but when the others come into the kitchen for some routine snack, I still half-expect her to show last, as she was wont to do, always businesslike and confident that she'd be included, never anxious or pushy.

But even if I could forget about her for longer periods, the other dogs remind me when we're out on a walk. She's buried on the property's high point, under the moss she loved to lie on on hot summer days. The grave is covered by some large flat fieldstones--and there's two feet of snow and ice on top of those, but every single time we go out, the boys run over and snuffle around the grave. God only knows what scent they're picking up.

For what it's worth, I don't think dogs are stoical about pain. If they are hurting, they let you know. They can accept a good deal of discomfort without complaint, but anything acute they will cry, bite the hurting area, lie down and pant, stop eating, take hunched, protective postures, and so on.

I was raised on the theory that people who love animals are stunted souls, unable to fully love people (this theory propounded by someone who was not notably a people-lover herself.) Even though my whole adult life has taught me a different lesson, it's sometimes still hard for me to accept as legitimate that powerful love I feel for dogs. Fortunately, I have better and kinder teachers and theorists today than I did then--and they are telling me it's time for a walk.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Been nearly a year since the Hammer, an Alaskan Malamute, my third, died. She had quite the life, much as my previous dogs Strangler and Ranger did. As have I, with their companionship and their teaching. You cannot have the Magic without the Loss.

laura k said...

Oh Mr. Beer N. Hockey, that is so very true. (Thank you, Lou Reed.) I hope there is a fourth Malamute in your future.

Thank you, Lorne.

John, I keep waiting for Tala to poke her head around the corner, looking from kitchen to living room, reminding us -- willing us -- to get up and get her treat. And when one of us moves, she makes a circle, then shows us where the treat is. Head appears, stare, circle, walk.

Tala was giving us those signs at the end. She was hurting. But perhaps I'm not distinguishing discomfort from pain. She was having at least discomfort for at least a month or six weeks. We were treating it as a flare-up of her spine condition, which actually may have helped generally -- more pain meds, less activity. But when did discomfort become pain? Who knows.

I do think animals are stoic, and our vet believes it very strongly, espousing evolution as the cause (animals who show sickness or injury are easy prey). But either way, we never know for sure.

laura k said...

Letting ourselves love our dogs as much as we do is a powerful lesson, I think. Loving a creature of another species brings you to the heart of the mystery of love.

laura k said...

* Not waiting to appear. Half-expecting her to appear, then catching myself.

johngoldfine said...

Pain, discomfort, stoicism--no, I don't know where the lines are, what behavior the instincts do or don't drive, how we can ever tell for sure. What your vet says makes sense, though, on the other hand, our domesticated dogs are a long way from their wolfish and pack roots.

Scooter became acutely sick at age 10, auto-immune stuff, nothing the vet could do. We babied him for four weeks, spoon feeding him venison stock and tucking him up by the woodstove, and though sick and starving, he was still Scoot, still there, still connected, feeling rotten but uncomplaining.

One morning we woke up and, though he was still alive, he had fallen off a cliff overnight. His soul had fled his still-breathing body, no mistake about it, and it was time to hurry him along.

Shit, that was five years ago next month, and I'm still labile. His picture on the wall presides over our dinner table, and hardly a night goes by that Jean and I don't fall into memory-talk about him, and that talk in turn can lead to an over-salting of whatever is on our plates.

But you know all about that already....

M@ said...

I absolutely understand. Dogs, as you say, are stoic about pain; they couldn't tell us even if they wanted to, of course. We felt the same after losing Scout - what did we miss? Why didn't we see it?

In the end, we do what we can. You know that Tala loved you all and she knew she was loved back. What else can we do?

Thanks for posting this, by the way. It's good to know how others cope with our lost pups, and I hope it helps to put it out there.

Stephanie said...

Stoic indeed, that is how I choose to believe Negrita went. She didn't show the signs of the raging cancer until the very end (and it was rough) but I really believe that she was always most concerned with making us happy with her. I have always said that she was too dutiful to show us her pain but stoic describes her last days perfectly.

While I write this my heart swells as the memories come flooding in and then Lucas barks in his hound kind of way and I smile.

Thanks for sharing.

Amy said...

These are all hauntingly familiar feelings. I know with Cassie, Harvey and I both look back and wonder whether we waited too long. But we can't undo it, and in the end, we know we gave her a wonderful life, much better than the one she had before we adopted her. And with Zapper, we also wondered if we had missed the fact that something was wrong with him (he was only seven and had cancer) and waited too long to take him to the vet. And as for the cats---too many times have we been down these paths.

But as you know, with time, the pain recedes, the love remains, and you fill the hole with more love for the people and creatures around you. I am glad Diego seems okay. We had some pets who thrived when they became the "only" pet and others who were bereft. As with us, they're all different.

Hugs to you, Allan, and Diego.

laura k said...

Yes to all. :)