Today I took my dog for a walk, 10 minutes in the woods that were akin to striking something off of my bucket list as a dog-owner. Simply because a few short weeks ago, our dog, Casey, was unable to stand and couldn’t walk.
On Thanksgiving weekend, she was unable to move, with her hind legs being nearly paralyzed. We had to move her position on her bed, carry her outside to go to the washroom, and hand-feed her. She was entirely unable to stand, walk, sit or shift position. Any attempts she made were heartbreaking in their futility. Both Dean and I were in a state of helplessness and grief, not knowing what brought this on, nor what it meant. All of the sudden, we were faced with a situation with our beloved 12-year-old lab where realistically, if her body was not capable of healing from this to the level of her being able to stand or walk again, we would have to consider that saddest-of-options of saying goodbye to our wonderful dog. In recent months, this is a topic that I have had great anxiety over, not to mention a few tears.
There is a part of me that feels it is wrong to have the authority to end an animal’s life, but yet another that wishes everyone I love to live life with happiness and quality of life – and that applies to my dog, too.
She was, after all, our “first baby”. She was the first test we had with respect to what types of choices we would make for our future family. And here we were, with a lame dog who was suffering. I have no doubt that a part of my angst was my own sense of guilt that I could have done more somehow. Maybe more walks, or more attention, an extra t-bone to chew on. I even felt guilt for having a house with stairs, and a fenced yard instead of acres of land in my own back yard for her to explore.
On Thanksgiving night, I carried her out to the back yard, in the hopes that she would go to the bathroom. And when she collapsed on the grass, I simply squatted beside her in the dark, patted her, cried, and made my peace. I let go of my own guilt, tearfully acknowledging that I have loved her so well – and let go of trying to force anything. I let go of the outcome, and went back to the basics. And the basics were the same, as always: give her body what it needs to heal, including some time. And surrender to the process.
We placed visits to the vet (and opted for temporary pain medications, which did help a bit, as she later pushed herself to standing – just the once, followed a few hours later by hobbling around the yard a little, with tentative weight on her right foot) This was followed by a visit to an animal chiropractor. I had to carry her into the office, but after that first adjustment, she walked out. Not perfectly, and it was evident that she wouldn’t be able to walk more than a few steps at a time. But she walked. The ability was still there. We simply had to turn on the power, and let her body heal.
Up until this point, I was preparing myself for an inevitable goodbye. I was adamant that I would not watch her suffer if the only benefit to her being alive was to avoid the grief and pain I would feel. For the first two days after she became lame, random images of our life with her popped into my mind, interspersed with images of what life would be like without her. I thought of her as a puppy, curled around my pillow and head while I slept. I thought of her calm, brown eyes that helped me through the toughest of contractions when I was giving birth to our children. I thought of her love of snooping through the woods on our many hikes. I thought of her swimming incessantly at the cottage. And I thought of how much we take for granted her constant presence of love in our home. And while I could see some benefits to a household without a dog (like never finding dog hair in my food, not having to sweep every day, never wondering if our house smells like a dog, or having to buy a car that can accommodate a lab…) overall, the thought left me empty inside.
But from that first little walk out of the chiropractor’s office, I was filled with hope. I could see a future that might hold Casey for at least a little while longer. I have a new-found love and appreciation for my dog. And a gratitude for a philosophy that makes so much sense, every time, even for dogs: give our bodies what they need to function and heal, and trust that the wisdom in our bodies will take care of the rest.
I feel that now I have taken a step closer to accepting the inevitability of our dog’s passing, just hopefully not too soon. In the meantime, I am awakened to the multitude of ways in which this philosophy for LIVING permeates our life, providing a foundation for us. I am awakened to the opportunity this has given me to be more fully present to how much love and joy Casey brings into our lives, and the chance that I may have to ensure her remaining days are lived the way they are intended to be: to the fullest.
So today’s ten minutes in the woods was a “bucket list” moment for me as a loving dog owner. Next step: I’m taking her swimming!