Today has been a sad day at our home. Our dog, Sarah, is not feeling well and likely has bone cancer, though we can't say for sure without lots of invasive tests that we may or may not decide to do. She's twelve, and for the past couple of months she's been getting older by the day. Then this past week we noticed a marked decline in her condition, and brought her to the vet yesterday. She has minimal use of her hind legs due to severe arthritis which has begun impinging on her spinal nerves, and we found a large lump on her front foot that is hard and painful, thus leaving our 60-pound dog with one functioning leg. Usually active (frenetically so, even at her advanced age), she laid on the exam room floor for her acupuncture, and even held up her foot so the vet could easily take blood.
We started her on a pretty aggressive pain-control regimen, and today she seems a bit better. She's been following her Daddy around (albeit at a slow pace) and even did a little begging this morning - now THAT'S my dog! But there are still decisions to be made with regard to medical care, quality of life, and all those awful things that often go along with having non-humans as a part of your family.
If you've never loved a non-human animal, this may sound corny to you - but if you have loved a companion animal you'll understand. Having Sarah in my life has changed me in many, many ways. She kept me company when I was a graduate student and John was traveling almost every weekend and working long hours. In her youth (and mine), we used to hike for miles and hours, meeting other people and dogs, exploring the woods, swimming, picnicking, and just being quiet together. She made me more open-minded, more outgoing, and introduced me to people and ideas I never would have otherwise been exposed to. My life took a rather profound detour in my early twenties, and this was in no small part due to the impact of having Sarah in my life.
She can also be an incredibly infuriating creature. She counter-surfs like nobody's business and even steals food off your plate if it's sufficiently attractive and you've turned your head. She has been hospitalized repeatedly for excessive consumption - of dog food, bird seed, rice, cat litter, you name it. If you say the word "bath" or take a Q-tip out of the medicine cabinet, she high-tails it to her crate (otherwise known as her Safe Haven). She can open cat food cans and peanut butter jars without chewing them. We had our house "baby-proofed" well before we had babies, because she could open any cabinet - I fondly (NOT!) recall the time she ripped the door off of one kitchen cabinet and ate 2 pounds of baker's chocolate, requiring a stay of several days in the hospital while they tried to get her heart rate back to something resembling a safe level. Despite several years of "obedience" work, Sarah never walked at a heel until yesterday, and that was just because she couldn't walk faster than me.
Sarah is the smartest dog you'll ever meet, and up until very recently she had the look and exuberance of a puppy. She came to our family during an extremely difficult and lonely time in my life, and I will be forever grateful for the many hours of quiet companionship she has given me. As the years went by, and we added kids with four-legs and then with two to our family, Sarah was always there, quietly scheming for food or demanding to be let under the covers so she could sleep by our feet.
I am hopeful that she will have some quality time left, and I feel a bit guilty for writing her "eulogy" somewhat prematurely. But since we got the bad news, I have been thinking a lot about her, and what she has meant to me, and what companion animals often mean to their people, and what we mean to them...so I didn't want to wait until she is gone to express my love and gratitude for my favorite four-legged person.