Recently I reread a post to our now defunct travel blog, in which I memorialized Greyla, who had been our 'final' dog and also our travel companion. She left us in November 2014, eleven months after my Daddy died. Daddy was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer in February 2013. We left Florida, and returned to Pittsburgh, in order to spend time with him. During our stay in the only campground open in winter in the Pittsburgh area, our then nearly 14 year old dog, began to present symptoms which lead to her having major surgery just a couple of weeks before her birthday. At the time, I told God that I could not handle losing both my Dad and my dog in the same year.
Seemed like God decided otherwise. My Dad passed away in January, 2014. We had Greyla with us until November, 2014. Both gone in the same year, granted eleven months apart, but still… I supposed that God decided eleven months was enough space for healing. It really wasn’t.
All of this has resurfaced in the past couple of days. I have begun to revisit the cumulative grief, and to a lesser degree, the joy, that we experience when we open our hearts and allow ourselves to love.
The catalyst for the current examination of joy, and grief results from our current experience as foster parents to a lovely, sweet, gentle, 12 year old black Lab, named Coco.
Coco was taken to the Beaver County Humane Society by the son of her previous owner, with the request that she be euthanized. The shelter staff explained that they could not, in good conscience, euthanize her simply based on her age, but offered to take her into the shelter, and try to place her, if they would sign Coco over.
Coco’s entrance into our lives and hearts came a couple of weeks later.
Ray and I often do cat transports for Beaver County Humane Society, and also happen to be friends with the veterinarian currently working at BCHS. Those two things worked together to effectively draw us into the world of fostering, which we had never even considered prior to August.
Before Coco came into our lives, I had been adamant that I was done as a dog parent. I had loved Blue, Jake, Baxter, Katie, and Greyla. I had cried tears of loss with each of them, but especially with Blue, and Jake, and Greyla. I had changed. I now appreciated having a clean house. I was so certain that dogs were part of my past, and not of my future, that we adopted a bonded pair of kitties. "Yes!" I declared,"Cats are so much easier than dogs." And I enumerated all the ways in which that was so.
Yet, when we sat in the visitation room, at the shelter, in August, with Coco, she began to worm her way into my heart, stink and all! Jump ahead, from our initial meeting with Coco, on August 16, to the day we brought her home, on August 19, to how we have fallen in love with her, to very recently, when we became worried about her health.
A few weeks ago I began to notice that Coco’s breath was getting very stinky. My concern was that she might be developing a renal issue, although her fluid intake and output remained consistent. Then last weekend, I noted that her water was tinged pink after she had been drinking. I tried to examine her mouth, using a flashlight, but couldn’t really notice anything wrong with any of her teeth, the roof of her mouth, or her gums. But then, I am not a veterinary medical professional. So, I contacted the one person I could access easily at the BCHS, via messenger on Facebook. She, in turn, contacted the medical person from the shelter.
Then later, during business hours, I was at the shelter for a transport, and spoke with one of the technicians, who said that there would be no Vet available until Tuesday, since the shelter is closed for business on Sunday and Monday, and this was Saturday afternoon. I said that I understood, and that I would’ve texted the Vet personally, but really didn’t want to impinge on our friendship, especially since it didn’t seem to be life threatening, and the amount of pinkness left behind in her water seemed to be lessening. Of course, her breath was still atrocious! But, it kind of was beginning to match her general metabolic stench, for which we have not yet found a cure.
Weird, huh? Coco is old, and stinky, but we love her! She is simply a sweet, gentle, amazingly non-reactive, dog. She is sweet with our kitties, and with our next door neighbor’s kitties, as well. When we are out walking, and dogs bark at her, she never reacts. She is the most "chill" dog we have ever known. She is very predictable in her day to day habits. She eats what we give her. She takes her medication, her supplements, and anything else we offer her, without any drama, or problem. She actually prefers when I place the paste-like probiotic she takes, in the palm of my hand, and allow her to lick it off, rather than placing it in a syringe and squirting it into her mouth. She never has attempted to get on any of the furniture, or the bed. She dislikes being too warm, and often opts to lay directly on the tile floor, instead of on the rug, or on her bed. She barks only when she is needful to go outside to pee or poop, and then it is generally one, sad, plaintive "wooof". She is simply, a good dog. And I love her! And, she loves me. She usually will follow me to whichever room I am in, and when I go into the bathroom, she stares at the shut door, until I once again emerge.
So, grief and joy… currently the grief is because we will, in all probability, lose Coco sometime within the next 2-3 months. She has an infected, cancerous growth under her tongue. I can, today, type that without immediately being reduced to a sobbing mess. She is on antibiotics to try and get the infection under control. So far, her appetite is not affected, nor is her ability to chew. She does not exhibit signs of pain. So, the plan is to offer palliative care, observe and treat any pain development, or appetite issues, and help her to feel loved, cared for, and comfortable, until the end of her days. The joy currently comes from remembering how sad and forlorn she looked in the kennel at the shelter, and knowing that she has been happy here, with us. The joy comes from waking up in the middle of the night, and hearing her snoring on her bed, in the corner of our room. Joy comes from simple things, like taking her for walks around the neighborhood, watching her scarf up her kibble and bone broth, seeing her stroll to the kitchen after our walk, because she knows that’s where the treats are, and she knows that she gets a treat when we get home. Today, joy came from watching her catch 6 hulless popcorns in a row with missing. Joy comes from knowing that she has known love in our home.
But, grief and joy come and go, and not always in balance.
Hearing the diagnosis on Tuesday afternoon was a gut punch! And it opened unexpected flood gates to past grief. But, I am blessed to have a good friend who offered support, and insight. I am also blessed to have a "pollyanna" husband, who even in the midst of this circumstance, which affects him too, was able to find good. It is a hard situation, but we have been through hard events before, and come through, so I have faith that we will ultimately be OK.
In the meantime, we will walk our sweet old girl, brush her, give her treats and medicine, put bone broth on her food, cook her brown rice because she likes it, let her sleep where she wants, listen to the sound of her snoring, help her to live a happy, loved rest of her life, and be grateful that we brought her into our home, our lives and and our hearts!