What will you do with your one wild and precious life? - Mary Oliver

Thursday, March 24, 2011

R.I.P. Sophie

Sophie when she was diagnosed, about March 1, 2011
Sophie ready for her final journey this morning.
Our pets become family members in so many ways. We can’t leave home for any length of time without having someone look after them. We clean up puke off the good rug when they eat something they shouldn’t. We put up with their smelly beds when they’ve taken a quick swim in the mud hole because they hate baths. And we understand fully that every day is the best day of their lives. Especially when going for a walk.  Every walk is the best walk.  Every meal is the last meal they will ever eat so they scarf it down too fast and gag and cough part of it back up, in whole pieces no less.

Then we feel the warmth of their bodies as they struggle to get as near to us as they can, and we feel frustrated because we are trying to work, or write, and a nose is creeping onto the keyboard and pressing phantom keys into unwanted words. Anger never creeps in, just mild frustration.  And even that glides away when those eyes, those pleading eyes, look up to us for a hand to rub behind the ears, or a pat on a full belly, or a paw held up for a pawshake.

When put behind the pet gate in the sunroom, they sit and whine because they want to be where we are. They fully believe, and accurately, they are part of us, part of the human family. When we moved to Memphis four years ago, Sophie was our only dog. She was lonely.  So we began to foster dogs and the first two we took in we could not give up, so we somehow would up with three rescue dogs.  And today we are one less.

The vet told us about three weeks ago that Sophie, our 12 year old boxer, had lymphoma.  She had had skin cancer several times, and it too had come back. The vet said she was in the last stage and would live perhaps another month.  She was given prednisone for several days and came into a “second spring” of life for those few days. She ate everything in site, wagged her nub tail wildly, and ran through the high grass at Shelby Farms, splashing in the ponds, mud up to her eyeballs. Her last hurrah.

Then the past few days we knew she was failing. She began to avoid eating.  She coughed constantly until she gagged.  And her last day on earth was particularly painful for her. She coughed until her eyes bulged out and her face filled with fluid and I called the vet.  It’s time, she said.  So we scheduled the final journey for 8:00am Thursday morning.  

Robert and I recalled the first time we met Sophie. Our first boxer, Greta, had died of a heart attack and soon afterward we found Sophie. We rescued her from a puppy mill in south Mississippi.  She was less than a year old, and had been mistreated and did not trust anyone.  She learned to trust us, slowly, and of course had a distinct aloof personality.  And today we were asking her to trust us one more time.
All three dogs at Shelby Farms March 18

Sophie with our grandson Oliver on March 18.
At Shelby Farms on March 18, 2011.
Sophie went willingly. Her eyes revealed she was afraid, at first, and I began to backslide on the decision.  But after the past 24 hours, we knew we were doing the right thing.  Her tail still wagged in love for us. She trusted us. We put her on the lab table at the vet’s. Dr. Jo was kind and loving and said goodbye to our “baby girl” along with us.  Sophie went willingly onto the high table. I took off her collar and Robert pocketed it. I held onto her and felt her cough and shiver as Dr. Jo injected the anesthetic into her front leg. Immediately, Sophie relaxed, and rested down onto the surface. Robert reached around and put her back legs together so she would be comfortable. 

We rubbed her and massaged her behind her ears.  She was more fully relaxed than we had ever seen her.  She is a boxer, after all, and wagged and twisted her entire body every time we came near. She wagged into the excited jelly-bean quiver every time we walked in the door at home.  But not this time. She lay there looking straight ahead at the wall, and took a deep breath. I nodded to Dr. Jo, who had the syringe ready and waiting. She gently injected the euthanasia drug. Within one minute Sophie’s heart stopped beating.  She was at peace at last. No more pain, no more coughing, no more suffering. Forever running through the grass at Shelby Farms, and forever wagging and twisting her tailless body in jelly bean shape, glad to see her friends, running together toward the sun.