|Abbey with presents from Santa. |
(She generously shared that jar
of peanut butter with the rest of
I also found myself thinking more about Abbey's final days of illness in ways I hadn't before. For several weeks I couldn't seem to stop myself from seeing her climbing the stairs, vomiting as she went, on the final evening. I hated thinking about her that way: she graced our lives for 4,389 days and that penultimate day was not who she was or how I wanted to remember her. It did eventually lead to some more curiosity about what disease had killed her. When it was all happening, there'd been no time and really no point in picking apart what caused her intestines to fail--it was enough that they failed. I'd never researched canine intestinal cancers because the subject didn't come up until that second-to-last day and then, within twenty-four hours, she was gone. When I finally checked, it was somehow reassuring that unless a mass is detected and removed early, mortality rates are high. In one type of cancer, once it metastasizes, it can prove fatal within as little as fifteen days. It's not as if there was something that we could have done: if Abbey had been feeling sick for a long time, she hid it well. In retrospect, we wonder if the fact that she'd started choosing to nap in her crate instead of on my bed during the day for a month of two before the end was indicative of something starting to go wrong inside her, but fourteen year-old dogs sleep a lot and Abbey had always loved her crate and preferred to sleep there at night instead of on my bed, so it was hardly a matter to bring before the vet. Cancers often proliferate silently in dogs; in some ways, I was lucky to have had as much time with her as I did after she got so horrendously ill. And even if I'd taken her to the vet on Thursday or Friday instead of planning to call on Monday, it would still have been too late. Test results wouldn't have even come back by the time all hell broke loose on Sunday evening. There was nothing else I could have done. Modern veterinary medicine kept her as comfortable as possible during the last days. Modern veterinary euthanasia philosophy meant that she could slip away in my arms on my bed surrounded by her family. Everyone did their best, just as she always had.
|A rabbit at silflay.|
One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way--something about rain and elder bloom--when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him--no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first. Never mind, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, "Do you want to talk to me?"
"Yes, that's what I've come for," replied the other. "You know me, don't you?"
"Yes, of course," said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger's ears were shining with a faint silver light. "Yes, my lord," he said. "Yes, I know you."
"You've been feeling tired," said the stranger, "but I can do something about that. I've come to ask whether you'd care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you'll enjoy it. If you're ready, we might go along now."
They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.
"You needn't worry about them," said his companion. "They'll be all right--and thousands like them. If you'll come along, I'll show you what I mean."
He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom."It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more..." When I saw that, I understood, and my grief once again melted away before my sense of awe. Abbey did not need her body anymore, so she left it lying on my bed in my arms.
She did not need her body anymore not just because her bowels no longer functioned, but because her work, her life, her time here were done.
She gave everything to me, her heart, her life, her love, and left her body behind. I hope that she is now running alongside Hazel, matching speed for speed.
Who could want more than that?
Well, perhaps I want this:
In My Good Death
I will find myself waist deep in high summer grass. The humming
shock of golden light. And I will hear them before I see
them and know right away who is bounding across the field to meet
me. All my good dogs will come then, their wet noses
bumping against my palms, their hot panting, their rough faithful
tongues. Their eyes young and shiny again. The wiry scruff of
their fur, the unspeakable softness of their bellies, their velvet ears
against my cheeks. I will bend to them, my face covered with
their kisses, my hands full of them. In the grass I will let them knock
|There had better be nose nibbles in heaven.|
But all this, Abbey's passing, it isn't how it ends. It is just one more thing, one more story, one more memento, one more gift, one more grief, one more love, one more dog. One of many.
My dog-sitting work has resumed. I've spent some time with Sable & Scruffy, Pipsqueak, Curly, Cutie, Teddy & Roo, and a new client, Jazzy. It's mostly been drop-in visits, but some overnights, too. It has made me happy to be with them, though one of the times when I miss Abbey most is when I'm returning from an overnight gig and know my own dog will not be there to welcome me home.
|Sable found a really great stick washed up on the beach.|
|A wind-blown Scruffy sniffs the air for prey.|
|Little Miss Pipsqueak.|
|Curly just turned two!|
|Cutie just turned six!|
|I got Cutie and Curly together for a couple of playdates. They had so much fun!|
|Teddy and Roo have just turned twelve.|
|This is Jazzy, a Mini Australian Shepherd!|
|This boy was the first I considered.|
|This is Nala.|
|She's a very gentle soul.|
This is not the end of Abbey. This is just a new phase, the one where I use the heart that Abbey opened for me and everything she taught me to give this new girl the best possible home. I had a long chat with Abbey, in fact, after we got home from meeting Nala, and told her all about it. I asked Abbey to help me watch over this girl and make her feel safe and loved and cared for.
|Keeping an eye on things.|
I dreamed of Abbey the other night. She gave me a joyful yodel-bark, licked my face vigorously, and suckled on my cheek as if she was nursing. Abbey will always be one of the great loves of my life, but there is room in my heart for many more.
|My beautiful brindle beast.|
If you love Abbey, you can see many more photos of her on her Pack page!