Christine's Blog

The Downhill Slide

Every dog owner knows it will come: the day we must say goodbye. Most of us manage to keep that knowledge on the periphery, off in the distant future. How can we do otherwise? The hole that is left after such a loss can be brutally deep. And yet there are moments when the inevitably of that goodbye is unavoidable. I had such a moment today. 

In a previous blog, Space for Kyra, I shared the unusual circumstances that brought Kyra and I together. I have yet to express, in any piece of writing, the depth of her spirit or how much she means to me. But I feel it. 

Kyra was diagnosed with hip dysplasia when she was 3 years old. Our vet recommended she be evaluated by a specialist at the University of Wisconsin. The possible hip replacement surgery, thankfully, was deemed unnecessary. We were told that her hip could be managed with regular exercise, supplements and medication. For years we have followed those instructions: morning walks in the park, (weather permitting) supplements and pain meds given daily. Kyra voluntarily comes every time she hears the rattle of the pill containers; she allows me open her mouth and slide the pills down her throat. 

She is now 9, and it seems that the supplements and exercise have done little to slow the deterioration of her hip joint. I hear clicks in both her hip and knee. Awful sounds. I try to blink away tears when I see the expression on my vet's face and hear his words, "Bone on bone...cartilage worn away...very painful." She is experiencing bouts of nausea, and blood is drawn to rule out kidney damage from years of taking pain meds. My vet supplies tiny white pills for the nausea and new pain meds. He informs me of treatment advances in the form of weekly injections. Quality of life is discussed. I want to turn my head away. I don't want to hear any of it. I want her to live forever. Without pain.  

The new pain meds don't work as well, but the nausea is subsiding. The blood tests come back normal. No kidney damage. I am relieved and grateful. Still, I see pain in her eyes at times. I stroke the silky fur behind her ears, just the way she likes. I whisper soothing words. I sit with her on the floor, her head in my lap. Our walks in the park have shortened in length and are interspersed with frequent rest periods; I toss her ball much closer.

Last night my husband and I had dinner with friends, and I drank too much wine. (It was very good wine!) I awoke with a headache and a queasy stomach, feelings hardly conducive to a pleasurable walk in the park. My goal this morning is to get home as quickly as possible so I can lie on the couch and close my eyes. But Kyra is not cooperating, her many rest periods seem to drag on. And despite my knowledge of her deteriorating joints, I find myself becoming impatient with her. I think, "Come on already!"

I have walked with her trailing behind me "off leash" for many years, letting her sniff and walk at her own pace, while I periodically stop and urge her to catch up. Today, when I turn back and say, "Come on Kyra!" she does something unusual. She rises from her grassy patch in the shade and heads toward me. Then she stops, sits in the sunshine, and looks at me. I notice the abnormal tilt of her leg and feel a rush of guilt. I look at her face expecting an expression of pain; instead, she smiles and tilts her head up, as if she's caught a pleasurable scent on the breeze. My gaze follows hers, and for the first time today I notice the sky. It is my favorite sky: a deep cerulean blue overhead with small, fluffy clouds dotting the horizon. I feel the pleasure of that sky and the tangy, spring breeze on my face. I notice the vivid green that covers the park: a carpet of freshly mowed grass, newly sprouted leaves covering the trees and bushes, my favorite row of majestic White Pines. It all comes into focus. I breathe deeply and take it all in. I feel Kyra at my side and place my hand on her head. The sun has warmed her fur. 

Kyra has taught me many lessons. Important lessons. The exact ones I need.

Will there be other spring days like this one? Yes. Will I be here to see them? Probably. But there will never be another day that will unfold in the exact same way. I realize that Kyra has brought me to the present moment, to the awareness of how important it is to pull myself from all the unimportant distractions that fill my mind and be present in my life: to look up at the sky, to notice the unique green of spring, to treasure walks in the park and the precious company of my dog.

We sit for a while, Kyra and I, under a tree, in the shade, together, content. I put my arm around her, press my face into her neck and inhale her familiar, heady, dog smell. I feel gratitude and loss welling up inside bringing hot tears, knowing that despite my most ardent desire, these moments will not last forever.

We leave the shade of the ancient Oak tree and walk back to the car. I ease her hind legs into the back seat, and we drive home with the radio playing and Kyra's smiling face hanging out the window.