0945, Sunday the 6th of July, Spirit went to sleep in my arms for the last time.
Late the night before, she stumbled and couldn’t get up again, becoming incredibly distressed that her legs wouldn’t do what she wanted them to do. She belly-crawled around the floor, anxious to be near me, and almost certainly in as much physical pain as psychological pain.
My heart broke, and it feels like it’s breaking still – more than three weeks later.
Her own heart was still so strong, but her legs just couldn’t keep up with it anymore. Dementia was long-settled, and there were times she clearly didn’t remember where she was. She paced, and she paced, which was good for her heart, and her hind legs, but she couldn’t linger indefinitely.
In a way, it was a relief to have such a clear and obvious sign that it was time, but even after warnings from my vet, I was still not at all ready to say goodbye. Not even close. But I was often questioning whether I chose to delay for my sake or hers, until at last she made the decision for me.
A dog who can’t stand has gone as far as she can. And 14 is a good long life for a Malamute.
I miss her – all the time. Spirit was the dearest, gentlest soul, and I feel so lonely without her, even covered as I am in cats half the time. She left me too soon after Monster left me, and I feel like I really can’t lose any more right now.
I’ve been meaning to write this farewell entry for weeks, but I haven’t been able to sit still and write since it happened. I’ve turned my life upside down to avoid dealing with the loss, but I need to come back to the reality of what’s left behind.
We buried her, as I said we would, by the river on my parents’ beautiful property. Five silver birches were planted around her, and a seat will be settled in what we’ve already dubbed ‘Spirit’s Grove’. The saplings are naked and scrawny, and the grass needs to grow back from disturbance, but I will photograph the Grove in Spring or Summer, when the trees have had a chance to nourish themselves on what she’s returning to the earth.
The lovely vets at Montrose, who were so compassionate and understanding of Spirit’s pain and my abject and unabashed grief – really, I was a wailing woman made of tears and snot – sent along this lovely card soon afterwards:
My animals and I are so lucky to have such good people taking care of us.
I’ve spent the last hour or so sifting through folders and folders of disorganised photographs, collecting together some of my favourite memories of my beautiful girl. I’d love to caption each of them, retell all the moments, but my heart really can’t take that kind of masochistic abuse today. Instead, I’m going to just share the lot of them, the only context necessary being that they were all taken with love.
Spirit doesn’t like to come inside too often. My polished wood floor is slippery for her old joints, and there’s at least one playful cat who can’t leave her alone to sleep.
Personally, I would prefer it if she was an inside-all-the-time (except while walking and/or pooping) dog, but my landlords aren’t especially keen on animals. (Which is hard for me to understand when children are far more destructive!)
Knowing that I’ll lose her soon, and having permission from my landlords to let her in since the cold weather isn’t helping her poor old bones, I invite her in every time I go past the back door, or when I need to bring in some firewood. Most of the time she looks in, sees EnormousCat (who doesn’t like her at all) and politely declines. Sometimes I’ll shoo EC away and she’ll still politely decline, possibly discouraged the stairs. Still, I persist. I want her inside, by the fire, snoozing happily.
Today, since it was raining hard, she accepted my invitation without encouragement, but was still anxious of the floor and Smudge, who was, as ever, so excited to see her. Spirit was, afterall, the one to bring him into our lives.
She only stayed in for a little while the first time – for the last hour or so she’s been snoozing by the fire. When she left, Smudge sat at the back door, sulking and waiting for her to come back. He doesn’t seem to care how much bigger she is, or that she could snap him in half with a nip, or squash him with a misplaced foot (easily done since she has trouble placing them these days). Spirit, on the other hand, is perpetually anxious about squashing him and wanting him to stay clear, not at all sure how the pack dynamics change inside the house with a kitten in the mix. But she’s so gentle and indulgent, and Smudge is just besotted.
Video evidence of a kitten adoring a dog (with silly youtube music). :D
I had such a lovely day out yesterday, doing the walk to Platypus Tarn with my good friend Ben. I mean to parse the pictures I’ve taken into a little narrative of the adventure later today or tomorrow, but I needed to share these pictures right away!
Knowing that Spirit is in rapid decline, and painfully aware that I have so few pictures of the two of us, I asked Ben if he’d mind taking some photographs if we had time. Ben, being as lovely as he is, made the time, and these are some of the results.
We got home quite late, but with just enough daylight left to take Spirit down to Tynwald Park… our favourite haunt. The trees are turning in a kind of reflection of Spirit’s own ‘turning’ in the Autumn of her life, so it seemed so right to have a cuddle under an autumnal tree, and give Ben a few shots of us mid-snuggle.
Her energy has returned, albeit in short bursts, thanks to the powerful medication she’s on. It’s hard to believe she is as old as she is, and that without these drugs she’d be unable to walk, nevermind run and bounce. But she did run and bounce, and despite such an awesome day out walking and photographing, those highs were the highlights of my whole day.
Thank you, Ben. <3
Spirit isn’t much longer for this world, but this is how I mean to remember her: my cuddly teddy bear who needed only a lap big enough to cuddle in; the tongue with a dog attached; the gentlest giant with the sweetest soul.
I’m going to miss her. :(
It may seem a little ‘creepy’, or at least a little ‘odd’, but my mother has already selected a nice place to lay her to rest, and arranged for a hole to be dug. The family called in a favour or two to access some heavy-duty equipment to make sure she’ll have a proper burial, befitting a much-loved companion. We’re going to plant some birch trees around her and call it Spirit’s Grove.
The vet, Scott, was as lovely and wonderful as ever. He was the one to put my cat to sleep a few months ago, and is probably the kindest, most compassionate man I know. And, he’s quite fond of Spirit. :)
She is at the end of her race, the finish-line is in sight, but we’re taking our time to cross it. The painkillers she’s on have helped her so much, though they’re a short-term solution and in no way fixing the problem. She’s moving about, walking more easily, even jogging a little, though it’s more forward momentum from her strong front end than actual effort to run.
Much like the situation with Monster a few months ago, I’ve brought Spirit home for a ‘last few weeks’ together, which is all I could ask for right now. I went in this morning prepared to say goodbye, but hoping I could get just a week over Easter for some quality time, and Scott was happy to grant that wish. We have enough painkillers to get us through until the end of the month, and he advised me not to be too stingy with them if I feel she may be uncomfortable. If I need more, call. <3
So, Spirit and I are going to have a special few weeks together, though I don’t know what we’ll do. Nothing too strenuous, for sure. I’ve set up a little nest for her to snuggle into in my office, though she’s outside right now, basking in the sunshine and I’m reluctant to interrupt. I’m going to keep the house snugly-warm and make sure she gets treats with every meal. She’ll be tired of being brushed in a day or two, and I expect I’ll flood the web with pictures as keepsakes.
If possible, we’ll take a walk down in the mornings when her friends are usually playing in the park, so they’ll all get a chance to say goodbye. She does love her adoring people.