Smell the Coffee: Tuesday with Murry
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I knew it was coming, but never expected it would happen so soon.
Murry wasn't even 11, although close. He'd not even seemed like an old dog until the last few months, when he skipped middle age entirely and shot straight to doddering. He'd started falling down stairs. Falling up stairs. Falling when walking. He'd become almost completely incontinent, which shamed him hugely. The dog was a goofball, but he still had his pride.
Although Murry had some minor, albeit chronic, health problems, when he began to falter, those other problems seemed to band together and pounce. He was suffering.
Years ago, I had the most wonderful German shepherd named Jade. Like Murry, Jade wasn't terribly bright -- I seem to have a gift for acquiring mentally deficient creatures -- but she was loyal and loving and quirky. Although I've been crazy in love with dogs before her and since, it was different with her, and I can't really say why. All I know is she got into a place in my heart that no dog had ever been.
Like many shepherds, Jade eventually developed hip and back problems, and I went to extremes to keep her around for as long as possible. I went a little too far. She was suffering, yet I couldn't bring myself to do what needed done until she reached a point where her forehead stayed wrinkled from pain all the time.
I'm ashamed that I let it get that severe. I realize now it was for me, not for her, that I kept her around. Her quality of life was not good, yet when I envisioned what I anticipated the putting-to-sleep process would be, I nearly drove myself crazy. For a year, I postponed taking that final step, secretly hoping she would go on her own, without my having to take action.
When it was finally, undeniably time, I stayed with her. I felt I owed it to her to be there. I was scared of how it would be, but she simply put her head down, closed her eyes and exhaled. For the first time in ages, the pain wrinkles in her forehead disappeared.
I swore then that I'd never make a dog endure what I put Jade through. It was wrong.
And then, as Murry grew more and more uncomfortable, as his falls became more horrific and his accidents more frequent, I started watching too closely for the happy times and clutched onto them, as if those justified his increasing misery.
I cooked soup bones for him. Fed him his bodyweight in sliced cheese. Hid aspirin in lunch meat. Took him for car rides with his favorite window open so his big tan mop head could hang out.
But I didn't make him suffer. Didn't go the extremes the way I did with Jade, throwing money I don't have into a desperate attempt to postpone the inevitable while he grew more and more uncomfortable. I knew that I'd know when it was time. And on Tuesday, it was.
On this last day of Murry's life, I was so distraught by his condition that my boyfriend, Didier, offered to take him to the vet for me. I didn't think I could go, but decided I would ride along. Once we arrived, I didn't think I could go inside the vet's office, but I realized I could keep Murry calmer by staying with him, so I did. And then, when it was time, I absolutely didn't think I could go back in the treatment room with them, but somehow, thank God, I found the strength to go in.
And I never would've believed I'd be glad I went, but I am.
I sat on the floor, holding Murry in my lap, and Didier was giving him a good scratching as the vet put in the needle. He put his head down, closed his eyes and it was over. They left us with him.
He was so warm.
It didn't feel real.
It still doesn't.
Murry was a gift, bought by relatives after Camille, my 6-month-old daughter, died in November of 2002. Murry became my fur-covered antidepressant. My constant companion. My doddering blond buddy with a three-second memory and a compulsion for licking walls and stealing underwear.
This might seem unrelated, but bear with me a second. Camille's nursery had been a cheery, bright, red-and-white room decorated with ladybugs. In the years since she passed, her father, my daughter, a few close relatives and I have all had these bizarre ladybug experiences. If we're sad or going through something especially difficult, a ladybug will appear. Doesn't matter if it's the dead of winter and we're in the middle of a snowstorm, a live ladybug will land on us.
It's hard to explain how a visit from a bug can feel good without sounding like a lunatic, but it's like getting a hug from an angel.
So, Tuesday night, I was sitting at my computer, writing about Murry and crying, with a fan blowing directly on me, full force. It's a powerful fan not even a full arm's length away. In spite of the wind, the tiniest ladybug landed on my wrist. A half-hour later, it was sitting there still.
Believe what you like. Say it's only a bug at the start of the season for bugs. But I think my angel was letting me know where Murry is now. Who he's with. And that it's OK.
Even if I'm not.
Reach Karin Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org.