Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Weight of a Poodle

The end of our time together is drawing near. Thirteen years have passed in the wag of a tail. The past few weeks Pippi's health has slowly declined--even more than before. At first she struggled to get up and down the stairs; now her legs will barely hold her up. She's been eating less and losing weight. She looks like a wasp she's so thin, and her hip bones poke out above her back when I take off her diaper so she can go out. We had to stop walking down to the river--four blocks there and four back--but the weather turned cold so it didn't seem like such a sacrifice. Last week I took her in the van with me and I had to lift her out because she couldn't jump off the seat. And then New Year's Day when the Seventh Day Adventist ladies rang and rang the doorbell Pippi didn't even get up off her bed. A month ago she would have run downstairs to bark at them. When I come home, she doesn't get up. She knows I'm here, and her tail twitches, but standing up takes so much energy and it hurts. I've watched it happen, understanding this is yet one more thing I'm powerless over.

I know the time is coming when I'll have to make a decision. This morning she didn't want to stand up. I could tell it hurt her, that she just didn't have the strength to do it....and yet she did because she will do anything I ask her if she possible can. I walked around upstairs with her so her joints could loosen up before she tried going down those fourteen steep steps to the first floor. I walked to the bottom of the stairs and called her down. She made several false starts, but finally she put her front feet down on the first step and let the momentum carry her....she fell sideways on the fourth step and landed on her side. I caught her before she fell to the next step and carried her down. She's light--maybe 40 pounds now. When I set her down on the floor, her legs buckled but she stood back up. And she went outside, where she squatted and squatted and squatted, like she's been doing for months. I finally got her to come back in, but she missed the first step and fell again. I carried her in.

I put a folding table in front of the stairs so she couldn't go upstairs without me. She's got a bed in the living room and one in my bedroom, but she's always slept on the one in my bedroom while she waited for me to come home. Somehow today she knocked that table over and got back up the stairs. I didn't even try to coax her down; I just carried her. I'm afraid that hurts her too.

This morning I gave her straight canned dog food--didn't mix it with dry like I usually do. She hasn't been eating much so I wanted to entice her. She ate it and she took her pills. The cancer pill she gets every other day. It's supposed to help with the pain too, but it's hard to tell these days if it does. She ate the dog food. When I got home tonight, I cooked some a couple of chicken breasts and gave her one. She ate that too. One thing about living with a dying dog, it doesn't matter if she eats people food. She can eat anything she damn well pleases. Tomorrow I plan to give her some bacon.

I called my kids today and told them it wasn't going to be long. We've had Pippi since Sophie was six, more than two-thirds of her life. She doesn't remember life without Pippi. She wants to go with me if....or when....I have to take Pippi to the vet and....well, you know. She thinks it's only right that she be there for the end after all the years they've spent together. I would rather spare her the experience.

Tonight I went to rehearsal for a play I'm in, Octette Bridge Club. One of the other cast members asked me how I was. I said I was OK. She said, just OK? So I told her I was probably going to lose my dog in the next few days. She said the last time she did a play at that theater she had to have her 20-year-old dog put to sleep, and it was awful. She said toward the end she was dragging her futon over by her dog's bed so she could sleep beside her, and didn't I think that was silly. No, I don't. Tonight I will carry Pippi up to my bedroom so she can sleep by my bed like she has for the past thirteen years. It's never silly to love, is it?

In fact it was thirteen years ago in January that we brought her into our family. She flew down to Ohio from Michigan and the kids and I picked her up at the airport. She was so happy to see us; it was as if she already knew us. We all thought she knew we were her family. I would like to write more about her life with us, but tonight I just can't do it. I'm having a little trouble seeing the screen through my tears.

So I'm back to the three questions. 1) Is she still eating? No, not as much. But she will eat if I give her special, irresistible foods, like chicken and that refrigerated dog food that comes in a roll. 2) Is she happy to see me? Does she love to be with me? Yes, and up until the past few days she's still tried to follow me everywhere, even to the bathroom. But she can't do that any more. She doesn't even follow me to the kitchen when she knows I'm cooking. But does she still love to be with me? Yes. I think she'd have to be unconscious not to. 3) Is she in pain? Yes, the balance is tipping on this one. I'm afraid she's in constant pain. She lies in one place, in one position, for hours at a time. She doesn't shake when she comes in from the cold. She's very careful now. And she seems so fragile...more like a bird than a dog. Yes, I think she's in pain, at least when she stands up and walks. And yet up until three days ago, we were still going for short walks down to the corner and back. And she wagged her tail and pranced her poodle prance the best she could. Three days ago...I think that was our last walk.

I'm grateful for the thirteen years I've had to share with Pippi, but the past four years she's been with me through changes I never would have imagined that day we picked her up from the airline and welcomed her as the fifth member of our family. In those four years she's been with me as my marriage shattered and my husband--ex--moved out. And then my son moved out. And then my daughter. Since the vet diagnosed her cancer and told me to prepare to euthanize her, we've moved out of the only home she knew and into an old house in the city. It was a hard, anxiety-provoking move for her as it was going on, but she's liked it here in our new house. We've spent hours sitting on the front porch watching the neighborhood like a movie. Other people have passed through our lives in the past couple of years, including the one who asked me those three questions. Some were good for a pat on the head, but others she loved and nurtured and licked their ears. Somehow she knew when someone just needed a dog to be there...just to be there.

After all those years I spent as a wife and mother....Pippi was the last member of our family left here with me. I can't help but think she got me through this move and stayed a few months to make sure I was settled. But that friend said last spring, she is going to trust me to know when to do the right thing, and to love her enough to do it. And to love her enough to do it.

It's the dark time in the turning of the Wheel, so maybe it's right that this happen now. The earth rests in her cold darkness that mimics death. My heart resists even as I feel the inevitable pull while the Wheel turns....and turns again.

And so I give thanks to the Goddess for the years I lived with the best dog ever...ever. And may She give me the strength to be as true a companion to Pippi as she has been to me. Blessed be.


  1. Just hugs and love to you, and to Pippi. Hoping it buoys your strength across all these miles.

  2. This made me cry! I wish I had read it BEFORE I saw you today...I really want to give you a big real-life, in-person hug. Much love to you and Pippi, too. (And no, it's never silly to love. Ever).

  3. Hugs, Carol. I'm not a dog person, but I understand love.

  4. i'm all teary now. i'm so happy that you've had each other this long.

  5. {{{hugs}}}
    What a good friend she is, and you are.

  6. Hugs to you. Our animals complete our lives, don't they? It is soo hard to let go.