December 27, 2009

2009. Wow. 2009. For those of you who don’t know us well, here is what happened with us in 2009, in brief:

In February, my beautiful 13-yr-old boy Tanner died after a long painful illness that turned out to be cancer in his hipbone. Tanner was my heart.

The next day, our 11.5-yr-old girl Annie was also diagnosed with bone cancer in her shoulder.

A few days later, we received approval from China to adopt our 4-yr-old daughter Sunny. We had been trying to adopt since the summer of 2006, and in late 2008 had “lost” a sibling pair of older girls that we were sure were going to be our daughters from Vietnam, after a year and a half of waiting for their paperwork to be approved.

In March, we drove to Michigan to adopt our sweet 10.5-yr-old Slider (Sly), who was going to be Crisco’s Meet n Greet buddy. Crisco and Tanner had been the “bookend boys” for 3 years, and it was just too lonely to have Crisco alone.

In April, we had to let Annie go because her pain was too much.

A week later, Lloyd traveled to China for 2 weeks to bring Sunshine home.

May, June, July were spent adjusting to the dynamics of our new family, and, for me, grieving Tanner’s loss.

In August, our schnauzer Abby’s seizures became uncontrollable. It was deduced that she had a brain tumor, and we had to let her go as well.

In mid-September, my Crisco Roo, my best friend of 7 years, was diagnosed with cancer in his spine. He was given a couple months to live.

Three days later, sweet Sly collapsed in the yard from a pulmonary embolism and died in my car on the way to the vet. Sly was pure joy in a pudgy, fuzzy package.

The next day, a 2-yr-old adoptable named Hank decided to move into our house.

That weekend, we traveled to Iowa to bring home 9.5-yr-old Apollo.

A week after Sly died, after not eating for 3 days, Crisco told me that he wanted to be let go too. If Tanner was my heart, Crisco was my soul.

In October, we brought home Whitey from Missouri. And two weeks after that, Whitey was diagnosed with bone cancer. He had his leg amputated in November.

In early December, we received approval from China for our 2nd daughter.

Now. What do you say to a year like that? People ask me how I am still standing, and the truth is that much of the time, I’m not.

The truth is that I am still dealing with losing Tanner, let alone everything else that followed. That this whole year has felt like I can’t get my head above water, and more weight just keeps getting added.

When the snow came this year, it brought back the last couple months of Tanner’s life. The days when he could no longer do the 2 stairs to go outside, and Lloyd built him a ramp. The day that the new pain medications made him sick, and every half hour all day long I put on 4 booties (because he couldn’t walk on the snow and ice without them) and a jacket and snood, and helped him outside and back in. He was still in so much pain, and I told him it was okay if he just went in the house, but every time he was determined to hobble out to the yard.

I look back on that now and am sorry that I let him go through that. But we didn’t know that it was cancer then. We still thought we might be able to make him better. And there was still so much life in his eyes. He was still Tanner; lying on his bed asking for treats, air snapping at us, watching me everywhere I went.

The whole past year is filled with images that I’ll never be able to erase, of the ones I love in pain and in fear.

I know some people think that this all is crazy, and that they are ‘just dogs.’ But these were my children. I loved them more, and spent more time with them, than most people do with their human children. And I really do feel like 5 of my human children died this year.

The only difference is, you don’t expect your human children to die before you. But when you love a dog, you go into it knowing that in all likelihood you will lose them far too soon.

I had nightmares about Crisco’s death for years. Dreams where something would happen to him and I couldn’t save him, and the majority of the dream was me sobbing uncontrollably. Because I knew that someday he would die, and I just couldn’t see how I would manage to live without him. It was quite simply the worst thing I could imagine.

And it happened, 3 months ago today. And it was as bad as I thought it would be. This time, I didn’t wake up, pat his belly and feel his breathing next to me, and go back to sleep. When I think about how long it’s been, it really genuinely surprises me that life has gone on. He was so much a part of my life – he WAS so much of my life – that I couldn’t fathom what my life would be without him. Especially once Sly died too.

But in some odd way, Crisco’s death was a relief. The very worst thing I could imagine had happened, and I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. I felt like nothing else could be as bad as that, so I could relax.

I love all my dogs, past and present, with all my heart. But I also understand that Tanner, Crisco and Sly were special, each in very different ways. They were “heart” dogs. I don’t know whether I’ll ever know a dog like any of them again, but I do know that I was unbelievably lucky to have had them in my life.

I don’t understand when people lose a dog and then say, ‘I’ll never have a dog again, because it’s too hard to lose them.’ Really? This year was pure hell for me. There were days, a week here and there even, when I more or less did not get out of bed. There were nights when I in all seriousness hoped that I would not wake up the next morning. When I truly thought I was going crazy. But – it was worth it.

The gifts that those boys gave to me, just by being themselves, were worth the pain I am in now and then some. I am nothing but lucky to have had them in my life.

When we adopted them, they were the “hard-to-place” dogs. Can you believe that? My perfect boys? Crisco was 7 years old and had gone through 3 homes. His last home claimed that he was “vicious,” but he turned out to be my most reliable Meet n Greet dog. Tanner was 9.5. Sly was 10.5. Seniors. We went in knowing that our time with them would be too short, but never expecting how wonderful it would be.

And I’m glad that we got Whitey, even with the cancer diagnosis 2 weeks after he came home. I’m glad that we’ve gotten to know this spunky little dude. I hope he has a long time with us, but if he doesn’t, I’ll still be glad he landed here so we could help him through all of this. If I believed in such things, I’d almost be inclined to believe that Sly sent him: “You couldn’t save me, but maybe you can save this one.” Whitey gave me the gift of needing my help, of showing me that while Crisco is gone, there are other dogs that need me too.

What I’ve gone the very long way around to say is: Adopt a senior dog. What? You didn’t realize that was my point this whole time? Well, it is. Yes, it hurts to lose them. I won’t lie to you. It hurts a hell of a lot, more than you can maybe imagine. But it’s worth it. There’s no guarantee with time. 2-year-old dogs die too. And 12-year-old dogs sometimes hang on ‘til 16 with health and happiness. But I know that everyone who passed up Sly and Whitey because they were too old missed out big-time.

Any of my adopters who see a senior greyhound on Petfinder that they might want to adopt should let me know, because I can work with that group to help you adopt him or her. There are so many out there. Brood mamas, bounces from other homes (due to the economy, divorces, not anything the dogs have done). The group we got Whitey from (Rescued Racers) has a black-and-white guy named Big Daddy that I would love to place. He was in a blood donor program and has NEVER had a family in his whole life. Think about what you could give to this boy, or any of the others out there, and I know he’ll give back to you in ways you don’t expect.

I miss my old boys every day. I’ve never been so glad to see the tail end of a year. But I know in the end I was lucky.

We who choose to surround ourselves with lives
even more temporary than our own
live within a fragile circle,

easily and often breached.

Unable to accept its awful gaps
We still would live no other way.

We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.

–Irving Townsend


One comment

  1. The need for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

    — from ‘Wait’ by Galway Kinnell

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