The Helplessness of Loving Animals

Monte has been having some digestive issues, so we are currently at the vet’s ofc for the second day in a row. We waited, snuggled together tightly on a vinyl couch in a frigid office, for almost two hours waiting for the ultrasound doctor to come. Now they’ve taken him in to get the procedure, and I’m left with the residual guilt that I can’t explain to my poor roo what’s going on, why he’s here, why he has to go hungry for so long. All I could do to console him is give him my hand to cuddle around and make soothing, apologetic noises.

I recall this same feeling, unpleasantly, from when our pup Amelia first got badly ill and needed subcutaneous fluids. The annoyance of the needle; making her lie relatively still while the cup or so of coldness slowly sank into her. Even being blind and struggling with degenerative myelopathy, she still wanted to roll and play, so it was extra painful to have to prevent that in order to treat her… so that she could continue to feel good enough to roll and play.

The good news is that now that I work from home, I can cuddle with him while working and be able to repay the discomfort of now. That doesn’t change how helpless I feel, nor does it change how I would drop everything in an instant to do it again.

RIP Thelonius

Black cat with gold eyes on blue plaid sheets On Friday, June 26th, our beautiful Thelonius Huxtable Davidson – Theo for short – was released from his struggle with cancer. Theo was only 14, and we didn’t expect this. He had what looked like an abscessed tooth, and after getting dental surgery he seemed fine. A month after dental surgery we noticed a growth on his gums, and made an appointment with the vet. Within the two days between the call and the appointment the growth was noticeably bigger. A biopsy confirmed what we were afraid of. Theo had aggressive oral cancer. By the time the biopsy came back, the growth had spread through his palate and into his lower sinuses. There was nothing we could do without submitting the poor guy to a feeding tube, and our vet said that while we could extend his life, we were looking at just a few months rather than the weeks we had, now.

~

When I met Theo, he was not an affectionate cat. He was elegant, and fastidious, and tolerant of his younger brother and sister, and he liked lying *next* to you but not on you. My best memory of him back then was him sitting patiently behind me, waiting for me to notice that he had a purple string draped over him.

Black cat looking up at the camera, an ombre purple silk string draped over his face and back

Theo in Pittsburgh, waiting for me to notice the string. May 27th, 2011.

He then waited even longer for me to take a picture with my phone, then shook his head, got the string off, and walked off to clean up. But when Jon and I moved in together, things changed.

Cat wanting lurvles

Cat wanting lurvles

Within a few months of us moving to the Bronx, he had started sleeping on us when we slept curled together, then graduated to wiggling himself just so, in order to sleep between us. We discovered he had a heck of a purr. He would roll over onto his back for cheek rubs, though he still wouldn’t tolerate his belly being rubbed. By the time 2014 hit, he was starting to tolerate the belly rubs, and he started to love snuggling with his brother.

Theo_and_Monte

Theo and Monte, early 2014

What he didn’t know is that he had also decided that Amelia was part of his pride, too. This past March, while we were packing for the move to our new place, I was feeling distraught and frustrated, and the music I was listening to over my Bluetooth speaker wasn’t cutting it. I decided to take a break and watch some videos of Amelia – specifically the ones of her dancing in the old hallway in Windsor Terrace.

If you’ve seen that video of her running down the hall on my post for her, you can hear her collar jingling pretty loudly. Well, Theo heard it too. And he perked up, then ran to the door looking for her. Then ran back to the bedroom. Then started looking all around for her.

He was upset. He wouldn’t let me console him. He was going to find her.

It took him about 2 hours to stop looking.

~

Last night, Jon had a dream. He dreamed that Amelia was in a giant version of the carrier we used to take Theo to the vet when he could no longer eat, or even close his mouth without pain. It was used by all the cats but it was pretty much Theo’s carrier. In Jon’s dream Amelia was her normal weight and rolling happily on her back like she did when she wanted to play the bitey game, similar to how she rolled after baths. And when he told me this, we mourned together at that fact that we both really, badly wish we could believe that Theo had gone to find her.

Unfortunately, we can’t. We’re not believers in an afterlife. There’s no heaven in our ideology, and without a heaven, there’s no rainbow bridge to comfort us.

But yknow, it’d be really freaking awesome if we were wrong on this one. :)

We love you, Theo.

The Experience Of Beautiful Beings Changing Your Life

Welcome to the post in which I squee over beloved members of my life like I’m a fangirl.

(Actually, that’s kind of awesome – being a fangirl over people in my own life.)

((side note to my selves: take this on as a mantra.))

I have some of the most amazing beings in my life, both human and animal.

I have incredible artistic/scientific friends who are able to be supportive and encouraging and just the best possible persons I need in varying and sundry situations.

I have generous parents and in-laws who have been incredible through the ups and downs of life.

I have a spouse who is… well, ye gods, I keep falling more in love with him every day. He adds his strength to mine, teaches me to be brave, loves my dreams, ideals, and ambitions, is not threatened by my successes, loves our mutual animal companions, is gentle and loving with me, is…

*swoon*
Okay I’ll shut up about him now.

And I once had a dog who changed my life into something glorious.

I know, I know… it’s both precious and specious to talk about an animal changing your life. I do think it’s worth noticing that the *experience* of that precious, specious thing is a really…

Well, it’s like you look back and you realize that you’ve been on this little love-and-squee vacation for however long you’re looking back.

If that makes sense.

I’ve spent the past couple of months thinking about how my life unfolded with Amelia, and comparing it to how my life unfolded with Jon, and it’s truly remarkable to see how certain kinds of love, all on their lonesomes, can inspire great sea changes in you. And like living by the sea, you’re so busy looking at all the little rhythmic moments that comprise them that you don’t realize until you look back on old shorelines…

and holy crap the shore has been resculpted into a thing of splendor.

With Jon it’s a lot easier to see, because we’ve been checking in with each other on how we’re changing in subtle ways. Not for us Lillian Hellmann’s quote “People change and forget to tell each other.”

But a dog? A dog can’t talk back. All I ever had as proof of her ever-adapting love was how she overcame those obstacles and continued to learn how to express joy and make me – then us – laugh.

It’s that hindsight that hits you all at once.

I hope I never take it for granted.

RIP Amelia Joy

Born 12/2/1997, died 10/31/2014

Amelia, 2011

Amelia, 2011

I have lost a part of my heart.

In the middle of this past June, my beautiful girl was diagnosed with late-stage renal failure. We had also been doing some research on her mobility issues, and that same week figured out that she had been fighting degenerative myelopathy for the past 2 years or so. For the past 4 months, we have been giving her subcutaneous fluids and medications to help her with the renal disease, but nothing could stop the progression of the myelopathy.

However, we were dearly hoping she would make it to her birthday in December, because over the past decade she had taught me well that she could handle a LOT of obstacles. She tore her meniscus in 2006, and when the surgeon called me to tell me the results of the surgery, she also told me to not let her run anymore. I remember saying something along the lines of “I don’t think I can STOP her,” at which point the surgeon said “well she’s an old dog and you should start treating her like one!”

Amelia had no intention of letting me treat her like an old dog. 3 months after her surgery, she had no perceivable limp (one of the vets said “I can only say she favors that side if I want to be really uncharitable”) and was chasing the ball as usual.

No snuggles@! Time for ball!

No snuggles@! Time for ball!

She was also mostly blind since 2011, after losing one of her eyes to pigmentary uveitis in 2008 and having the lens of the other slowly occlude with pigment over the next 3 years. I thought this was the end of playing ball, but oh no…

She was still chasing the ball.

(and running down the hallway, and jumping, and spinning…)

She really only started to slow down when we moved to the Bronx. The park was not as close anymore, she had started coughing a lot, and it seemed her back legs were really bothering her. She was still happy to play and scamper, but the first issues were becoming evident… she was no longer jumping. Then she started losing weight.

Fast forward to this month. Even after losing 16 lbs due to not eating as much as she needed (she hated the renal diet), she was still able to play some on October 12th, when we took her back to her favorite park.

A week later, the 18th, she still wanted to play, but she could barely stand on her own, let alone dive after the ball. She fell over while playing in a local park and simply didn’t want to get up again. Falling over while playing was a source of frustration and depression for her.

Then, early in the morning on the 27th, she had a horrible seizure that lasted a minute too long.

We made the appointment.

I said to Jon “The only way I’ll change my mind is if she is able to play again.”

We plied her with McDonald’s french fries, which she used to only get when we traveled together, and little balls of butter so she would take her pills without needing to be force-fed. We gave her as many of her favorite Stella and Chewy’s patties as she wanted – we had had to stop giving them to her due to their high phosphorous content, but at this point, I was willing to give her anything to maybe let her gain back a few lbs to see if it helped her at all.

It didn’t. She wanted to play, but simply could not even pay attention to the ball without falling over.

Amelia, Oct 31, 2014

Amelia, Oct 31, 2014

This was taken on her last day. We took her to a safe patch of grass and held her ball for her. We picked her up the one time she fell and made sure she wouldn’t fall a second time. We let her stand and sniff.

And then we carried her to the vets, gave her as many treats as she wanted to eat, and we said goodbye.

~ * ~

I’ve written all of this in a semi-dry narrative fashion because I have spent so much time crying over this past week that it hurts. Laying out the map of events makes the tears lighter, makes the sobs quieter.

But I’d be seriously remiss if I didn’t share the easing of grief we experienced on Saturday.

Jon and I both (separately, we didn’t discuss it) started feeling weirdly guilty, like we had somehow made the decision to say goodbye because we were tired of caring for her and tired of spending the money needed to maintain her in the most comfortable manner that we could. I don’t know what made me do it, but I went to my phone and I took a look at the earliest videos I had of her.

Like this one.

It was… transformative. I saw the dog that I suddenly realized I had been waiting to come back to me. I saw a dog that took such joy in making you laugh. I saw the goofball that she had stopped being earlier this year.

And I realized that what we did was right. It was even the right time. We tried our hardest to give her back that delight, but there was nothing we could do, and there was no way to fix it even though we could now see in hindsight she was asking us to fix it so she could play again.

So we gave her the best possible last experience she could have, and made sure she would never fall again.

~ * ~

Earlier today, I was going through Amelia’s Facebook page to get some dates correct. Facebook sometimes gives you prompts, and I saw this:

“What are some of your favorite memories?”

1. One of my favorite memories of being with Amelia is a Valentine’s Day while I was still in my 1st Park Slope apartment. I can’t remember precisely what I was doing, but I was carrying some large amount of stuff into my apartment. Amelia was, I thought, quietly playing with some rawhide. But when I locked the door and looked down at the remains? There was a perfectly-chewed little heart, made out of a paper napkin.

Dog-sculpted heart, 2002

Dog-sculpted heart, 2002

That was one of the most awesome coincidences I ever saw.

2. Amelia had a several-year “no pictures” phase, and made it very difficult for me to catch her in good poses. So it was quite a treat when, on my birthday one of those years, she let me take this:

Birthday Present, 2005

Birthday Present, 2005

3. So my girl hated baths & showers. She REALLY hated baths & showers. But post-bath? SO CRAZY.

For those of you who’ve read this far, thank you. I will never not have a hole in my heart, but sharing this amazing girl’s life helps.