It’s been a while since the last post. Almost a year. It’s taken me that long to put enough emotional distance between myself and reality to make it possible, to put things in perspective. It’s been that long since Kaya and I had our last chat.
She knew she was beginning to slow down a few years ago. Aches and pains, stiff joints, the limp. Arthritis. Comes with the territory. 72 pounds of muscle and bone on a constant mission to police the yard and keep order in her neighborhood took their toll on shoulders, knees and hips.
But she wasn’t a complainer—at least not when it came to matters of personal health. Sure, she took issue with a number of things. Squirrels in general, bossy dogs, (other than herself, of course), fireworks, cats, loud unexpected noises, air traffic, and homeless panhandlers trying to poke their heads into open car windows while she was a passenger, to name a few. She was quite vocal on these and other topics, but ‘woe is me’ was never part of her vocabulary.
She still demanded her walks, though they got shorter. She still loved riding in the car, but began having problems jumping up into the SUV. In typical fashion she eyed the ramp we bought with the utmost suspicion, refusing to walk on it despite our best efforts and bribes. So car rides were taken in the sedan, less roomy and luxurious but much easier to get into and out of.
And we still had our talks. I talked about work, the stress involved, the need to slow it down at some point. She considered this to be obvious. I mean why, she’d ask, would anyone do anything for so long that made them so nuts? She likened it to chasing skunks. It made no sense. After the first, or for sure the second, encounter any reasonable dog would avoid them at all costs. There are plenty of other animals to chase. No shortage. The squirrels alone could keep you busy for years. I explained I didn’t feel any need to chase squirrels, but I got the point. She gave me a look suggesting I might still be missing something.
I talked about living in LA. Her mom and I have been here a long time, longer than we’ve lived anywhere in our lives. It’s gotten crowded. People have gotten more rude and inconsiderate. Traffic is nearly impossible. Maybe, I said, it’s time for a change.
She explained that change was not something for which she often felt a need. As far as she was concerned things were just fine the way they were. We have a house, with a yard and a doggie door. The weather is almost perfect. She knows all the local dogs and is considered by most, the smart ones anyway, to be the boss. Why move somewhere else and have to start all over again?
What I didn’t say was that we were operating on different time lines. Best case scenario we were going to outlive her by many years. Starting over for us would be a lot easier. I tried to put it a different way.
“If we sold the house and moved somewhere else, somewhere warm, less crowded, less expensive, we could spend more time hanging out together because I wouldn’t have to work. Or at least not as much.”
She smiled and was quiet for a while. Then she said there’d be a better time for that later. I wasn’t sure what she meant, and wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I let it drop.
Then I found the lump. Not the big one on her chest, the benign lipoma we had removed only because it seemed to be getting in her way. The other one. The one on her right flank area. Hard, not tender. Not good.
It grew quickly. She seemed unphased. We, though were considerably less sanguine. Her limp got worse, her appetite began to vary day by day. Despite her unwaveringly positive attitude we feared the worst. To be certain we arranged for a needle biopsy.
We’d already make the decision not to be aggressive with her treatment. She was by then almost 12 years old, a significant achievement for a dog her size. Regardless of what the biopsy showed we understood she was nearing the end. When we got the diagnosis of malignant melanoma we knew how close the end was.
I tried to spend as much time with her as possible then. We did a lot of talking. She seemed to want to teach me all she could in the short time we both knew was left. She said I should learn to live more in the moment and not worry so much about what might or might not happen in the future. “Have more fun.” She said she knew she was going away, but never implied we wouldn’t see each other again.
Her appetite got worse, she grew weak. We fed her hamburger, for breakfast and dinner. For a while she ate like a champ and got some strength back. But then we saw she was in pain. One day we noticed her having difficulty finding a way to lie down and when I touched her shoulder she yelped. As I said, she wasn’t a complainer so we knew this was serious. We called the vet.
We spent our last hour together in the living room, me on the couch, she on her bed, waiting for the vet. We got our chance to say goodbye. Or at least I did. She said, “I’ll see you later.” Dogs know things we don’t. I’m counting on this being one of them. May 23rd, 2017.