Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Farewell, Dear Friends

In February of 2000 I was blessed with an incredible gift - the companionship of two beautiful husky/malamute sisters - Tasha and Kia. These large, wonderful creatures became a significant part of my life, sharing adventures and good times that stretched across eleven years and the span of the Four Corners region.

Time passes all too quickly. Hours become days become weeks become months, then years are gone before we realize that what once seemed forever was just an illusion. Even though I knew this day would come, I never thought it would be over so soon.

Two dogs from the same litter could not have been more different. Tasha was independent to the point of aloofness, although that was just a facade. She played the role of Alpha in the relationship and was jokingly called the "fun police" because she could not bear to see her sister having a good time. Despite her overbearing tendencies she was very much a loving dog, albeit on her terms.

Kia was the "love sponge", seemingly incapable of receiving enough affection. Though she played second banana to her dominant sister, she was every bit her equal in size and strength, but her gentle nature was of the live and let live variety.

Together these furry canines traveled with their semi-nomadic master, first from their birthplace in Wyoming to northern Arizona, back to Wyoming several years later, finally landing in Flagstaff for the balance of their years. In between we wandered far and wide through the mountains and canyons of the Colorado Plateau. Though the dogs were built for snow, they gladly adapted to whatever environment they found themselves in. Like me they were just happy to be out and about, enjoying fresh air, freedom, and the endless diversion of chasing rodents and lizards.

The years raced by, and like many older, large breed dogs "the girls" slowed down noticeably over time. Hours long walks in the woods became 15 minute strolls around the immediate neighborhood. Even so the quality of their life was good, and as spoiled pets they spent much of the day sleeping in the yard or on one of several beds in the house. Though their energy levels had diminished, just knowing they were around and happy was enough, and they seemed content to age gracefully.

Towards the end both dogs began to exhibit troubling signs. In Tasha's case there was a gradual loss of appetite, and she started vomiting after activity. Kia began to display symptoms consistent with tumors in her abdominal cavity, a development I had been warned about and dreading since the removal of a similar growth two years before.

Tasha was the first to go, in late March. The veterinarian concluded she likely had some form of intestinal cancer, and the prognosis was unfavorable for treatment. With a heavy heart I decided to euthanize her, and was there with her when the end came. My sadness at her passing was absolute, and her absence from my life left me feeling desolate.

Despite the burden of grief I turned my attention to my remaining dog, Kia. Although her condition was also worrisome to me, outwardly she was very much herself, going for short walks and soaking up as much attention as she could get. I knew that eventually the tumors would kill her as they continued to grow, but my hope was that she would go peacefully in her sleep, sparing me another agonizing decision on whether to end her life.

As the weeks passed, Kia also began to refuse food. Initially there was some success in getting her to eat chicken and beef, but soon even those lost their appeal. Despite appearing reasonably normal in her personality, once she stopped eating I knew it was simply a waiting game. I could not bear to watch her starve to death.

For the second time in just over two months I made the only decision a caring pet owner can make – to spare my dog additional suffering. I waited with her while the vet administered the lethal drug, whispering assurances of love and appreciation for her companionship while stroking her head and neck. She went as peacefully and quickly as I could hope for, and in seconds it was over.

My dogs are gone. I know I made the right choice in letting them go. I take comfort in knowing they had good lives, and at the end their suffering was as little as I could make it. The short lifespan of a dog makes it inevitable that as caretakers we must watch our once healthy, thriving companions lose their vitality and eventually their life. All we can do as humans is to ensure that life is meaningful and full of as much love as we can offer.

Time will eventually blunt the sharp knife of grief, and someday I will once again be able to walk through my life without constantly thinking about the hole their absence has left. For now, I miss them terribly.

Kia and Tasha - I don't know what happens when we leave this life, but I hope there's a way for you to know you'll be in my thoughts and heart for a long time to come. Thank you for eleven amazing, wonderful years of love, devotion, and companionship. I will treasure your memory always. Be at peace, and may we meet again.