When I first started this blog, I thought writing about various aspects of my life would help me achieve balance. As time goes by, I realize that I’m most compelled to write about my experiences with the precious grey muzzles known as Daisy Dogs (Daisy’s Place Retriever Rescue). These amazing creatures have taught me so much about life, love, and yes, all too often these days, loss.
While I prefer to focus on the joy they bring to my life – and so many others – there is also the flip side of the coin, knowing they will be gone much too soon. These furry treasures often come to us with broken bodies and yet their spirits are usually strong and their incredible capacity to love and live in the moment is a gift beyond compare. We know when we take a grey muzzle into our heart and home they may not be with us for many years, but the amount of joy they bring to each and every moment is priceless.
And yet, there are days like today that I wonder how much more loss my heart can bear. Yesterday I learned that yet another precious Daisy Dog will be leaving this earth much too soon. Mercury is one of the sweetest, most loving dogs I’ve ever met. His gentle manner and soulful eyes captured my heart the minute I met him. He’s the very picture of what you expect from a Lab – loyal and loving, and yet his family dumped him in a kill shelter when he became inconvenient. Perhaps it was his age – 10 years old – or maybe their lives changed and they no longer had time for him, I’ll never know - and even if I did know the reasons I probably wouldn’t comprehend how anyone could abandon such a sweet soul.
Earlier last year my heart soared when Mercury was adopted by a wonderful young couple, Amber and Jason. I knew instantly that they would give Mercury the loving home he deserved and that he, in turn, would love them with all his heart for the rest of his days.
Mercury has had the very best life with Amber and Jason – he’s become their cherished fur child. Late last year Mercury was diagnosed with cancer and after many consultations with vets and specialists, they decided to have his leg amputated. His recovery was slow and often painful, but through it all there was one constant – Mercury’s love for Amber and Jason and their love for him. I met Jason at the vet one day not long after the surgery. As Mercury struggled to stand up on three legs, I saw the love in his eyes as he looked at his dad. Watching Jason gently lift Mercury into the car and knowing how much he was loved, touched me deeply and I thanked God for people like Amber and her husband.
And now, sadly, the cancer has spread to Mercury’s spleen and liver. I got the word yesterday and it hit me so hard I could barely catch my breath. Sadly, I know all too well, the pain and anguish that Amber and Jason are feeling. I want so badly to help them but I know that there is nothing I can do or say that will make this any easier. I’m heartbroken for them – and for dear, sweet Mercury. To make matters even worse, they’re expecting their first baby next month. This should be one of the happiest times in their lives and yet I know they are devastated at the thought of losing Mercury so soon.
And so, in my long roundabout way, I have finally gotten to the point of this post. I’m often asked “how do I know when it’s time to say goodbye to my beloved fur child?” There is no easy answer to this question. I don’t think that anyone, not me or even a vet, can tell someone when it’s time to say goodbye. The best advice I can give is to listen with your heart – your precious fur child will tell you when it’s time.
Sadly, I didn’t know this when my own sweet Sophie was diagnosed with cancer. Many reading this blog never knew my beautiful black chowbador – she was pre-Daisy’s Place and in some aspects, the reason I got into rescue. After she went to the rainbow bridge I was so lost that I needed to ‘do’ something and that’s when I attended my first rescue event – but that’s a story for another post.
Sophie, or Sophie Bear as we lovingly called her because of her thick beautiful fur, was my constant companion and shadow for almost ten years. She was abandoned as a young pup and Micheal found her while on a jobsite – he brought her home to me as a surprise. When we were renovating our building downtown, Sophie came with me every day and stayed by my side as I painted what would be our new home. Sophie never wandered far from me and I never had to worry about her getting out the door for she would always stay within eyesight. I could park on the street and open the car door and tell her to ‘go home’ and she’d walked down the sidewalk and sit patiently on the front steps while I unloaded.
In October of 2007, we finally moved into our new home after a three year renovation. Sophie loved living downtown and enjoyed our long walks through the city. Two days before the new year, Sophie didn’t eat breakfast – this was highly unusual as she was strongly food motivated or pardon the pun, a chow hound! Given that it was Saturday and a holiday weekend, I rushed her to our vet who immediately referred us to the specialty clinic. After several long hours we were told that she would need to spend the night as there was some sort of mass on her xrays and they needed to do more tests. Long story short, we got the call the next day – New Year’s Eve – Sophie had hemangiomasarcoma and it had spread to her spleen. The vet at the specialty clinic said she most likely only had days to live and asked if I wanted to have her put to sleep – “NO,” I screamed into the phone, “I’m coming to pick her up right now!”
And so began what were the most bittersweet two months of my life. I read up on everything I could about canine cancer. We made an appointment with a canine oncologist hoping she would affirm what we prayed for – a miracle that would save Sophie’s life. When she told us that the cancer was too advanced, we thanked her and brought Sophie home refusing to believe her diagnosis. I began cooking special food for Sophie, we continued our long therapeutic walks and I started bringing her into my yoga room while I practiced, believing that the quiet, peaceful energy would help heal her body. I also had a sacred prayer circle of dear friends – we lit candles and surrounded Sophie with love, each praying silently for her recovery.
During this time, Sophie showed no signs of illness – her appetite and energy level were good and we began to believe that perhaps we were being granted a miracle. Until one beautiful Sunday, Sophie and I were out on our morning walk and I noticed she had slowed down … a shiver ran down my spine as I stopped to check her gums. As I feared, they were pale – the dreaded sign of internal bleeding. I called Micheal and told him to get the car ready – we needed to get to the emergency clinic immediately. As we waited for the vet, I kept praying and still refused to believe that I would lose my beautiful girl.
This part is all a bit of a blur, so I honestly don’t remember all the technical terms or exact words from the vet – the upshot is that we were able to bring Sophie back home and the emergency room vet advised us to call the oncologist in the morning. I spent one last night with my precious girl – she had stopped eating and as I begged her to take some ice chips from me, I still refused to give up. I slept on the floor next to her as she didn’t want to be on our bed where she had slept by my side for almost a decade. In the middle of the night she moved away from me and by the next morning she was lethargic and in pain.
We rushed her to the specialty clinic in the morning – her oncologist was not available and we were referred to another specialist. As we sat in the exam room trying to comprehend our options, everything seemed surreal … I could barely understand what the vet was telling us and finally I asked, “what would you do if it was your dog?” The response I got was not helpful, something about not being able to give us that opinion – and so, believing we were doing the best thing for our girl, Micheal and I told them to go ahead with a blood transfusion. At this point, we were frantically grasping at straws to save our Sophie Bear.
This is the critical point in this post – and I can barely write it as tears blur my eyes – if I could go back and do it all again, I would have lovingly let her go in that exam room. At the time, I believed with all my heart, that we were doing the best thing for Sophie. In retrospect, that was not the case.
They told us that Sophie would be transferred to the emergency clinic after the transfusion that evening and we could come back and visit her. We anxiously counted the minutes and hours and then later that night we were finally able to see Sophie. I was not prepared for what awaited us – Sophie was in the back, in a cold steel cage, her mid-section was bandaged and she was obviously in extreme pain. As I sat on the concrete floor stroking her soft fur, I struggled to hold back the tears. Micheal and I stayed with Sophie as long as we could – far into the night – and finally I knew – it was time to let go. I looked at Micheal and we both knew our sweet girl was holding on for us, she would continue to fight and struggle as long as we were there, but she was in so much pain we had to say goodbye for her sake. And so I whispered a quite “ommm” one last time to my beloved Sophie Bear. It was barely 20 minutes after we got home that the phone call came – Sophie had gone into cardiac arrest shortly after we left and she had gone to the rainbow bridge.
Over five years later, just the thought of Sophie lying there alone in that sterile emergency clinic brings a flood of tears – and it remains one of the biggest regrets of my life. If I had it to do over, I would have sat with Sophie in the vet’s office and lovingly said goodbye and I would not have put her through that painful and unnecessary blood transfusion.
Of course, I can’t go back and change things. But hopefully my experience might help others who are facing the difficult decision of when to let go and say goodbye. As I replay that awful day and night in my mind, I realize now that Sophie was trying to tell me she was ready to go – as they walked her down the hall for the blood transfusion, she looked over her shoulder at me … I should have known by the look in her eyes that she needed me to be strong, but all I could think of was my own desperate need to do everything I could to keep her with me. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for our precious fur children is to say goodbye. It’s not giving up – for it takes great strength to know when to let go with love.
Note: Thankfully Mercury and his parents have the tremendous support and guidance – and best medical care - of what many of us (myself included!) now refer to as, the veterinary dream team – Dr. Doug Berger at All Creatures and Dr. Kerry Rissetto, canine oncologist at Charleston Veterinary Referral Center. Sadly I didn’t know these two incredibly dedicated vets when Sophie was diagnosed, but I’m very grateful to have them in my life now!