Monday, October 8, 2012

Is today a good day to die?

Is today a good day to die? Upon the passing of Fanny the Wonder Dog 1999-2012
I seem to count the stages of my life by the dogs I have loved; more importantly, the dogs who have loved me. We inherited Fanny when acquaintances of ours moved overseas and could not take the dog. I had just had to put down Brandy, my beloved golden retriever who had developed osteosarcoma, a dreadful way to go. The cancer was in her skull and her head bones grew and grew until the pressure upon her eyes caused her to go blind. When she walked into the pond and nearly drowned, we knew it was time. Brandy had helped me raise my son and his friends. She was the ultimate pet, perfectly content and long-suffering no matter how many times her ears or tail were pulled by small children. She was two years old when I got her; my son was eighteen months and they grew up together. With Fanny I wasn’t really ready for another dog, but there she was; an older dog unlikely to find a home quickly. So we agreed to take her. Fanny was the most remarkably potty-trained dog I have ever known. She never once went anywhere but her own yard. For weeks we carried around little plastic baggies that were never used on walks. Even on trips to the park, or long walks, Fanny held it until she got home. She was big and blonde and not the brightest of dogs. But from the first day, she decided she was my dog. Don’t know why. To tell the truth maybe I resented having her there instead of Brandy. She made her decision and that was that; unquestionably my dog whether I liked it or not. Curious, affectionate and ever helpful, she just wanted to be close to her people. Being so large and ferocious made her appear to be a marvelous guard dog. She wasn’t. Actually she was nervous and scared of thunder, loud noises, strangers and probably a host of other things. For a while we had a chow mix, my son’s puppy, and invariably Fanny would look to Ming to see whether she should bark or not? Be scared or not? Ming being a third the size of Fanny made these canine conversations most interesting to observe. So being a big dog often means hip dysplasia. Gradually the last couple of years, Fanny developed what we call turn-out in ballet. Her hind feet no longer lined up with her front feet; instead they canted outward giving her a rolling sailor’s walk. She still loved walking, chasing any birds foolish enough to stay in range, and carrots. She learned to love carrots when we began juicing again. She would hear the juicer and know that treats were coming. Carrots were a better “carrot” for the dog than any doggy treat ever manufactured. Walks became more problematic and much shorter. Some days she could do her usual circuit but more often she would visibly tire and ask to go back home. Still the jangle of the leash always perked her up. Our walks became gentle strolls around the block. On a couple of occasions she became so exhausted that she just sat down where she stopped. One time that was on the edge of a curb. And one time it was smack in the middle of the street. What could I do? I sat down with her and was thankful we live in a sleepy neighborhood without many fast cars, or cars at all that evening! This weekend she couldn’t get up at all. She was still eager to see us, still eager to greet us and still thrilled to have a carrot, but she couldn’t get up. She no longer had control over her hindquarters. For the first time since her hips began giving her problems she clearly was in pain now. The ultimate humiliation for the ultimately house-trained dog was the distress of soiling herself since she couldn’t rise. Her veterinarian Dr. Janie made a house call this afternoon. My husband asked do we get better medical care as a dog than a human? But I told him only when it’s most likely the final doctor visit. Sometimes I think I would want someone to do the same for me. What happens when we reach the end of our days? I want to believe I will still have my joie de vivre but will I when I am incontinent, incoherent, hooked to machines and know that it won’t ever get any better? Dr. Janie says maybe it would be a good thing for humans too but she fears people would abuse it. I don’t know. Today it looks like a gift. We have a new granddaughter who delighted in visiting Fanny. I’m convinced that her first word was “ruff, ruff.” Later her parents confirmed that her first consistent word was gou-gou which is doggie in Chinese. Come to think of it my son’s first words/sounds were ruff, ruff too Children speak dog more fluently than adults. How do you explain to a not yet two-year old that the gou-gou is gone? Pink ribbons, pink slips, pink liquid in a needle. Why do some people think pink is a cheery color? The vet tech holds Fanny’s body and I hold her head while Dr. Janie slips the needle into Fanny’s front leg. I continue to stroke her head as her eyes begin to close. Her heartbeat calms. Her breathing slows. And slows. And stops. Today is a gorgeous autumn day. The sun is warm but not too hot. A gentle breeze ruffles our hair. Today is good. Dr. Janie takes out her stethoscope and listens for the giant heart that has stilled. Fanny was a good dog. She had a good life. No one should have to suffer pain needlessly. Today was a good day to die. Rest in peace.

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