One year ago


It is strange what the mind remembers on one of the worst days of one’s life. January 31st, 2020 was one of the worst days of my life. It was a beautiful, sunny Friday. It was the day when Sage was going to bid us adieu in the evening at 7:00 pm due to the aggressive cancer that, unbeknownst to us, had taken over his body. He was shivering slightly one day, not even too much. Still, I was perplexed and concerned so took him to the emergency vet. The vet sounded the death knoll – hemangiosarcoma. We loved him too much to let him go through very invasive surgery only to buy him 4 to 6 months, if that.

So after making sure he was not in any pain, we decided to have 7 more days with him to love him with all the love our hearts could give. Friday dawned. I woke with a sick feeling. I decided to spend the day with Sage doing what he loved doing best. After a steak breakfast, I helped his frail body get in the car and drove him to his favorite park. This is where my mind goes back to again and again. Just us, a sick but seemingly content pup with his devoted human – together for the last time in their favorite setting. We got out of the car and sat by the lake on a bench quietly. He sat next to me looking around, perhaps saying goodbye? Joggers, walkers, parents with young children walked by us, some nodding at the old dog, some not. Two women in athletic clothes came by. They were power walking. One of them bent down to pet Sage.

“What a beautiful dog! May I pet him?” she asked.

I said sure. And I don’t know why but I also added that this was his last day. I, perhaps, put her in an uncomfortable situation but till this day, a year after Sage’s death, I remember her kindness so vividly. I was crying at that point. Not violently but tears were streaming down my face. This particular woman, who I will most likely never see again and who will not know how much her kindness meant to me at that time, touched my hand to say how sorry she was. She said she had lost 2 of her dogs so she knows what I was going through.

I thanked her. She patted me again, quietly. Then she bent down and gave a lot of cuddles to Sage, telling him he was good and he was beautiful. With a last touch on my shoulder, she nodded and went on her way. Through a haze of pain that consumed me in the days, weeks and months to come, her quiet kindness seemed like a healing salve.

Many of you knew Sage, loved him even. He changed abode from this earth to our hearts and memories exactly one year ago. He was excellent at recall. We really worked hard at it and he always came when called. Except on this day, one year ago, we called but he never came back. He went gently into the night. Literally.

As some of my friends predicted, the intensity of hurt has diminished. I can now smile at his memory. The ten years we had with him showed us what unconditional love looks like, what total devotion truly means, what it means to be the center of someone’s universe, how valuable quiet companionship can be, how peaceful too. I sometimes think back and wonder if we gave him the best life that we could have. We could have done more, taken him for more hikes, played more with him, spent more time. And I stop myself! Sure, we could have done more but I am convinced he knew the absolute truth through every kiss on his long snout, every belly rub, every touch on his furry forehead. He was loved! Oh so loved. And he will always be our beautiful boy.

With Dad.

Surgery


My dog is an awesome football player and perhaps soccer player too. When we all sleep at night he sneaks out of the house and performs crazy feats with Ryan’s football and his soccer ball. You should see his skills, the FIFA and the NFL should video tape him to show the pros. What? You don’t believe a word I say? You should not. I am making it all up.

Sage
Sage

Sage tore his cranial cruciate ligament. For the uninitiated in vet talk, that is your ACL which athletes tear playing contact sports. After Sage started limping and we started conjecturing the various reasons for the limp, I read up on several pet sites about CCL – the procedure, the recuperation, the rehabilitation of the injured foot and hoped and prayed that his limp was temporary. Perhaps lyme disease? Perhaps a bruise in the pad? Perhaps something that will simply go away?

Well it did not. The limp started getting worse and I had no choice but to contact a surgeon. A check up confirmed ‘Yup, he has torn his cranial cruciate ligament in his right hind leg!’ The dreaded surgery was inevitable. The surgery itself is not that big of a deal however the recuperation is. The dog, after the surgery, is supposed to be in crate rest for at least two weeks with only bathroom breaks. Movement has to be severely restricted so as not to cause more injury to the afflicted leg and to let it heal. The idea of crating Sage made me very distressed because he had hated the crate as a puppy and so we, being the indulgent parents, never put him in it. Crate rest after surgery would be miserable for him AND for us. Sean and I took our nervous boy to see the surgeon, she evaluated him, set up a surgery date and then I broached the dreaded question. Does he need to be crated to recuperate? The doctor became my favorite person as she shook her head. She did not see the need to crate an animal who has never been crated. They are already traumatized and in pain, there is no reason to add to their trauma. “Just restrict his movements”, she said. The surgery was done. We knew Sage would be in bad shape but when Sean brought him home, I started crying. He was groggy, his leg was all stitched up and as he walked blood dripped on the floor. He had the hated (by him) cone of shame so he did not bite his stitches.

The stitches.
The stitches.

Home from hospital.
Home from hospital.

The night, as one can imagine, was miserable for him and for me. He slept on the floor at the foot of our bed and cried all night. I cried with him, stroking him and cooing at him. I decided to sleep on the couch letting my hand rest lightly on his body as he tried to get comfortable. I had done the same thing on the first night that he spent in our house as a little fuzz ball, far away from his mommy and siblings. I had kept my fingers on him so he could rest knowing somebody was right next to him. He cried when I moved my fingers. He slept almost the whole of the next day, exhausted and groggy with pain medication but cried again at night.

Slowly, as days went by, he seemed to emerge from this fog of pain and haze. His eyes cleared, he slept less, he started showing interest in his surroundings, he ate, he went to the bathroom. He had to be leash walked slowly for bathroom breaks and then brought back right away to lie down and rest his leg. His cone came off only when he ate or drank. It was not easy. One day, as I upended his water bowl on our hard wood floor trying to support his leg, untangle his leash and put his cone on at the same time, I cried out in frustration:

“It is only January 8th!!!!!! The stitches don’t come out till January 21st! How am I going to do this????”

My stoic 9 year old consoled me, without missing a beat:

“At least it is not January 1st!”

True. Why can’t I look at things like he does? Why is my glass always half empty and his always half full?

Sage slowly healed. But I watched with love and admiration how the whole family rallied around him and helped him in his healing. The children brought their homework next to his blanket and finished next to him. Sahana read her book with one hand on Sage’s back, Ryan watched his videos and shared the screen with him so Sage could be entertained. Sean lay down with him, after work and gave him innumerable belly rubs. I was the nurse, of course – feeding, watering, comforting, medicating, putting the cone on, taking the cone off. Sage was surrounded by a circle of love. We planned out our family schedule for 2 weeks so one of us was always home to keep him company and see to his needs. Our friends, outside my family, who love our boy sent their best wishes for a speedy recovery. All the wishes contributed to the stitches drying, pain lessening. It had to. And Sage? He taught us acceptance of something that is out of our control by going through this ordeal with his usual patience, kindness, perseverance and love. He just looked at us with his soft, beautiful eyes questioning the pain, his helpless state but never our love. He was always ready to love us with wags of his tail and a quick lick of our hands. When he did not doze his eyes followed us around although he couldn’t for a while. And although we were helpless to take his pain, we all let him know that we are standing by his side, cheering him on to the road of recovery.

With Dad.
With Dad.

Sister.
Sister.

Surrounded by love.
Surrounded by love.

After such a surgery, the recuperation is long and painful. But he seems to be doing relatively well. The stitches are gone. He is going for short, leashed walks. He still favors the leg but he is limping less. It has snowed a bit. So he is enjoying pushing his nose down the snowy grounds and coming up with little balls of snow on his reddish nose. His brother takes him out to the fields at the back and they break ice together. He tells me they sit together on a snow covered mound so Sage can rest and they can just look around to take in the quiet surroundings. I ask him to use caution and he tells me he knows he needs to be gentle with Sage since he is still healing. Ryan forgets sometimes and runs around the house. Sage wants to join him and I have to curb both of their enthusiasm. Sahana forgets to do her chores yet she never forgets to give Sage his pain medication. It seems that she has taken over the job of medicating him after his meals. And she is constantly by his side, a calming presence as opposed to her rambunctious little brother. Sage needs them both, one who excites him and the other who calms him down.

We are hopeful he won’t suffer anymore once he heals completely. We dream of taking him on our hikes and letting him do what he loves the most – run free with his human siblings while keeping an eye on his human parents as they bring up the rear. He keeps his pack together and his pack ensures he becomes whole again, with the help of rest, medicine and most importantly, love. And he trusts them and loves them back with all the trust and love that his doggy heart can hold.

Friendship, love, trust, comfort.
Friendship, love, trust, comfort.

The indignity of it all.


Disclaimer: This blog has some gross stuff. If you are squeamish about doggy doo doo, please stop reading now 🙂 !

If not, here is a story:

‘Bring a urine sample and a fecal sample when you bring Sage for his annual check up. And collect the first urine in the morning, that gives us the best information about his kidney functions.’ The vet tech informed me as she gave me an appointment for Sage’s annual vaccinations and well check.

‘Ummm, urine sample?’ I gulped nervously.

‘Yes, our records show that he hasn’t had a urine culture done for the last three years! It is time for one!’ She said sternly! I could hear ‘you negligent doggie mother’ going through her head.

‘Ok, Ah, I will try!’ I was still squirming, feeling judged.

‘Just take one of your throw away plastic containers and hold it under him as he raises his leg to pee! You will be fine!’ She tried to be reassuring.

Poop, I wasn’t worried about. Don’t I pick up his poop everyday to keep our environment clean? Don’t Sean and I get into a poop counting competition – who collected more poops from our backyard? Yes, the fecal sample is a piece of cake! What? You don’t like that analogy? Well, should I say fecal sample is a walk in the park, then 🙂 ?

The only time I collected urine from Sage was when he was less than a year old. The vet’s office had given me a tray and asked me to hold it under him when he peed. I came home with some trepidation about the whole thing about collecting pee and felt irritated that I had to be the designated one to do this job – the mother, of course.

I remember the day being extremely windy. I remember Sage being exasperated with me and then decided it was a game I wanted to play with him. He kept running away and play bowing, ‘Catch me if you can!’ He was still a puppy and hadn’t acquired the dignified disposition that he has now. I had led myself to believe I had trained Sage to do his business on command. On shivering, cold nights, I held on to his leash and said, ‘Hurry up!’ When he did his stuff, I gave him a treat. He is an extremely smart dog, he caught on quickly. The day of urine collection, ‘hurry up’ command failed. Long story short, I got the urine sample somehow. I remember the urine blowing in the wind and me blowing with it. Anyway, the deed was done. I ran it to the vet’s office, paid a bunch of money to get the urine tested. Sage was proclaimed disease/germs free and I felt the money and the effort was well worth it.

I do not know how I managed to dodge the urine check up for the last couple of years. I probably said I won’t pay for it, the accusing eyes of the vet be damned. This time however, the vet tech’s serious accusatory tone was my undoing. Also Sage is 4 years old, still young but getting up there. I acquiesced.

The appointment was at 9:30 in the morning. I did not sleep well the night before devising different strategies for collecting pee. When morning dawned, I was loath to get up because of the unpleasant task that lay ahead.

The Sagely one.
The Sagely one.

Here I must give you a brief description of Sage. A friend described him aptly – he is that kind of dog who gives you the feeling that he will don his bifocals and read the Sunday New York Times. He is dignified and Sagely. He never grabs a treat from your hands, but takes it between his teeth daintily. He stares down his food but doesn’t eat it unless he hears the magic word ‘ok’. He doesn’t break his ‘stay’ command (unless given by Ryan) till we say Ok. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. His wild side comes out while playing with his 8 year old human brother (who, he considers a fellow puppy), when people come to the house, he goes overboard showing his love and errrr….when he discovers fox poop. He rolls in it! Other than these indiscretions, Sage is very dignified. And so am I.

So a dignified dog and a dignified woman were on a mission – to wrestle some pee out of the dog and collect it in a container.

I put him on a leash and took him out at 7:30. Hurry up Sage! Sage knew something was up since I had a container in my hand and a leashed walk this early was highly unusual. The usual routine is a grumpy woman opening the back door for him, first thing in the morning. He wasn’t going to make it easy for me. Of course!!! He sniffed and sniffed and my hopes leaped. Maybe now, may be now! Now???? After 10 minutes, I gave up, came back in to yell at Ryan to get ready for school. Sage looked at me with his beautiful, chocolate drop eyes, ‘What is wrong with you, today???’

I didn’t wait for Ryan to get on the bus, like I usually do. I gave him a kiss, said goodbye and took Sage for a walk, armed with the container, a ziplock bag and a big plastic bag to hold it all. My focus was only on the dog, or rather on his back legs! When would they rise, when would I hold the container? It rose in a while! I jumped ahead and put the container under him! The leg dropped. I had collected a single drop! Literally, a single drop! On top of that I got a look from Sage which said, ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOINNNNNGGGGAAAA???’

You’ve got to be kidding me!!

I realized then as I straightened up and looked around me in frustration, that each driveway had children and their moms standing, waiting for the elementary school bus. I had started walking too early. And they were staring at me, at my container and my baffled dog.

I was too determined to turn around. I wanted the job done. The dignified me wanted to dig a hole and hide in it but the ‘let’s get this done’ me wanted to get this DONE once and for all. I plodded on. Sage, finally lifted his leg at his favorite fire hydrant and let out a stream. Elated, I crouched down and held the container, ignoring the warm spray on my hands. And then he dropped his leg. And his leg hit the container held in my hand. And the container dropped from my hand! I looked in horror as the precious yellow liquid stained the white snow!

Now, I am not the one the one to curse. But once in a while, I reach my limit. This was my limit!

SHHHIIIT!!! I semi-yelled.

And then I heard a whisper, ‘What is she doing, Mommy?’

Another whisper, ‘I don’t know honey! Shhhhh….!’

I did not look. I knew it was one of the little kids waiting for the bus. I pulled down the brim of my baseball cap with my unpolluted hand and walked on without looking back.

Finally, Sage did do his business. I did get adequate sample. Sage could not figure out my erratic behavior and I did not explain.

We went to the appointment armed with our booty. Sage shivered and asked me repeatedly to take him home. He got 4 shots, lots of love, bunch of treats and a clean bill of health. All’s well that ends well. I will not do this urine test for him for the next three years. He’d better stay healthy!

Oh, the indignity of it all!!! But the clean bill of health makes the pee collecting effort, somewhat, worth it.