Jan 4, 2014
A week ago today was our last day with Annie, our beloved Yellow Labrador.
We knew this day was coming. It was hard beyond words can describe. Putting a doggie down after almost 11 years of her loyal companionship and memories almost seems like a betrayal. And yet the vet told us it was time. It was time because she was in a lot of pain. There had been little signs along the way that didn’t make sense all by themselves but collectively were understandable when the vet explained that Annie had something wrong going on with her spine. She was losing control of her hind legs due to nerves being crimped or deteriorating in her spine. It all of a sudden made sense why she had a hard time jumping up into the bed of the truck. It made sense why we heard her feet dragging on the sidewalk by the end of our last couple of walks. It made sense why when she stood up one night her hind legs just slipped out from under her and she fell down. Unfortunately, the stress of all that on her body turned into daily uncontrollable shaking and very labored, heavy panting. We would sit for hours on the floor each day/night and just hold her. It was so hard to feel her body shaking uncontrollably like that, to hear her panting, to see the puddle of saliva collect beneath her head from those hours and hours of labored breathing.
For almost a whole month we had tried giving her medicine that would hopefully abet the pain. It didn’t. And what was worse…..Annie started refusing taking the medicine. She knew that the sound of the peanut jar bottle opening only meant one thing now….hidden medicine. She refused taking it. So then Steve started trying to hide it in other foods but she was onto him! She knew it was in the mini red tomato. She knew it was in the piece of rolled up ham. Steve would stand there trying to pry open her clamped shut jaws. The most successful delivery of medicine was when he tucked it into canned peaches and it just slipped down her throat before she could spit it out. But all of this refusal told us she knew it needed to be done. There were nights she would hide under our dining table out of our reach or under our Christmas tree with her back facing us.
Thursday night as I was getting the kids ready for bed, Steve found that Annie had dug a hole behind our trampoline and was lying in it shaking uncontrollably. This was uncharacteristic behavior……Annie never ever dug holes. And here she was in a hole at least a foot deep and as long as her body. I told Steve it was time we told the kids to say their final goodbyes. Perhaps she wouldn’t make it to the morning. Somehow Annie was telling us her time had come. So we told the kids……and a lot of “noooooooo’s” and crying ensued. That night as she lay in bed, Natalie pleeeeeeeaded with God for one more week or one more month with Annie. That next morning all of us were nervous if we would see her come to the back door. She did! And we were so relieved we had one more day with her! Turns out we had that Friday and Saturday- a gift of two more days.
That Friday Steve took Annie to the vet once again. Could the vet give us advice on what to do next? He took one look at her, got down onto the ground to pet her and looked up at Steve: it was time to put her to sleep, to care for her and be compassionate for the amount of suffering she was enduring. For two months we had heard and seen her pain develop. The cortisone shots and different medicines could not offer her relief. Her shaking and labored breathing had started off as small bouts in the morning. Then it turned into a couple hours. Then for several hours each day including the evening. At least 8-10 hours each day and oftentimes more. Listening to her pant like that and equating it with ‘pain’ as the vet had explained, made it like torture for our hearts.
Steve came up with a beautiful plan. We would spend one last day together with her at a dog beach…..playing in the water and the sand…..just like old days. So after her morning panting and shaking subsided, we packed up the van and off we went to the Long Beach dog beach. There we spent several hours together as a family, petting Annie, holding her, taking pictures with her and trying not to think of what the next day would bring. We didn’t want to think of her no longer being a living part of our family. We wanted to hold onto this sweet memory with her as part of our family. And there she sat…..soaking up the sun…..one of her all-time favorite pastimes. She absolutely LOVED to soak up the sunshine as often as she could! Oftentimes in our backyard we would find her leaned up against the garage door in direct sunlight, while Charlie was lying in the cool of the shade by the gate. She loved to soak up the rays!!! And at the beach she was at it again…. squinting her eyes from time to time and pointing her snout up in the sky….as though she were thoroughly relishing the moment. She lay there watching the other dogs on the beach….kind of like how I like to people watch…..Annie liked to doggie watch. She sat there observing all the frolicking other dogs.
At one point after being warmed up for awhile, she trotted down to the beach. That shocked us! Oh my goodness! She was going to join Jacob, Natalie, Charlie and Steve down in the water!!!!! Here she was trying to make her way to the water’s edge! As she tried to make the walk, Steve and I were filled with sadness. Walking in sand is always harder than walking on smooth concrete…even for humans. Since she couldn’t lift her back legs she simply dragged them through the sand behind her. She was an invalid doggie trailing her back legs. But she was determined and she made it down to the water.
She looked longingly out at the deeper waters where the kids and Charlie were playing. Steve picked her up and carried her a little ways into the water but then quickly surmised that swimming created a problem for her because her rear end just sank without being able to kick.
Back up onto the warm sand she came and there she sat for the rest of the hours we were there. Charlie would go back and forth between playing with his tennis ball, running into the water and also keeping her company. Jacob and Natalie were being kids- playing in the water, digging in the sand and creating castles with moats. All while Steve and I felt the heaviness of the impending decision for tomorrow’s final farewell.
Steve held her. I held her. I had her up on my lap on the lawn chair we had brought with us. We petted her. We cried. We took pictures with her. We asked the kiddos to pose with her in pictures. Our hearts were thankful that we could be here together. Thinking of all the hikes we had been on, camping trips we had spent together, walks around the neighborhood…..oh the joy of her companionship since April 23, 2003. In just 4 more months we would have celebrated 11 years of her loyal friendship.
The kids had splashed and shrieked in the cold ocean water. We threw the tennis ball at least 50 times to Charlie’s heart’s content- his all-time favorite sport. Steve and Jacob had thrown the football around. Natalie, Jacob and I had played keep-away with the football. We had a mini picnic. Natalie and Jacob had tried to dig and create a moat for a giant castle island…..that Charlie kept laying his paws across as a drawbridge.
Then the kids went and played in a giant hole that a fellow black lab had dug out quite hysterically. It was a H-U-G-E hole!!!
Here we were on Dec. 29th at the beach…a California winter…with two kids playing in bathing suits.
Looking at this picture beautifully captures how I often felt like I was mama of 4 kids in our house. Our two dogs, Annie and Charlie, and our two kiddos, Natalie and Jacob. Each of them fully content with their best-friend buddy, companion and playmate. Always together, being close to one another.
My heart broke as I watched Steve pick up Annie and carry her across the sand back to our parked van. This would be a foreshadowing of the very hard journey he would have to make the next day. I cried as I imagined Steve’s face strewn with tears walking his doggie to our car. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the searing heartache of driving her to the vet and walking her into that office the next day.
For years we’ve joked about Annie being Steve’s doggie and Charlie being mine. It worked out that way when we picked them out at the breeders. I picked out Charlie and gave him his name. He was so brown in color that I instantly thought of chocolate. Within seconds my mind pulled up the memory of my all-time favorite novel from when I was a kid: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I looooooved how my 4th grade teacher Ms. Hughes would read that aloud to us after lunch. Ohhhhh that one and James and the Giant Peach; glorious memories of my life as a school kid. Steve didn’t have any particular reason for naming her Annie….the name just popped in his head I guess. But for years we teased each other about whose dog was better than the others. Well, really, it was Steve who did all the teasing. We even have doggie ornaments that are like mini replicas of them and Steve would jokingly put the Annie ornament up higher in the tree close to the angel up at top…..and would hide the Charlie ornament or put him way down low and out of sight. Lots and lots of teasing over the years…..which dog is smarter or faster or more loyal. But today we shared the pain….this pain that comes with the grief of putting to sleep a doggie that was like our first child. Charlie and Annie were like our kids before we had kids.
We drove home and then gave the dogs baths in the kids’ shower. That was a first! Up until now they had always received baths in the backyard. But Steve said it was going to be too cold for them and they wouldn’t have time to dry and be warm for the evening. We all thought it was funny to have the dogs in the bathtub. The dogs themselves must have thought something was funny and strange about the whole scenario. Especially when we pulled out the blow dryers and started drying their fur!!!!!
Then a special treat followed……their favorite chew sticks. Oh they were ecstatic!!!! This was a true treat!!!!!!!! Annie sat on her new doggie bed…..thoroughly enjoying every single bite. Charlie hovered over his in the backyard….afraid that Annie or one of us would snatch it away from him. Annie was so nervous having it in the backyard that she couldn’t even enjoy it until she was in the safety of our protection of her indoors. Charlie oftentimes gobbles up his food so fast that he then starts eating Annie’s food. She knows that we come to her rescue and shoo him away when he tries to do that. For years she has been nervous being in the backyard alone with Charlie and a treat….worried that he would snatch that from her. If I remember correctly I think one time he did steal her treat….and from then forward she always wanted to be by us inside to enjoy her chew stick.
Then nighttime came…..it was time for bed. And that’s when the real crying began. The looming reality of the next day was too much. Even the night before had been hard. There had been lots and lots of pleas of “can’t it just be in a week from now???? or later???” We had assured the kids that if all was well with Annie we could delay it….but we didn’t want to put her through any more misery. So the daunting day lay before us. Natalie had slept on the couch the last two nights to be close to Annie. But last night she slept curled up on the dog bed, with her body snuggled up close to Annie. I slept on the couch. Well, I didn’t really sleep….I kept waking up every 30 minutes or hour to check on Natalie and to pet Annie. I was so thankful for her super, super soft fur…..I looooooved that feeling when she was just washed…..gloriously soft fur.
It was cute to see Annie, Natalie and Charlie all lying next to each other. Even cuter when I saw Charlie try to make his way in between Annie and Natalie. There wasn’t enough room for him so he just plopped most of his body onto sleeping Natalie. She didn’t even budge! She was sound asleep. But then after a few minutes I think her body must have felt his weight so she moved over and made room…..all while continuing to sleep. All 3 of them changed positions throughout the night. Sweet beyond sweet to see Annie lying her head on Natalie. Sweet beyond sweet to see Natalie’s fingers outstretched and petting Annie in her sleep.
Then it was morning time. A miracle. No panting. No shaking. No shivering. She had gone the whole night through and not a sign of the wincing pain. Thank you Lord. Granted, she hadn’t moved from her position on the doggie bed for 12 hours….and I was worried she couldn’t get up…..but thankfully she did. At the beach yesterday Steve had taken her for one last jog down the beach. I couldn’t believe it! And yet I fully and completely understood it. It was his last jog down memory lane……reminiscing all the beach strolls and jogs he had with her. The only difference is that now here Steve was….with a calf muscle in his right leg that had just torn two weeks prior…..and Annie who didn’t have much control of her hind legs…..two invalids hobbling….trotting….then jogging…..making memories together down the beach. My heart cried and sang at the same time. So glad that Steve thought of that….but so sad at the thought of how much pain each of them was in as they enjoyed that moment together.
She got up…..went outside to go to the bathroom this morning…..and then trotted back in! Yes! She did her completely happy, vibrant Annie trot with her tail wagging and her feet almost skipping. How was this possible!??!! Was it all the love she had received in these days prior?? It was unreal. Of course her back right leg still carelessly lingered behind a bit….but she seemed so happy and okay. How could we take her to the vet when she was like this….so peaceful and happy? It only made sense in our human minds to take her if we were helping her out of her misery. But there was no misery to behold. So we announced to the kids that it seemed like we wouldn’t need to take her in today. We were very cautious announcing that, waiting until about 9:00 to say that after watching her carefully for 3 hours. Oh the joy! and the hip hip hoorays that were shouted!!!!
But then the tide changed. Around 10:10am after I fed both the doggies, all of a sudden Annie came back in and started shaking and panting loudly. What?!?!?! Oh no!!! Seriously!??!?! Time started ticking…..our minds started racing…..the vet was only open until 11am. Today was the last day for a week that Dr. Sullivan would be there. He was the best vet….the most knowledgeable, realistic, experienced and compassionate. If there was anyone we wanted to have put Annie down, it was him. There’s no way we would wait another 7 days, putting Annie through unnecessary misery. At this point it didn’t even seem fair to her to put her through 24 more hours of it.
We moved into action…Steve called the vet and asked if he could show up at 11. They said yes. The original plan was now back in action. Steve would leave at 10:30. We had 20 minutes to say our goodbye. The four of us sat on the kitchen floor balling our eyes out with Annie in the middle of our circle of legs. We cried and cried. It was good for Jacob to see Daddy crying. I think since he hadn’t seen Daddy’s tears before now, he somehow thought that he needed to stay strong and stalwart with his emotions. Jacob had cried in his bed the night before when I lay next to him…..but he hadn’t cried with Daddy. But now he stared at Daddy’s face and saw the pain and anguish and tears on Daddy’s face and all of a sudden he gave himself to cry in front of his sister and daddy. Last night he had batted Natalie away when she came to say goodnight while his tears spilled in his bed. Now he was okay letting her see him cry. I was happy that Steve’s tears gave him that permission. It was a sad moment for the four of us. That was when the deep, deep heartache really rolled in and felt like an excruciatingly heavy blanket on my heart.
Steve got up to carry Annie to the van. As he walked out he saw our friends the Howards showing up. Prior to this change in plans, we had made plans for a game playdate. I had texted them when the sudden change in Annie’s condition had occurred….but they hadn’t yet read that text. Here they were on our sidewalk…..and we were a grieving family…..Natalie crying and screaming…..Jacob quietly hurting. They gave me a much needed hug. But I think they also must have felt awkward….how to help….Beth helped me get Charlie back in the house…..he wasn’t wanting to leave the van. He didn’t jump up into the van like he normally did….it was as though he knew…..with all the crying….and with Natalie traipsing her body over Annie’s body in the van…..he knew…..I fully believe that dogs perceive sadness. Charlie must have known this wasn’t another beach outing kind of day. He didn’t try to jump in the van, but he just stood there at the side door entrance looking in. How do dogs say goodbye? Natalie pleaded with me to pick up Charlie and let him say goodbye to Annie. But what would that have looked like? No. Instead I tried to usher him back to the house, with the help of my friend Beth. He didn’t cooperate. And yet he also didn’t run past us, which he easily could have. It was as if I was literally pulling him away from his best friend. I felt like my hands were shoveling his reluctant body along the pathway to our front door.
Jacob in the meantime had run to his bedroom, curled himself up behind his bedroom door and was crying. I walked to his room, knocked and asked for him to please open the door. He didn’t want to talk to anyone or see anyone. He wanted to stay there all alone, crying. I let the Howards know that we all needed some time and space right now. They completely understood and started heading back to their car. Just then Jacob emerged from his room and said he changed his mind and would like to still play with Tommy. I told him to rush outside before the Howards drove away. He caught them just in time. They were so happy to help and let him crawl into their car and head to their house for some playtime. Oh what a relief for my mama heart. Some board game therapy for Jacob’s grieving heart…..a perfect cure for his heartache!!
I turned around and there coming toward me down the sidewalk was Steve, carrying Natalie who was clung to him tightly. He handed her off to me…..I crawled into the van for my final goodbye kiss and farewell to Annie….and then they drove away. Ohhhhhhh the pain. The searing pain…….watching the van go down our driveway, making the turn out onto our street and then out of sight. Natalie in my arms kicking and screaming and crying in grief. She kept crying out “MAMA!!!!! MAMA!!!!!! MAMA!!!!!! I wanted one last hug!!!!! I wanted to say goodbye longer!!!! That goodbye wasn’t long enough!!!! I wanted MOOOOOOOORE time!!!!! It wasn’t enough!!!! MAMA!!!! MAMA!!!!! MAMA!!!!!!” She screamed in pain. I sobbed. Together we grieved and cried that this was the last we would see Annie. I imagined Steve driving Annie and a surge of pain hit my heart……oh the bravery needed to drive your loyal dog to her impending death. Oh how horribly hard this would be for Steve. I wanted to support him. I couldn’t. I was here supporting our child who was grieving her heart out.
When Steve texted me “She is asleep now”……..Natalie read the text as I was reading it and she let out a giant waaaaaail…. a very loud “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and then burst out crying a horrific grieving cry. It was over. It was finished. There was no point of return. We would never have Annie as a pet again. The finality of it hit us hard. Real hard. We would never pet her again. She would never be in our home again. There would be no more Shaver Lake summer camping trips with her. She wouldn’t bark in our backyard at the sight or sounds of passersby. She wouldn’t carry our shoes around the house anymore….causing us all to ask “Where is my shoe?!?Annie?!??!” We wouldn’t need the connector portion that subdivided the leash into two parts. Our cute Annie girl was gone. The girl who I lovingly called “Annie Ba-na-nee”. The one that would do anything to be pet by Steve and lay at his feet all night long. Her soft beautiful almost-white fur would not be ours to push our fingers through anymore.
When Steve came home from the vet, he took one step into the living room and then I immediately could take in the anguish on his face. His face was shriveled up in the most pain and tortured look I had ever seen on his face in the 20 years I’ve known him. I held him in a long hug and then he collapsed into tears on the couch. It was too much for his heart. He was ransacked by the pain of it all. It was too much. My heart broke for him. The bravery of it was unimaginable. He described how lifeless she was so very quickly after the shot. How he realized that even when she used to be asleep, if he petted her, her muscles would react to his touch. But when he petted her after she was dead, there was not a single response. Our sweet Annie girl would now only be a part of our memories….never to hold and touch again.
And the pain of that is what kept Natalie crying for a majority of the day. The finality….not being able to pet her anymore….not having a long enough goodbye.
In the late afternoon after all of us took much needed naps, Jacob returned to the Howards for Part 2 of Board Game playing……and Natalie and I visited a Color Me Mine paint shop. In the same way that playing games is a joy to Jacob, doing art is a joy for Natalie. I had asked her if painting a doggie statue would be something that would soothe her heartache. She said yes. So there we sat…..and yet her brush limply applied paint to the doggie. Her heart wasn’t in it. The emotion of it all was too heavy and too raw. And yet, at some point, the project became alive for Natalie and she became focused on it. We did need to leave the store at one point for a good cry….but then returned and continued. She realized it was hard being around happy people. There was a birthday party going on for some pre-teens in the far corner…..and there were two other happy families painting….and happy music playing in the background. All a bit much for my sensitive spirit Natalie. Oftentimes she stopped painting to gaze into my eyes and tell me it was hard. Yes. It is very, very hard I would assure her. And I would tell her I love her. She was pleased with her Annie dog when we left. I wish we could have taken it with us….but we need to wait a week to pick it up.
Most of the car ride home she cried. She cried about how short the goodbye felt. How frustrated she felt not getting to have more time with Annie. How she wanted 30 minutes of a goodbye in the van. And yet in the same sentence she also said she wanted 1 more year of life with Annie. I assured her that we had an incredible blessing of having that whole long family day at the beach…..and getting to give her the things she loves…..a bath and a chew stick……and how incredible it was that Annie let her be her pillow for 12 hours of the night….
I could feel the prayers of praying family and friends tonight. When I tucked my kiddos into bed I was anticipating another evening of deep crying. But it wasn’t like that tonight. The gift of peace had already entered their hearts. I know that the heartache is still there and very real and very heavy…..and, yet, alongside of that is peace. A peace that ushered my kiddos into sleep very quickly tonight. Thank you Lord. Thank you to all of you who have been praying for us today. Thank you.
And now I’m off to sleep….it’s 1:45am and I am emotionally drained beyond drained. In our weakness, the Lord is strong. Hoping and praying to lean on Him to carry us through tomorrow.
And now we have Charlie.