Monday, September 05, 2005

So, that post I don't really want to write...

It's strange how easily we can deny the obvious. When all the facts lie bared before our faces, we suddenly focus on the shimmery horizon beyond them.

These are the facts I don't want to see, the ones that render me mute whenever an opportunity arises to bring them to the surface, the ones I wish I could shove back in the shadows:

1. My dog, Leo, is 13.
2. He is deaf.
3. He is going blind steadily.
4. He doesn't always know where or who he is. This is the only fact that could be fiction; it's impossible to tell, but that vacant gaze shows something.
5. He has a condition that's making him slowly, incrementally, agonizingly lose the function of his back legs. It's bad, bad, bad.
6. On Emergency Vets, they euthanize animals who exhibit symptoms like his.
7. Watching him try to lie down without putting any weight on his back legs makes me sick.
8. Having him look right through me makes me sicker.
9. There are days when he is scared, anxious and in pain. His vital organs might be fine, but nothing else is.
10. Sometimes I think he is only holding on because we can't let him go.
11. I don't want him to die.
12. I really don't want him to die if I'm not in that room with him.
13. Sometimes, when I come through the front door and he doesn't raise his head, I feel relieved. When he wakes up, I ache.

Ever since vets diagnosed him with cancer a few years ago, Leo hasn't been well. Surgery excised all traces of his disease, but it also sapped his energy; ever since, things have been deteriorating.

Leo is the first -- and only -- puppy I've had. I remember watching him steal a full head of romaine lettuce off the kitchen counter when he was a few months old; he triumphantly dragged it outside, all the way around our deck to the front of the house before exuberantly tearing it to pieces. Ever since, he's chosen lettuce over kibble and banana over beef.

When he was just a baby, he caught kennel cough, and we slept beside him on the kitchen floor as the husky gasps racked his tiny body.

In the 2001 earthquake, when I panicked and screamed for him to get in the downstairs bathroom doorway with me, he flew down the stairs roaring, every hair on his nape elevated, trying to kill whatever was scaring me. This is the same dog who wagged his tail and silently watched teens steal pumpkins off the front porch.

Traces of my dog remain, but they are fleeting and come with greater infrequency. For awhile, I didn't know if he'd make it to my wedding -- but when the day came, he was 10 years younger and pranced across the grounds like a king. Still, it took a lot out of him; the heat made him a little sick, and after he came home he slept for a day. I think that was one of the last times I saw my dog. Now, he's frequently underfoot, crying at nothing...and I realize he's probably doing everything he can to ask for his release.

I feel like a bad person because the part of me that knows he's slowly dying wants to be sure he dies in my arms. I don't want to get that phone call some evening. Of all the things making me anxious about our trip, this one might be the worst. It's unspoken, but we all know what we see. And I can't handle the thought of being away when he goes, or of letting him linger because his body won't die. The thing that scares me most is that he could live another two, maybe three years, and they would be the worst years he's ever endured. I'd always hoped he would die in his sleep, but I don't think that's going to happen. His heart is good, but he can't stand long because he's too stiff: why ask him for more? If this were a relative, a friend or me, I'd long for a choice to end the suffering...for Leo, we have one, and as much as I don't want to let go, it would be wrong to keep holding on.

Sometimes, I think dogs run away to die because they sense their owners can't ever let them go. I don't want to push Leo to that brink. He's given us his entire life: it's time for us to repay that gift as best we can.

So, we'll talk to the vet and then to the family. It's worse because lately, he seems better: he goes on longer walks, perks up when we're around, and responds to our commands. But there's a suspicious growth getting bigger on his eye, he's tripping over one front leg a lot, and I keep wondering how long his rebound will last. Right now, the family is in denial. I can't even talk to them about it without making them upset -- I will never show them this post, and I hope they don't find it. I'm worried that their insistence on his health will persist until something really bad happens. I'm worried that I'm overreacting. I need a sign, but all we have is instince -- and our instincts as a species are so damned lousy.

Before too long, we'll probably take him for one last car ride. God, he loves car rides. Deep down, I know this is the right thing to do, that we probably should have done it months ago. But it hurts. An empty spot by the steps where he used to sleep. Rugs we don't have to vacuum every week because of his incessant shedding. It hurts so bad to say goodbye, but I can't live with the knowledge that we're the only thing holding him back.