The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

It’s 2020. This week marks four years since we put our Rainey to sleep. I wrote this four years ago, the first of a series of posts in a now defunct blog. I started the series in July of that year as it seemed that we were on the verge of losing our girl. I revive the series every now and then. I was relatively new to blogging then. The original left something to be desired in some ways and this posting includes some edits. While the words and punctuation, the nuts and bolts so to speak may have been changed, the sentiments and the lingering heartache, the actual structure, has not changed.

She has a beautiful feathered tail that would flip back and forth like a metronome when we went for our morning run. Her trot graceful and effortless as she led out, looking back every now and then as if to reassure herself that I was on the other end of the leash. After the run we sat outside Starbucks. I drank coffee and she lounged like a princess as she took in the compliments, “Such a beautiful dog.”

Rainey in her younger years

We would get up before sunrise. When she got to middle age she’d gone day blind. Couldn’t see past her long nose in the daylight but in the twilight she could see perfectly and so we got up with the chickens, as Nonna Maria used to put it. We ran an hour or more. Years passed and we ran for 40 minutes. A couple of years ago I pared the runs down to half an hour. Last year I would take her out for about 15 minutes and then I dropped her off at the house to finish my run. The runs ended some months ago and when I would get up she would get up as well, “Sorry girl, you can’t. Go back to bed.”

The past weeks have been a series of vet visits. She’s 12, and has an enlarged heart, but the most pressing problem is the front left paw that is either infected or has cancer. Surgery on the foot and an amputation of a small portion of the afflicted digit will tell the story of whether there is cancer or not.

Bedtime. Cora would go to bed first and I’d follow after a bit of reading or TV. Normally I would tell Rainey to go to bed while I’d wash the after dinner snack dishes in the sink. But Rainey wouldn’t go to bed. Instead she’d wait for me at the top of the stairs. She wouldn’t enter the bedroom until she knew everyone was in.

Normally she sleeps on a dog bed on my side of our bed. Well that is until I put my reading pillow down next to the bed and turn off the lights. Then she gets up and with a contented groan curls up onto the reading pillow just beneath me. She knows I’m still awake and she sticks her nose up so that I’ll rub her head a little before we go to sleep.

Things aren’t normal anymore. It’s a challenge now for her to get up the stairs. And so the sleeping arrangements have changed. I sleep in my daughter’s old bed, the one that’s about 3 inches too short, the one that’s in the downstairs bedroom. Rainey’s foot hurts and so she spends much of the day lying down on the lowest landing of the stairs; it’s been one of her favorite places to perch for years. So that she doesn’t have to walk to the kitchen for her meals my wife will hand feed Rainey while she lies on the landing.

I suppose she’s seeing some upside to this. She’s taking up to 4 pills twice a day. At first I was trying to just open her mouth and put the pills on the back of her tongue. Dogs figure that shit out right away and after a couple days it was like trying to open up a gator’s mouth. She loves cherry tomatoes and so Cora would stuff the pills in cherry tomatoes. That worked for a while and then Rainey figured out how to winnow out the pills and spit them out like cherry pits. Now I’m stuffing the pills in chunks of hotdog.

Sometimes Rainey lifts her foot up and waves it as if to show it to us. Is she asking in her own way, “When are we going to get this taken care of?” I wish that she could understand that those vet visits are a good thing but all that she knows about that place is that it’s where she gets poked, prodded and gets some glass thing stuck up her ass. She can’t see the building when we drive up but she knows we’re there and she starts to tremble. As we sit in the waiting room she ignores that painful paw and tries to crawl onto my lap.

Her fear of that place has led me to one firm; I won’t give an inch decision. During a phone conversation one of the doctors broached the possibility that the foot might not be operable and the notion of euthanizing Rainey. “Let’s cross that bridge if we get there,” she added. But this presented me with the chance to ask the question that I’d had on my mind for years. “Rainey is terrified of your office. If we ever get to where she does have to be put to sleep are there doctors who will do it at our home?” She assured me that there are and could give us referrals.

We’ve progressed beyond the scope of our regular vet. Now we’re at a clinic called Sage, down Interstate 680 in Concord. They’ve got the works including the cardiologist who gave Rainey an echogram to be certain that her heart could take the anesthesia for the foot surgery. That was the first hurdle. If she couldn’t take the anesthesia we would have to either roll the dice and hope she would survive anesthesia, or simply put her to sleep.

Her heart passed muster but the doctor suggested some tests on Rainey’s spleen because of some possible abnormalities. She got through that one too. By now we were over $1000 in and we hadn’t even seen the surgeon who would work on the foot. That happened today. During a consultation he gave us a rundown of everything involved which included a possible biopsy of lymph nodes in case the foot has cancer. Did we want to leave her overnight so we wouldn’t have to bring her in early in the AM? “No. No offense but she doesn’t like this place and I don’t want her trembling all night long.”

The price tag – another $5800. The wife and I haven’t blinked over the cost yet – but we have gulped some.

“Look,” I told her, “that’s about what our vacation is going to run. We just cancel the vacation and it all evens out. The hotels are all refundable and we’ll have a year to use up the plane tickets.”

The vacation is off the menu and I somehow feel better about it.

The surgery is tomorrow. I asked the surgeon what the worst case would be and he mentioned that it might be cancer which would possibly require some extra medications. I’m optimistic – cautiously.

Old dogs bring us down to Earth. When they’re puppies and young adults we don’t think 10 years down the road. We bring them into our homes and call them our best friends and gush about unconditional love. Inevitably they get old. They get sick or they get lame. They can seem like a burden that we never thought of back when they were precocious pups, still cutting teeth and peeing on the carpet and then scampering into a corner. This is the time when our best friends find out if we are their best friends.

Before Rainey went blind she would travel with us but after losing her sight it just wasn’t feasible any more. We had to get our kids to take care of Rainey while we travelled. There were a couple times when it looked like Raineycare was going to fall through and we were perfectly ready to cancel our trip. One year we literally found someone to watch her the day before we were supposed to fly out to D.C. I was on the brink of cancelling.

Ten years ago folks would put a dog down because there simply wasn’t the care that is available now. Now the care is there and pet owners are faced with the price tag. And then they’re faced with the question about their love for their pet. Is it unconditional or is there a monetary condition? It’s a heart wrenching cost analysis. They’re family but it’s not like they’re people family. They aren’t people. Is that the way out? That’s how some folks look at it – even if they can afford it.

The doctor handed us the estimate and we simply exchanged looks and knew we were of the same mind – take a gulp and pull out the checkbook. But it can be a real dilemma. Hell there are people in poor America who often have to face a similar dilemma with their human family.

While at the clinic my wife struck up a conversation with a man whose Lab mix was in for treatment. Shortly after getting his pet, the dog developed hip dysplasia. Surgery was going to be not just expensive, it was going to be onerously expensive. He took out a second on his house.

When Rainey was a puppy she tore an ACL in her knee. What the hell, I didn’t even know dogs had knees let alone ACL’s. That one was $6000 to get it repaired. We gulped just like we did today but at no point then or since was there any regret. I suppose that we could have just let it go. It wasn’t a live or die issue. But all of those many, many runs. Had we not fixed that knee those years of running would never have happened.

Now Rainey is old. She might only have a year. But she might have five. I suppose we could do our own cost analysis – is a year or two worth five or six grand? Absolutely it is. We take that gulp and whip out the Visa.

These days I run by myself. On some mornings I say a rosary for my friend. I’ve done it so many times that I’ve memorized the pattern. No need to carry around those bothersome beads.

Today I was talking to a coworker about this and when she heard the price tag the first words out of her mouth were; “You’re going to put her to sleep.” She saw the look on my face and apologized. I get it that some folks are going to read this and say, “It’s just a dog. Are you nuts?” Maybe we are. Rainey isn’t disposable. She’s been our companion for 12 years so we do what we can. We figure that she would do the same for us. In the end I realize and am thankful for the fact that we can afford this.

Old dogs don’t run around like they once did. They don’t spin around in circles when you come home but instead they tap their tails on the hardwood floor to say “Hi, welcome home friend.” Old dogs don’t generate excitement. Instead they bring us a sense of tranquil, friendship that will stay with us long after they’ve left us.

Rainey and I don’t run together anymore. I’m looking for the day when the paw is healed and instead of running we can sit on the front porch in the late afternoon. She’ll stick her nose up to catch a scent of the birds that she can’t see while I read and rub her head as the sun sets behind the western hills. I could never look at my Rainey as a burden. I would rather compare her final time to the soothing quiet peace of the waning sun.

Today Rainey hobbled out of the veterinary clinic; head down, unsure of where to go. She stopped occasionally to take a break; nervous and panting, she would lift up the painful paw. The afternoon sun was bright, too bright for her and she struggled to get her bearings. and she was trying to get her bearings. Someone coming out of the clinic and seeing her struggle might not have recognized her for the princess of years ago – but I would.

It’s 2020 and once again we have an older dog in the house. My daughter’s Chloe is 12. Chloe is having her own issues but so far nothing that seems serious beyond just being an old girl. She has a little gray beard under her mouth and she moves slowly and gingerly. I’ve been here before and I’m wondering what’s going through Jessica’s mind. When they get old you start to wonder how much time is left. My heart goes out to her because it’s a time of mixed emotions.

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12 thoughts on “Old Dogs

  1. Jane Fritz says:

    ❤️❤️

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you Jane

  2. Oh pets can wrench your heart! They love unconditionally, but when they hurt, they can’t tell you how they feel. I had two sister cats. They lived to be 19 1/2 years old. The one we lost first stopped eating and withered away. No question it was time, and my husband took her in. Her sister went the next month, had a tumor in her tummy we didn’t know about. I knew she would not last without her sister. We got two more buddy cats. We lost the big boy at a young age of about 11. He had breathing issues, turned out he had a clasped lung and cancer. That one about killed me because I let him suffer over the weekend not realizing his pain. His buddy, Precious, we still have her. She’s doing well with lots of love and attention. My heart still breaks, but the years with them meant everything to me. What a lovely memorial for your buddy Rainey. My heart breaks for you. 💙💔

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you Lisa. Sorry for the loss of your own friends. Your story about the sister cats reminds me of a moment when Rainey had to leave us. My daughter and her dog Chloe were living with us. When the vet came to our house she insisted that Chloe not be allowed to be nearby when Rainey was attended to and not be allowed to see Rainey be taken from the house. For months afterwards Chloe would put her head up and look around when Rainey’s name was mentioned.

      1. Awwwwww. One thing I noticed when my boy cat got so sick. I think it was the day before we took him in to be put down, Precious came over to him and nosed him, I think she knew. I just know she knew he was going. And after he was gone, she just needed attention, but she’s been fine. They were not as connected at the sister cats. Animals can really sense things. That’s why we love them!

  3. Sheree says:

    Family pets are members of one’s family and it’s hard losine someone who loves you back unconditionally. It’s a beautiful post and a lovely tribute to Rainey.

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you Sheree.

      1. Sheree says:

        My pleasure

  4. Steve Johnson says:

    Joshua was 13 when he was diagnosed with a neurological condition. I learned more about life and devotion in his last two years than in the previous 41 years of my existence.

    As fun as the young whipper snappers are, there’s just something about the seniors that pulls at my heartstrings. I can’t help but look at their grayed faces and wonder about the lives they have led.

    1. Paulie says:

      As happened when Rainey was old, we have a younger dog, my Lexi and an older dog my daughter’s Chloe. Chloe is like a patient old matron with Lexi who is finally treating Chloe with the reverence she deserves.

  5. Scott Blake says:

    I remember reading this when you first posted it. It’s very touching, then and now. Rainey was a special pooch, a very sweet temperament.

    1. Paulie says:

      She was very sweet. I know that you might find this hard to believe but Lexi exhibits some of that sweetness. When someone reaches out to give her a treat she very gently takes it. The other day we met my friend Michelle and her dog while walking and Lexi put her paw on Michelle’s arm as if asking for some love. I think it’s a breed thing. They can be pretty wild and crazy but they can also show some tenderness.

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