Rocco had an “episode” a few weeks ago.
I saw it coming, slowly, for a few days, but I refused to see it at first. I always do.
“He’s just tired. He probably slept in an awkward position. He’s shaking because he’s cold; maybe I should turn up the heat.”
But eventually, I come to terms with it.
This time the “come to terms with it” moment happened when I held a treat out to him and he couldn’t take it.
He tried. He pushed it around with his nose and angled himself this way and that…but his jaw wouldn’t work for him.
He tried to look up and give me the “Mommy, we have a problem” look, but his neck betrayed him.
That’s when I came to terms with it.
I calmly picked up the treat and returned it to his cookie jar. I got down on the floor with a spoonful of peanut butter and held him in my arms at just the right angle for him to lap it up. When he was done I carried him to the couch, wrapped him up in a blanket, and let him rest.
Then I sat on the kitchen floor and sobbed.
I’m not sure why I continuously refuse to see it.
I was warned when we rescued him at 4 months old, and the vet rattled off the long list of ailments that befall miniature dachshunds.
I was warned when he went into acute liver failure at 2 years old and spent 5 days in the hospital, defying every odd, beating every prognosis, and making every staff member fall in love with his goofy, bobble-headed antics.
I was warned when, despite the twice-yearly dental appointments and twice-daily tooth scrubbings, he developed gum disease and needed surgery at 9 years old.
I was warned when, at 10 years old, he let out an ear-splitting howl and collapsed on the living room floor the night after Christmas, and I spent 5 hours in an emergency vet waiting room, praying that this wasn’t how we were going to say goodbye. They showed me the x-rays, talked to me about severe spinal arthritis of the neck, and told me that they couldn’t believe he hadn’t become paralyzed years ago. They praised me for his steady diet of whole foods, regular dosages of glucosamine and chondroitin, msm, fish oil, pei mussels, nightly back massages and leg rotations, and everything else we’d been doing since he was a puppy to stave off what was happening anyway. They told me if it wasn’t for that type of care, he’d already be gone. I left feeling like we’d somehow failed him anyway.
That was the night we sat up until the morning, talking about our options, holding him, scratching his ears, telling him how much we loved him…and promising him that if he told us it was time, we’d listen.
They had told me to keep doing what we were doing. They told me that we’d know when it was time.
When I saw him pushing that tiny treat around the floor- my dog, who used to eat an entire chicken breast in one breath and threaten to take down your hand if you didn’t get it out of the way fast enough- I prayed. I prayed HARD.
“Not yet. PLEASE don’t let it be time.”
For 2 days we held him. We watched him. Pat scrambled eggs for him. I held spoons with peanut butter while he happily, carefully navigated his way around them. I wiped him down, wrapped him up, and snuggled in bed with him at 2am after I found him lying in a puddle he’d made, most likely because he hadn’t been able to bend his back legs when we took him outside at bedtime. I whispered in his floppy little ear, “If you’re ready, it’s ok. I understand. If it’s time, I’ll be brave for you.”
I stayed up all night, preparing myself to make the phone call. I stopped praying for a miracle.
But I got one.
The next day, our pain-riddled old man bounced out of his bed and ate an entire bowl of food. He trotted outside, charged around the yard, and tugged on his leash to take a stroll up the street. He came inside and ate his treat, then ran over to our 50lb lab, Marty, grabbed her treat out of her mouth, and tore off into the living room while she tried to figure out what had just happened.
Before Marty or I could pick our jaws up from the floor, my spunky, goofy, stubborn, energetic little friend was staring up at me, tail wagging, feet hopping, looking toward his cookie jar. I looked at him and saw my 4 month-old puppy again.
We had made it through. Again. He had told me, loudly and clearly, that it wasn’t time.
I know it will be time, eventually. I know it when he can’t quite make out who is standing in front of him. I know it when he can’t hear me calling him until I tap him on the back. I knew it a few days ago when, for a few hours, his jaw failed him again. I know it on rainy nights when I have to hold him close and rub the ache out of his legs and neck.
But for some reason, when I see him, he’s not 13 years old. He’s not gray. His eyes aren’t cloudy and his walk isn’t shaky.
All I see is my spunky, goofy, stubborn, energetic little friend.
I see him posing proudly in his Halloween costumes (my favorites were Pirate, Frog, and Bumble Bee). I see him floating across the pool in an inflatable canoe, eyes closed and tail wagging gently in the sun. I see him peeing a circle around my feet and then staring at me vindictively from the doorway, after I yelled at him for jumping off the couch. I see him chasing a stink bug around the bedroom of our apartment and then shrieking and hiding behind me when it stopped running away and started creeping towards him.
I see him pressed against my chest catching my tears every time the little stick didn’t show the 2 lines I’d been praying for, and lying across my belly for nine months when it finally did. I see him standing protectively in front of the infant swing, chest puffed out, with a “State Your Business” expression on his face when anyone came to meet “his” new babies.
I see him dancing around the refrigerator at 5pm each night; bouncing at my feet as I finished Sunday morning eggs, turkey bacon and pancakes because he knew he was getting his very own bowlful; and getting his head stuck in an empty container of dairy-free ice cream that somehow made its way out of the recycling bin.
I see the silent keeper of my secrets, the giver of endless cuddles, and the only member of the house who wants to lie in bed with me and get sneezed on when I’m sick.
I know that one day I’ll have to come to terms with it. One day will be “that” day.
But it wasn’t a few weeks ago, and it’s not today.
So today, I don’t want to see it.
Today, I’ll just look down and see my spunky little friend staring up at me. And I’ll thank my lucky stars for small miracles.