Goodbye Gorgeous

Cancer spreads, extending and occupying all exploitable space. Yet, it has awesome withering power as well. Behold the melting wax as the flame burns brighter.

It’s fascinating to watch as our veterinarian slides the ultrasound wand over my dog’s belly. She explains that the tumour has swollen and now occupies the entire bladder, pushing against the walls. I pretend I see it on the screen, as if the outcome of this visit depends on my acuity. Our sweet dog is shrinking. Once a regal diva, head held high, bouncing through life on long, slender legs, she’s now a faltering phantom. Several times a day she struggles to urinate; it’s become her sole concern. The first flow is innocuous, abundant, and almost always accompanied by a sigh of relief. Soon after comes a primitive urge to excrete more, time and again. Anxious pacing and groans accompany her strained efforts.

I can’t bear the thought of her in pain. The vet shakes her head – no, no pain. But I’m not convinced. It may not be painful, but is her distress not as damaging? Still, appearances deceive. Despite the disease’s advance – urination woes aside – she’s still our girl. Affectionate, attention-seeking, a bossy bitch reigning over a gang of rowdy males. The vision of my girl as warrior princess is so strong, the vet’s next words jolt me. Not much we can do now, she says, looking down at the floor. The palliative care instructions she provides are basic. Make her comfortable. Let her eat whatever she wants. In time, urination will become impossible. She may stop eating. That’s when you’ll know that… that you must decide. Ahh, I see. “The Decision.” The euphemism is appealing, as if it were up to me. I’m taking in the news, trying to come up with more questions, surely we can do something, I begin to say. But my girl decides she’s had enough. With a sudden burst of energy, she pulls me towards the door, eager to leave. This place is not to my liking, she tosses over her shoulder as we escape.

Is my surprise legitimate, or am I being naïve? We know we are more likely to outlive our dogs. Experience should have prepared me for this inescapable event. Goodbyes are never easy, so I look for some new coping mechanism. Once I heard an explanation about improvisation training on a podcast and this gives me an idea. The first rule is to say “Yes, and…” to everything. To be open to experiences, show the world you’re up for expansion and development. I wonder if reframing the dilemma will make it easier.

Kako at 3 months

Cancer grows. Yes! As it destroys! What an amazing paradox.

The tumour has grown. Yes! It’s filling up her bladder. Even as we speak!

She’s lost a lot of weight. Yes! It’s an amazing downward spiral!

It’s a struggle to urinate. Yes! She’s quite the trooper; just ignore that bloody pool on the floor.

She feels no pain. Yes! And yet she’s desperate to pee. She barks to go out into the garden. Loud, insistent barks.

Not much we can do now. Yes! And we’ll make sure she’s comfortable, pampered to the end.

She may stop peeing. Or eating. Yes! “There is nothing permanent except change,” as they say.

You’ll have to make “a decision”. Yes! Leave it up to me. I’m here for you, sweetie!

My dog pulls me towards the exit. Yes! Lead the way, Princess!

All too soon, the time comes. She’s been refusing food for a few days, and urination is catastrophic. I call the vet. This is not my first pet loss, but I always break down when the receptionist asks the reason for the visit. I feel as if I’m requesting an appointment with the executioner. This is resolutely unfair, I know. Vets are not hitmen; it’s not the reason they chose the profession. But there lies the contradiction. Vets find themselves in the painful position of both protecting life, and being responsible for ending it.

My vet is kind, sensitive and impressively attuned to her clients’ emotional states – both canine and human. She takes a huge breath as she prepares the injections. It’s time to say goodbye to my fine, noble, crazy friend after 11 years of mutual devotion. Panic strikes, and soon the embarrassing waterworks begin. I try to concentrate on my girl. It comforts me to witness her acceptance, a balance between defiance and defeat. My sole consolation is that my timing has been good. She’s frail but has walked on her own into the clinic. She is neither inert nor heavy with the weight of illness. Her head is erect, her profile as magnificent as ever, a diva to the very end. Tranquil, she seems to be aware of my presence. This is my only salvation, the thought that keeps me from breaking down into a guilty mess of denial. That I can help my girl meet her fate with grace and dignity. After a lifetime together, it’s the least I can do.

Leave a Comment

Languages »