Recently, I wrote about our dog, Holly, her losing a leg to cancer, and her amazing ability to bounce back and get on with life as if nothing was amiss. She was her happy self, smiling, I swear, as she bound across the yard or played mama to a friend’s high-energy pup. Unfortunately, things took a bad turn, as these things tend to do.
Less than a week ago, Holly began having trouble standing. She could do it, but you could see there was something going on. Then she had trouble with the three stairs leading up to our house. Within days, she couldn’t walk, couldn’t even stand on her own.
My husband had to leave on a research cruise--out of town and out of reliable communication range. I was on my own. We’d discussed the inevitable, but our vet was in his other location, and there was no one else in town to turn to when the time came. I prayed Holly could hold on until Hubby got back.
Then it got to the point where I had to lift Holly to bring her outside and stand there holding her up, encouraging her to relieve herself. Her brown eyes asked why I was encroaching on her “private business” yet she seemed grateful for my touch and support. I’d haul her back inside, lay her down on her bedding and we’d collapse, both of us exhausted and frustrated and unhappy. So unhappy. She deserved more than relying on me to get her outside. She deserved to be freed from the pain that made her shake and whimper, even when lying still.
I called my husband yesterday morning, Friday, leaving a message that Holly was in very bad shape, that the vet wasn’t available, that no one was, that I was at a loss for what to do. I had kids and other animals to tend. How was I supposed to give our furry friend a peaceful end to her pain?
I headed into work on the verge of tears, holding it together for my kids. They saw the difficulty Holly was having, and the stress of taking care of her was taking its toll on me as I got short with them. I apologized frequently for my behavior, but I’m not sure it helped.
Friday afternoon, I was done with work and about to go home when one of the office ladies handed me a phone message. One of Hubby’s coworkers had called regarding the dog. I realized Hubby must have called or emailed her and explained the situation, asked for help when I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
At home, I returned the call and spoke to Nancy. Her take-charge attitude and soft voice assured me that there were people to help. That she and her husband could take Holly to Valdez if I wanted. That if I went, Penny and Linee would stay with the girls so they wouldn’t have to go with me or be alone for the day. The ferry schedule was tight, however, arriving at Valdez at 11:45 then returning to Cordova at 1:15. Not a lot of time, but enough if weather didn’t hamper the voyage.
Knowing it was what I had to do, I called the vet in Valdez and explained the situation. He wasn’t normally open on Saturdays, but would come in under the circumstances. I called the ferry terminal here. They assured me that I would have time to run into town at Valdez, take care of Holly, then make it back onto the ferry for the return trip. The crew would be made aware of my situation and I wouldn’t miss the boat.
It was settled. I looked into Holly’s brown eyes and cried. In my head, I knew this was the best thing for her. In my heart, I knew it was unfair to put her through so much but it hurt, oh it hurt, to think about losing her. When the kids came home from school, we sat on the floor near Holly and I told them what we had to do. We cried. We told stories about getting her and her “Goomba sister” Bailey when the girls were little. How Holly used to jump the five foot fence that surrounded our house in Oregon. How Bailey, much skinnier then, used to follow and we’d chase the dogs through the neighborhood. We laughed and remembered. And we knew we’d never, ever forget.
Last night, we all slept on the living room floor beside Holly. I gave her an extra dose of pain meds to help her rest, knowing the side effects were moot. This morning, Penny came over to help load Holly into the car and stay with the girls for a little while until Linee and her son could keep them company. We all cried again and the girls said their good-byes.
I checked in at the ferry terminal and was once again assured the captain and crew knew what was happening. Monica, the clerk, handed me a little dog treat. “I know how tough this is.” She’s lived her for a while. I’m sure she knew exactly what I was going through, as did all of the wonderful folks who jumped in to help us.
The ferry ride was uneventful. Hubby called to make sure the boat had sailed because the weather had been iffy. He would be out of range again until Sunday and we'd talk again then.
At the Valdez terminal, I was met by a woman named Donna who has worked with Nancy and my husband. She got in my car and showed me how to get to the vet’s office. Valdez isn’t a large town, but it was great to have someone there to lean on.
The vet, Kelly, pulled up just as we did. He carried Holly inside and gently laid her on the floor. We chatted a bit then I filled out some required paperwork. He went into the back and returned with a syringe of yellow liquid. The sedative would relax Holly prior to administration of the drug that would actually stop her heart. I could stay until the very end or leave after the sedative took effect, whatever I felt more comfortable with. I wasn’t sure, and time was an unfortunate factor. He assured me she would feel nothing once the sedative kicked in.
He gave her the shot and Holly laid her head down as I stroked her soft ears. Her eyes were wide open and she looked around at the strange surroundings. I spoke to her, cried some more, told the vet and Donna about some of her antics. After ten minutes, she was still more interested in the clinic than closing her eyes. Not reluctant, just curious about where she was and these two new people—her new friends, because everyone was Holly’s friend. The vet gave her a second shot. Within minutes, her eyes closed and her breathing became regular. No longer quivering or whimpering with pain, no longer looking at me with confusion and frustration in her soft brown eyes. I cried on her big rottie head and whispered my good-byes. “Good puppy.”
I couldn’t bring myself to watch Kelly give her that final injection, the one that would stop Holly’s heart. I wanted to remember her in a peaceful sleep, perhaps dreaming of chasing squirrels or licking the girls’ faces.
Donna, also crying, walked outside with me and we returned to the ferry terminal. She drove and waited with me until it was time to load. Here was a woman I’d never met before, who knew my husband just a little, but was willing to go through almost as much emotional stress because of the commonality of our love for our animals. We said good-bye and I told Donna she and her husband had to visit us under more cheerful circumstances. I hope she takes me up on it.
I’m so grateful to all the people who got us through this difficult time, friends old and new, people I’d never met, who made Holly’s passing a little easier.
Returning home with Holly’s collar on the seat beside me, I was exhausted. Only one dog greeted me when I walked in the door. Bailey seemed confused, and looked past me. Where was her sister? I gave her a hug and cried some more.
It’ll be strange not to wake up to Holly’s smiling face or pat her big head when I come home. It’ll seem odd to call only one dog in. I’m sure I’ll call Bailey the wrong name now and again and feel the pang of loss. My girls or I will tear up, and we’ll all hug and sob then remember some funny thing about Holly and feel a little better.
Not much compares to the love and memories generated by our relationships with animals, and despite the pain of losing them we seem compelled to have them in our lives. We gave Holly the best life we could and a peaceful passing. I know she’s somewhere in doggie heaven, smiling, four legs flying as she chases a forest full of squirrels.