“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.”
― Milan Kundera
This is a personal, rather long, emotional and unedited post, dedicated to my best friend for the last 17 years. I started writing it almost 2 years ago but never finished it. So forgive me if it becomes boring or verbose. I wanted to assemble this collage of memories and thoughts while I can still feel the heat of his body on my leg. While I can still hear his breath and look down and meet his eyes observing me. As we have always been.
July 17, 2013
His name is Rasty, and he is sitting next to me right now, trying to breathe the air into his lungs. He always wants to be next to me. As close as possible. So, although he is so tired, he manages to get up and follow me every time I move from my desk to the couch or to bed or to another room.
He is almost 15 years old now. He is a fighter and a teacher. He has severe heart problems and he was diagnosed with cancer two days ago. So, I guess he will be leaving me soon. He has to go. But every moment he is still here, he is a blessing.
When he feels well, he still has a playful mood. He still enjoys going out for a walk, he smells the air and the soil with caution and excitement. As if he has not smelled it a million times before. The same spots, the same air, the same trees. But he seems finding new things all the time. New little moments of pleasure. He friendly approaches people passing by asking for caresses. He looks at everything as though he is seeing it either for the first or the last time -I am not sure I can tell…
He has been with me from the first day of his life. I was there when he was born. almost 15 years ago. And since then we have been together 24 hours a day. In my home, in the office, in the car, when I was going for shopping, for coffee, for dinner. He was expecting me in the car when he could not follow. Even for hours… Never complaining, as long as he could be with me and not left behind at home.
The last 2 years we have been just the two of us: me and him. Day in and day out. I work from home and he has been my shadow, my companion, my supporter and my friend.
The vet said he was not expecting him to overcome such a severe heart failure followed by a severe cold at this age. We both created a miracle he said. I saved him he said.
Well, I think Rasty saved me. I think he is the miracle. He has been a miracle and he has been a great fighter all his life. He recovered from erlichia and leizmania that hit him both simultaneously at the age of 5. The vet never expected him to recover. And even after that, he never expected him to live much longer. And yet, six months ago and 8 years later his tests where just like a young dog’s. Hadn’t it be his heart.. But he fought that as well.. 15 days ago, we went for our monthly check-up and he sounded as an almost healthy heart. And he somehow managed to make it seem as if he was giving no fight at all.
Now, cancer has hit him. I feel so helpless. I know I cannot make him immortal. I know that’s the way things are. The circle of life. Yet, it hearts.
These last six months I have been living again the fight and loss of my father. The agony, the helplessness, the ignorance of what should I do or if I do it right or wrong. If I give the right comfort or if I do something that will be fatal. The agony when expecting the test results. The joy and relief I feel when he wants to eat. When he is in the mood to move his tail. The fear he will refuse to take his medication. The panic when he is burning with fever.
Yet he is a great, a wonderful patient. Stoically accepting everything I do to help him, trying to eat a bite with his treatment even when his stomach is refusing it. Sometimes I feel as if he does it only because he wants to please me.
Every time I cannot hear his now difficult breath, I look down on him with fear. Checking to see if he is still breathing. A constant going back and forth between agony and relief.
Friends and family often to tell me not to be so sad and attached to him. That’s life. He has to go. I know. But losing a dog -I think- is the same as losing human. To me it seems even harder. Because of the loss of this feeling of unconditional love and devotion. You can always count on your dog to be there for you. No matter how ugly, angry, stupid, bad mannered, sad, happy, dirty, clean, poor you might be. All the time. You can always count on his forgiveness. In fact he is not forgiving you. He is just unconditionally accepting you the way you are. No ifs and buts. No expectations. He is making you the center of his Universe. You are important. You are the one for him. And you know this will never change. You will never need to wonder. No rejections, no betrayals, no confrontations. No judgements. Simple, pure love.
Separation is so hard to deal with. I was always so scared of separations. Most of all the ‘earthly’ permanent ones.
So my fighter Rasty is still here. But it is again, one of these ‘bad’ times, when he is not well, and I try to prepare myself again for the final goodbye.
When he was diagnosed with cancer 20 months ago, we thought he could not make it in surgery. Yet he did. Regardless of his heart failure, he made it. And he has recovered miraculously. He followed me to a new place with beautiful garden when I decided to move away from the big city. He loves water and we are close to the sea now. Some days when he is feeling good, we are going to the beach. He enjoys every step even if it is so hard for him. He follows every scent. Like a young dog, unfortunately in an old body.
He tries so hard. He still climbs up and down the 7 steps we have in the yard in order to get out and return home. He wants to do it by himself. Sometimes, he cannot walk anymore. So I have to carry him in my hands, though it is really hard as he is a big dog.
I want to be there for him, when the time comes to fly away. Until he becomes part of the greater whole and he returns back to the stars, the air, the universe. Until he becomes a faint memory to others, and a warm place in me where I will always find comfort. A hug to my soul.
It is going to be one of the most hard, painful and at the same time extraordinary experiences. I know. I went through it again 3 months ago, when I painfully ‘escorted’ my Rallou out. But I do not want to let someone else ‘take care’ of him. I hope I will not need to make such a decision. I wish he goes peacefully in his sleep and not wake up some day. And I hope I will be there to hold his hand and caress his forehead as he loves me to do.
I cannot think of the day I will wake up in the morning and he will not be there to jump and run around my feet, barking with joy, celebrating the new day and reminding me to celebrate it too.
I am grateful I have lived so many beautiful noisy mornings with him and I am scared of the silent ones to come.
I am grateful I have lived with a dog that has grown so old. And that I had the chance to see him cope with illness and age so gracefully. When he feels a bit better, he has the attitude of a young dog, interested in all things around, enjoying every single moment.
Puppies are cute. Young dogs are fun. But old dogs… Oh, Old dogs are wise. They communicate with you in a way you cannot but admire and they share with you a kind of wisdom you can never forget. Hopefully, you become a bit wiser yourself as well. I hope I will.
I hope I will never forget the lessons he shared:
- To be a fighter, to never give up, and yet, in the same time to peacefully accept the fact that everything will change eventually. That everything comes to an end.
- To enjoy every little moment, to enjoy every little treat, to appreciate a warm hug, a nice view, an interesting scent, a sincere smile, a soulful conversation or a soulful silence between friends. To be more mindful and not ‘mindfull’.
- To move away from anything and anyone who brings bad energy, bad vibes.
- To wake up with joy and expectation for the new day. To be grateful for the new possibilities and appreciate the fact that I am given the chance to see another sunrise or sunset, to have another day on this planet.
- To trust my instinct and my heart. To keep my mind as open and, at the same time, as silent as possible. Because it speaks only based on the few things I have managed to learn until now.
- To follow only the rules I want to follow, not because I ‘have’ to do so, but because I want to. And to know (and always remember) that I am able to break them any time.
- To keep alive the child inside and feel playful as long as my body permits me to be so. And even if it stops, to try a bit more.
- To not care about ‘things’ and ‘looks’. Only about feelings and senses.
- Most importantly to love unconditionally. To love the soul. The soul of people, of plants, of animals. Even of objects. The soul of life.
I hope I will be able to do that. I hope I will not forget how he did it.
And I hope that when I am lost he will be there somewhere, he will run a few steps ahead of me and then turn back his head, looking for me and urging me to follow. To move on.
To share the joy with him in exploring a new path or in re-discovering the one he had already explored so many times before with his little paws. Showing me that no matter how many times we have walked it, we can always find exciting new things on the way. A new flower, a new branch, a new scent, a new spot with some water to roll himself in, a snail chewing a leaf, a butterfly that decided to rest on his head for a while.
Yes, I believe there are always new things to appreciate. To explore. To learn. As long as we remember to observe. With an open mind. And with an open soul. As long as we remember to be present. For this only moment. Because this is all we have for certain. This only moment. There is no such thing as a promised next moment.
So, for now, I am absorbing these precious moments with him. As I do not know how many more moments he will be able to share with me.
His name is Rasty and he is my dog. I am grateful he chose me to love, protect, teach and share his precious life with.
I feel blessed…