Friday, April 12, 2013

My Very Best Friend

This is something I really never wanted to have to write, and I apologize in advance for subjecting you to it, but writing helps me feel better about a lot of things, and today I just had to do the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life.

And I've faced some difficult decisions in my life.
Today I had to say goodbye to my best friend. A friend I've had for the past fourteen years. A friend who's waited faithfully at home for me through every school day, every part time job, and those weeks of college that saw me away from home for weeks and months at a time.

Yes, I'm writing about my dog. And I'm doing it under the title of a Madoka Magica episode. I get sentimental.

So this is her. This is my dog Shadow. I can say she is my dog as I write this because she's currently alive. In fact I can hear her crying right now from downstairs as she lays on the floor, unable to move unless we pick her up to help her stand up. All because I'm a selfish, worthless person who didn't have enough confidence in himself to make it through this critical time of my life without something anchoring me to my past, without something I could cling to to keep me feeling safe.

Sorry, I'm bumming you out again. I don't want to. It's just hard for me to not feel partially responsible for this.

I'll start at the beginning. I first met shadow in the summer of 1999. I was eight, and she was two months old, scared and crying out for someone to love her after being abandoned by her mother's owners. From my understanding, her litter was born when a pure bread husky got loose and wandered into a yard with a pure bread black Labrador.

Then they got loose, as it were. Bow chicka bow wow. That was two dirty puns I just made in a eulogy I'm writing for my dog.

In any event, I'm sure it would've been smarter (and easier) to raise a dog that was already house trained, but I felt like she was calling out to me. We bonded in the lobby (I admittedly probably fed her a few too many treats) while Dad signed the papers that would let us take her home within the coming weeks.

Dad was the one who trained her. I was eight. I think at the time I liked the idea of having a dog more than the idea of truly owning one. She was Dad's. She was always Dad's. That's something I can't change. Ultimately, she was obedient (to an extent), was easy to keep on a schedule, and she was pretty low-maintenance.

Then I lost Dad. We lost Dad, I should say. The more I think about it, the more I start to understand why I was so terrified to let her go. I still am, of course, but the reason it was worse in the past and why I clung to the hope that I could somehow keep her with me forever, that Dad would in some way still be here watching over us.

The years went by, and Shadow just became a part of the house. I loved her like family, even though sometimes it felt like she didn't care much for us, but we took care of her and tried to take her on walks. Life wasn't perfect, but it was at the very least predictable.

I think it might have always been rough on the old girl, though. She was born with a permanent yeast infection in one of her ears, so we had to give her ear medicine regularly. She also had grass allergies and would be constantly itchy in the early spring through the summer, but for the most part she was a happy healthy lab-husky mix.

And sleepy.

We had a close call back in 2004 when she slipped on our new tile floor and tore a ligament, but surgery was able to give her a new leg and a new leash on life (even my serious posts have a one pun minimum). Though it did mean she had to wear a comically large cone to prevent her from picking at her stitches. It was actually a really funny sight.

Then 2010 came. My first scare was in mid-June, when I gave her a little too much food and she ate too fast, causing some really bad distension and bloating. She was able to overcome it fortunately, but on that day I vowed never to be as irresponsible and nonchalant about feeding or taking care of my dog again. I sat out there on the grass with her as she threw up foam, making sure that she was okay until she was ready to go inside.

She turned out fine. "Dodged a bullet," I thought. "I'll never let anything like that happen again."

Fast forward a few weeks. I was outside with her, making sure she went to the bathroom okay, when all of the sudden she fell over after making a poopy (that's what we call it, Shadow and I), and I was terrified. I don't recall ever having been more scared at that moment. I was screaming, calling out to her, but she wouldn't-- she couldn't, actually-- get up.

I carried her up the steps, into the house, and we got an appointment to take her to the vet ASAP. We found out that she had arthritis. Evidently labs are very susceptible to the condition, but hers wasn't a very severe case. She was put on prednisone and pepcid (to prevent ulcers that prednisone can cause) and she turned out okay. For the next couple of years she was able to get about just fine. We just had to take her to make poopy out in the front yard instead of the backyard.

I think I stopped taking pictures of her at that point. I wanted to remember her as the happy, healthy lab-husky mix that liked to run around in the backyard and chase squirrels and bunnies. She used to be such a badass at chasing little critters around the yard. She would catch some, and when she did she would FUCKING EAT THEM. Yeah it was gross, but it was her thing and it made her happy.

Eventually the arthritis got so bad that she couldn't scratch her allergic skin. She started to lose fur and her skin got really rough and flaky. She would start kicking her leg just from me petting her in certain spots on her back that she couldn't reach anymore. I think the itching really bothered her all the way through to the end.

But it didn't get really bad until this week. One day, we woke up to find that she was hobbling more than usual. She was dragging her left leg, which hung limp like a dead tree limb behind her. We have no idea how she got up the stairs that night, but she couldn't go back down. We carried her downstairs (much to her dismay) and she hasn't stood up or walked unassisted since.

When I saw it I was on the verge of crying. I think I've done a pretty good job of holding it in, but some tears have slipped out a few times over this past week. The worst part of it was that we found out about this on Monday. I had to go to school and teach that day. If you think your job's tough, try going out and burying everything you've been feeling for the past few days as you teach a class about centripetal force. I don't think I did a very good job of it (my patience was very thin for the past few days as a result of all of this stress), but I've never had to face anything as difficult as watching my very best friend slowly lose her spirit, her mobility, and everything I've come to remember her for.

I went out of town for this weekend, so when this post goes up she'll be gone. She won't be waiting for me to come home this time. The thing I've been most afraid of for the past several years will have finally come to pass and I have to accept that this day has been a long time coming, and whether or not I'm ready for it to happen it's just her time. I'll never forget the days we spent together, those mornings eating breakfast with her head resting on my chest hoping to snack on a crumb or two, watching her run around the backyard like a goofball, the "snow beards" she'd collect on her face on snowy days, and the way she'd move her head under your hand because she didn't want you to stop petting her.

I know she lived the last few years in so much pain, and I know that this is the best thing for her. She doesn't have to hurt anymore. Instead I'm going to have to bear that pain myself, at least for a little while as I try to sort out my feelings and find closure. From the rambling, disjointedness of this post, I'd say I have a long way to go.

She'll never understand this. She'll never really know how I feel. She's a dog; that's pretty much an impossibility, but I want to close by saying just one thing:

I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry. I'm sorry for making you suffer so much this past week because I thought I could fix you. It was selfish of me to want you around just because I was afraid of letting go. I'm sorry that I made you wait this long, but it'll all be so much better now. I'm not an eight year old kid anymore. I'm a 22 year old man, and eventually I have to stand on my own two legs and walk.

I'm not a terribly religious person. I don't know what comes next for her or me or anyone, but I know at least she won't have to hurt anymore. And if somewhere she and dad could finally meet again and be together, I think that'd be great. So ultimately even if I'm sad to lose Shadow, even if all of this was my fault, I owe it to her for these past fourteen years to remember her as she was: the happy, bouncy black lab that called out to me on a hot summer day back in 1999.

Goodbye, Shadow. Thank you for being my very best friend.