On December 23, 2009, my daughter, Meghan, told me that our youngest dog wasn't feeling well. Miley, our two year old black Labrador Retriever, had spent most of the afternoon lying in the grass by her water bucket and just wasn't acting like herself. Now, she was lying like a sphinx in front of the small heater in our family room. The expression of her face made her look like she was preturbed, but she did not appear to be in pain. Lying quietly was not Miley. Lying in front of the heater was not Miley. The silly faces she made were not unusual, but she just didn't look comfortable. When I called her to me, she didn't try to sit on my lap or lean in for a hug, which would be normal for Miley. We all watched her and I had Bosco check her out--feel her throat and stomach. She was a young Lab and it's pretty normal for them to eat what is edible or not. When Bosco and Jordan palpitated her stomach, they didn't feel anything unusual nor did they see anything caught in her throat or her mouth. Suddenly, she threw up on the carpet. This began a series of chaotic events involving clean-up, but she did seem to feel better. However, when Bosco and I went to bed, we both were concerned that this was not just something temporary. We both felt like something was wrong with our Miley.
The next morning, she seemed better. Meghan and Bosco both commented on how she was feeling. She was wagging her tail and she got up for some petting and hugs, but still, she was not acting like our puppy. Our puppy would have burst through the door when it was opened and done a little "Good Morning, Happy Dance," but she did seem better. Our family, which included my parents, were getting ready to drive to Tucson to spend Christmas Eve with the Selchow clan. Showers were being taken, clothes were being ironed, breakfast dishes were being loaded in the dishwasher, presents were being loaded in the car, everyone had something to do to get ready. Before we left, I mentioned that I was really concerned for Miley, but it was Christmas Eve and I couldn't think of any vet, including our own, who would be working today. Against my feelings, I got in the car and off we drove to be with the Selchows.
We had a good trip and a wonderful day. Gifts were exchanged, we ate favorite foods, we laughed, we celebrated, everyone had a good day! The ride home was quiet and easy, we listened to Christmas Carols and even stopped for hot chocolate in Benson. Jordan rode home with his best friend, Tanner, and like most twenty year olds, they passed us on Davis Road in their hurry to get home. At the time, I was worried about them speeding and getting a ticket, like mothers do.
It was a little past ten o'clock when we arrived at the house. The neighborhood was quiet and dark, but I noticed the front door was open and Tanner and Jordan were standing in the yard. I opened my door and started to collect my purse and my hot chocolate cup when I heard Jordan say softly, "Dad, Miley's dead." It was so clear and so matter of fact. "...Miley's dead." I couldn't move. Bosco, Meghan, and my dad got out of the car. I leaned forward and put my face in my hands. Over and over I heard myself say, "My dog, my dog, my dog." I felt my mother slip her arm around my shoulders and move my head to her shoulders as I cried. Tears became sobs and I just couldn't seem to stop. My dad came to my door and told me to stay in the car. He said, "Jan, it's bad. I've never seen anything like this."
I stayed crying in the car a little longer and then together, my mom and my dad walked with me into our home. The smell hit me when I walked into our dining room. I can only describe it as a "dead smell". It was awful. I looked in the family room and there stood Tanner. He looked helpless and put his arms around me. I felt so sorry for him. He was with Jordy when Miley was found.
When you live in a small town like ours, when an animal dies, you call the police department and they dispatch the human officer to pick up the animal's body. I called the dispatcher and cried on the phone while the young woman assured me that she would send someone for Miley. When I think back to that conversation, I am surprised she could understand me because I know I was close to being hysterical.
Bosco, Meghan, and Jordan came out of the garage into the house. Bosco told me that it was really bad in the garage. I looked into his eyes and I saw the pain we both felt. He was worried that our sweet pet had suffered. Our earlier concerns had turned into a terrible nightmare.
Peter, the humane officer came to pick her up shortly after that. Bosco and Jordan had wrapped her body in a bag and helped Pete move her to the truck. This wasn't easy as she probably weighed close to one hundred pounds, but Peter is a gentle and kind man and he eased her onto the tailgate of his truck and slowly drove her to the crematorium. The garage had to be cleaned-up and her rug was thrown away. Bosco and Jordan took care of these tasks before coming inside for the night.
By then, it was almost midnight. Christmas. No carols. No opening presents. No warm feelings of the morning to come. Mom and Dad went off to bed and the four of us just sat quietly in the family room. Jordan took our older dog to his room to sleep and Meghan went off to her room to go to bed. Before long, Bosco and I went to our room and went through the motions of going to bed. It would be a long time before either of us would go to sleep. The events of the night played over and over in our minds.
When we awoke, it was almost nine. We opened presents, ooohed and awed over our lovely gifts. However, there was a sad tone to everything we did. It was not unusual to see someone wipe tears from their eyes throughout the day. Family and friends called, and we struggled to explain what had happened the night before.
It's been more than a week since this happened. It's true that life goes on. Our older dog doesn't seem to notice or really care that Miley is not here anymore. However, she does howl more than usual and I like to think she is at least sad for Bosco and me. I bought Gracie new dog toys and our cat some new catnip toys as well. Gracie has a new bed, a new rug, and is sleeping outside again.
A close friend told me that losing her young dog was much worse than losing her older dogs. I think this is true. When our older dogs became too old to comfortably live anymore, I sat with them as our vet "put them to sleep." I held them and whispered love words into their ears as they eased out of their lives. It was kind, humane, and loving. They had given me nothing but love and it was only right to be with them at the end. Only, I couldn't do this for Miley.
We will all be okay and eventually, we will probably get another dog, but not anytime soon. I have to let go of Miley. It's going to take time.