On April 22nd of this year (2016), I said goodbye to my SuperGirl, sweet Sara, SaraBoBara. Sara was believed to be 14.5 yrs old, a beautiful, docile Shepherd mix I had gotten just two short years earlier; it was a week short of our 2 yr anniversary together in fact.
When I met Sara, I had no intention of adopting a dog yet. My SoulDog Ace had died 10 months prior and I was thinking about getting a puppy later in the fall. It would be a rescue, a boy, like Ace; I wanted a puppy that I could bond with and raise from the holistic perspective I had come to embrace. No more dry food, no more vaccines or flea & tick medication, etc etc from the very beginning. I had this vision that I could keep him alive “forever” with my new knowledge, and when he was very old, he would die peacefully on his own or with the help of hospice, if need be.
The only part of my ‘vision’ that materialized was that Sara was a rescue, and I grew to love her very much. I’ve already written the details of our first days together and why I chose to make her my companion instead of holding out for that puppy here: And Life Goes On. Thank you, Sara.
My relationship with Sara was much different than that with Ace. For a long time I referred to myself as her “Lady”, rather than her mom. After all, she was already a senior when we met and had been a companion to someone else previously. I thought maybe she considered him her Dad, and I didn’t want to assume a role I hadn’t earned. I often wondered if she missed him as much as I missed Ace, and saw us as companionable, filling in and healing the wounds of the other’s loss. That, anyway, was how I explained her somewhat standoffish personality early on. She wasn’t very affectionate, and that was ok with me. I guess I was a bit slow to warm up as well. After all, I still missed Ace, and it felt a little funny to have a new dog all of a sudden.
So I imagined her saying “hey Lady, time for my walk!” And “hey Lady, feed me!”
Her back legs were too weak to jump on the bed, so there was no snuggling, and she often turned her head when I tried to hug her or give much affection. But she also had a very endearing habit that showed up in the early mornings, and occasionally during the night as well. She’d come to my bedside and rest her chin on the bed, near my head. I thought it was very sweet and imagined her inner dialogue something like “hey, Lady, you ok? Just checking.” I’d reach over and pet her for a moment, and she’d go back to bed and settle in again. Just a brief pat was all she needed and seemed to satisfy her.
Her most animated times were just before leaving for our morning walk. She’d jump or prance a bit with her big toothless smile and often wipe out as her unsteady feet came back down on the hardwood floor. I would try to keep her on her rug to prevent her falling, but her falls never seemed to affect her, and watching her made my heart go out to her. Other than that time before walks, she rarely even wagged her tail.
After about a year and a half, I was given notice to move out of the apartment we were in due to some construction that was to be done on the building. Finding a new place with Sara was somewhat limiting as I not only had to find a place that accepted dogs over 50lbs, but I was adamant there were no stairs, as she was beginning to have more trouble with the 5 steps leading up to our front door. Although she was doing ok, I was aware that she was on the decline. Fortunately, we found the perfect place and enjoyed exploring our new neighborhood.
A couple months later, it became apparent that Sara wasn’t well. Her symptoms started with drooling from the left side of her mouth and her usual hearty appetite became a bit erratic. Her first trip to the vet didn’t uncover anything specific other than slight anemia. I was hesitant to put her through some of the testing that was recommended, as it didn’t feel intuitively right. So I opted for the suggested antibiotics to target possible infection and a watch and see approach.
Sara began to quickly deteriorate, becoming quite weak and eating considerably less, often not going outside to toilet. I had a phone consult with another vet who had met Sara previously and had helped when Ace was sick. After discussing symptoms, she recommended I see a vet who specialized in dentistry, as all signs pointed to a possible abscess or something in the mouth, that the 1st vet gave no attention to. This felt like the right move and so we did. Within a few short minutes, an oral exam revealed a mass in the back of Sara’s throat. The only possible consideration was to insert a feeding tube, as too much was riding against a successful surgical outcome. The feeding tube wasn’t recommended either, but the vet felt he wanted to offer me something other than euthanasia, which was what he said he’d do if Sara were his dog.
Coincidentally, my nearly 102 yr old grandmother had just had a feeding tube inserted, without her express approval, during a procedure to unblock her esophagus. She was not happy to have the tube and refused to use it. I had a feeling Sara would have the same response.
It wasn’t the outcome I was expecting, and I was heartbroken. After a quick scan of my immediate options, I decided not to do anything, but to take Sara home and try to make a decision from a more clear mind frame. I had intended when it was Sara’s time to go, that I would help her to pass naturally. I mentioned this to the vet, and we discussed working with my holistic vet to make that decision.
On the way home, we stopped off for fish tacos to take home for lunch. I had a feeling I wouldn’t feel much like eating later on. I had the chef grill some fish for Sara too, hoping she could at least enjoy a few bites.
When we got home, I helped Sara out of the car and carried her inside. She was having difficulty walking more than 3 or 4 feet at a time by then. I laid her down on her bed and she laid over on her side. I offered her the fish, first a couple bites, then set the plate near her where she could get the rest herself. Without lifting her head, she took it all; she was ravenous. It was the most eager I had seen her around food in a few weeks. I was so happy to have found something she could eat! And then it all fell out…. She had taken the fish but wasn’t able to swallow it. The look on her face seemed to mirror my own disappointment and heartbreak.
That’s when I knew that if I didn’t euthanize, Sara would starve to death, and I couldn’t do that to her. Hospice was no longer an option in my mind. I made a couple calls and arranged for it to happen at home, late the next morning. I spent the rest of the day and night lying next to her, often sharing her pillow, stroking her and telling her how sorry I was and how much I loved her. Several months before I had come around to calling myself her mom. She had gotten deep in my heart, a little at a time. That evening, she gave me the most gentle and sweet lick on my forehead. I felt confident that I had made my way into hers as well.
We don’t always get what we plan on or think we most want, but when we surrender to what shows up, we can receive the best gift of all. I love you SareBare and will always be grateful for our time together.