One year and four months ago, we sped down the highway, dodging traffic and police in a vain effort to slow time and speed our arrival. My eyes were bloodshot, my face stained with tears, and my nose dripped onto my shirt. In the backseat of my little Elantra, I clung on to my best friend, my fingers slowly moving through her glossy black fur as I slowly whispered to her through broken words “You’ll be OK. I love you. Everything will be OK. You’ll be OK. I love you, Seattle.”
Half an hour earlier, it was Thanksgiving night. Unfortunately, I had contracted an intense stomach virus and had spent the rare hours of our day off hovering over the toilet revisiting every bite of turkey and Monster energy drink that I, to this day, cannot imbibe. It was during a calm period of post-Gatorade hydration that I suddenly heard Markus’ voice calling out from the living room in a panicked tone.
“Andrea, come here. Something’s wrong with Seattle. Hurry!” he shouted desperately.
Adrenaline coursed through my body and I sprung out of bed, bolting to the living room where I saw my beloved labrador helplessly standing over a puddle of urine. She flipped onto her side (familiar to a seizure) and couldn’t maintain her balance. Her eyes darted across the room and she shook with fear as she flopped on our carpet like a fish suddenly pulled from the ocean.
I began to panic. I called my mom and managed to convey the situation through hysterical cries and noises. I wasn’t even sure what I was saying. The vet’s office had closed hours ago and it was Friday night – where would we even go?
My mom attempted to calm me and told Markus to get us into the car immediately. The only open facility, an emergency animal hospital, was 45 minutes away; my heart began to sink as I realized tonight I was losing my best friend.
The drive took what seemed like an eternity, at no fault of Markus, who as the rock of our family, stoically sped down the highway at illegal increments. We got to the hospital, gatorade in hand, and Markus carried her into the waiting room. There, she wet herself again, helplessly wobbling on her legs, and looking at us with utter confusion and fear.
A small portion of adrenaline wore off, and I dashed to the nearest bathroom, throwing up what little fluid I had left in my body. I glanced at myself in the mirror and couldn’t believe it was Friday night and I was puking in a hospital bathroom miles away from home while my dog mysteriously faded in the other room.
When the on-call doctor finally called us in, Seattle had to be carried again. Her eyes still twitched, and she seemed to have no sense of balance. Seattle had endured a vestibular episode, or a stroke. It had come about randomly. There was no cure. It was just a part of life and my best friend getting older. I thought I would lose her that night, but after cashing in a few miracles, she went home with us, $500 poorer, and richer in luck than we had realized.
Last November, exactly one year after Seattle’s episode, a vet technician contentedly patted the top of her head, smiling into her eyes. She cooed at her with the same annoying baby talk that most humans feel they must use with animals. After about six more “good girl” sentiments, her brow furrowed, and my chest instantly tightened. She pointed to her mouth, and casually asked, “Have you ever noticed that before?”
I know everything about my dog. Of course, I know … What is that? Where the hell did that come from? How have I never seen that??
Our vet, who has cared for Seattle for the better part of a decade, looked up at me with pitiful eyes after inspecting the small mass inside her jaw. Instantly, I knew it wasn’t anything good. Though her mouth formed sentences like, “It might be nothing,” and “We’ll probably just monitor it … “ and “These types of things … “, I knew.
Cancer. My dog has cancer. I didn’t need a test. I didn’t need observation. I knew in my soul that it had finally touched my beautiful Seattle.
Two months passed without much change. Seattle’s arthritis, worsened since her episode, seemed to be somewhat managed by daily pain medicine. She developed a cough, but X-rays showed her lungs were mostly clear and there wasn’t anything to be afraid of in her body (other than the suspected mass in her jaw.)
When we left for our cruise last month, I left her with my mother. I wasn’t sure if I was going to come home to my friend or not. Luckily, she endured. I picked her up after returning, but the mass in her jaw had doubled in size. It was growing and Seattle’s arthritis was getting worse.
We’ve been managing. When people ask me about my dogs, I fight back feelings of worry and sorrow, casually smile or attempt to joke. But yesterday, we woke up in a bed soaked with urine. Older dogs wet the bed sometimes, but then, she did it again. And she couldn’t quite walk. And she didn’t want her food. And she looked up at me and just suddenly wet herself again.
And fuck, my best friend is actually dying and there is nothing I can do about it. And so I’m home with her today, hoping her body is just exhausted and needs some TLC to recover, but knowing deep down, that the end is drawing close and I will never be even remotely prepared for it.
We were given extra time, almost two years of love, kisses, farts, and night-time cuddles. So here I sit, washing towels and blankets after each “accident,” wiping up the carpet, adjusting her temporary diaper while she snores atop a bed of puppy pads and worn blankets. I’m cooking turkey, rice, and green beans for her strength. I’m petting her, singing to her, and trying to get every ounce of love and companionship out of her in between heavy sobs that she seems to understand.
I don’t know when exactly she is going to leave me, but I know it’s soon, and until then, I will work to enjoy the time I have with her instead of struggling to breathe under the crippling fear of her loss.
Happy National Puppy Day.