(Lucy is on the left, Hope is on the right)
Leaving her was the hardest part. She has never been separated from me or from her sister Hope at the same time. I wept, murmuring that I loved her, that I would be seeing her soon…
Lucy, my diminutive Chihuahua is almost six years old and for the last week I have been uneasy about her health noting small discrepancies – the way she didn’t inhale her chicken with her usual gusto, choosing not to run in the Bosque when we went down to the river, normally her favorite pastime, the absence of her little face at the window as she waited for me to return from my predawn walk. Three days ago she vomited bile, not that unusual for a Chihuahua, but the next day she developed diarrhea, while still eating relatively normally. I kept hydrating her and I let it go until last night when she refused her kibble, had loose stools, and needed to go out in the middle of the night. Instead of snuggling next to my head she lay at the foot of the bed, her eyes dull, her little body listless, choosing to stay there so as not to soil the good quilt when she threw up…Hope, her adopted sister is the Queen Bee and often bullies Lucy, unless she is ill. Then Hope’s deep attachment to Lucy and her distress become evident. Last night Hope was unable to sleep, continuously checking on Lucy, returning to snuggle up to me. All of us spent a sleepless night and it was abundantly clear that something was very very wrong.
Early this morning I called the vet a friend had recommended to me and was told to bring my dog in. What seemed like hours spent in the waiting room did nothing to calm the sense I had that Lucy was really in trouble even as I held her tightly in my arms. Hope was waiting in the car.
Still, I was not prepared for the vet’s diagnosis, even though I had had a very troubling dream a couple of days previously about liver failure. Not only did Lucy have a moderately serious case of pancreatitis, but she was dehydrated, a condition I already suspected. I balked at the vet’s recommendation that Lucy stay at this strange unfamiliar clinic for the next two days (or longer?) so that she could be given fluids around the clock. And yet, knowing that pancreatitis can be fatal, I finally agreed. Gazing into her eyes wordless communication passed between us. In retrospect, I think Lucy, was more accepting of this situation than I was. I felt something like resignation or acceptance? Tears flowing I blurted out to the vet, “Oh this is more about me than Lucy.” And maybe it was.
Being separated from this dog is like losing a part of myself. My worst fears are bubbling to the surface… two full days without her… maybe more… she’s too young to have this disease… she will die before I see her again… my mind tumbles through dreaded possibilities. Some wiser part of me intervenes helping me to recognize that it will not help Lucy for me to panic because our relationship is too intimate and she will be negatively impacted by my distress.
Although I rarely speak of it I am a person who understands what animals are trying to convey, with or without words. We communicate telepathically and because of that I know that for Lucy’s sake I must separate my fears from my love for her. Creating this boundary sounds easy, but when I see her little face in my mind, the child-like terror takes over, and I am unable to sink into any place of comfort within myself. It’s only been a few hours but already I have had to repeatedly break the “seeing – comforting connection” between us before I transfer my fears.
I lost three dogs to stomach related issues, one died of pancreatic complications, the second succumbed to pancreatic cancer, the third to diabetes. Bridgee died just two months before I got Hope, and a few months later, Lucy joined our little family. It was after Bridgee’s death that I finally accepted the truth that I would always need dogs more than they needed me…
I have been fortunate enough to have a veterinarian as a friend for more than thirty years who believes that animals and the people they love need to be together especially during times of illness, and that healing if it occurs or comfort is deepened by the physical presence of the person who loves the animal the most. Thus, I have never had to leave a sick dog at the vet overnight before and have routinely been allowed to be in operating rooms. The shock of this terrifying physical rupture instantly catapulted me out of my body as my childhood fear took over and only vaguely did I note that Hope was subdued on the ride home although she was lying in my arms.
When we arrived I was initially stunned by Hope’s behavior and afterwards overwhelmed by anguish. She jumped out of the car, ran to the porch looking for her sister, scented the ground where they had peed this morning, and when we came inside scratched at closed doors, ran from one end of the house to the other, repeating these maneuvers until I thought I would go mad. I called her to lie down with me for a while because I thought it would comfort her, but instead she continued to stare out one window and then another – a dog possessed. Like me. When I went to feed her she came racing over. Suddenly realizing that Lucy wasn’t with her she ran to the closed outside door scratching at it frantically willing Lucy to appear like magic.
I had to get outside and let Nature calm me because there was nothing I could do to help myself. All I knew was that I couldn’t let the god of chaos reign, or succumb to denial. I desperately needed to walk this knife-edge for all of us, regardless of outcome.
I dragged an unwilling Hope down to the river and we entered the Bosque. Listening to the flow of water on stone and walking mindfully and slowly so as not to tire or overheat either of us we wandered through the paths returning to the house, but not until the river began flowing through me… I thought Hope would sleep, but unfortunately she is still on high alert, staring out one window or another, and painful as this might be to witness I have to let her be. She has to be allowed to work through her feelings just as I do.
For me my life’s challenge is always to move though painful or frightening emotions without getting stuck in them so that I can reach the other side, re –entering my body to “accept what is”.
My relationship to Nature keeps me in touch with my senses, keeps me rooted in the present moment, helping me to deal with dis-embodiment.
Writing this narrative helps me acknowledge that this story may not end well but that there is also every reason to hope that our sweet Lucy will be coming home to us. It too keeps me rooted to the present.
To combat dis-embodied fright I printed out a black and white picture of Lucy and Hope, one where Lucy’s eyes are fastened intently on mine. It sits here in a special place, and now I can look at it, send my heartfelt love and break the connection before the fear takes over…
I see my beloved little dog with her dark brown eyes, fox-like ears tuned like radar, magnificent long hair and a feathery tail held high wagging and thumping in anticipation because we will soon be together again. I reach out to her, hold her tenderly in my arms and tell her that no matter what she will be all right. Tonight and tomorrow night the same Cottonwoods that shelter this house will also shelter her for they stand as majestic sentries around the clinic. And perhaps all of us will hear the owls singing. I beg these trees that I love so much to nurture my beloved until we are once again reunited.
We love you Lucy.
This morning I set off for the river just before dawn leaving Hope in bed sound asleep. Padding along the path I suddenly heard the Great Horned Owl call once, twice, three times as I drew closer to the sound. I don’t know what made me look up, but suddenly I saw the owl sitting on the edge of a Cottonwood branch.
I was so grateful to Nature – for the presence of the owl and for that Cottonwood tree – In that moment I believed that the owl and the cottonwoods were holding, protecting, and loving our Lucy even when Hope and I were unable to be with her…