Saturday, October 9, 2010

Goodbye

Thanks to the generosity of a few absolutely amazing friends, we were able to have Salem's final moments at home this morning. He went peacefully, with his head in my lap and Adam and I both whispering our love to him. The vet was amazing and himself was in tears. Our boy touched everyone who knew him. The outpouring of love for Salem and for our family has been overwhelming. Just thinking of your kindness has me spilling tears down my cheeks once again.

As a tribute to my wonderful boy, I made him a memorial video. All of the pictures that appear during the Sarah McLaughlin music are from after his diagnosis (the last two weeks of his life). The last few pictures, with the amazing fall sun, are from this morning. His final moments.

Dear lord, I miss my buddy already.
video

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Making memories

As my final days with my beloved pup whiz past me, I find myself reminiscing days gone by. I’ve also been mourning the fact that there are so few days in his future.

You know those moments that in themselves seem insignificant, but put together are actually the definition of life? I keep thinking of things about Salem that I adore. Things that I won’t have any more. I then become panicked that I’ll start forgetting these tiny moments. I felt drawn to capture more clearly all the reasons why I love this boy so very much.

  • Even after having him for six years without incident, he’s still terrified of thunder storms.
  • How that fear leads him to lay under any part of you he can find, or if you’re in bed, to pant forcefully in your face until you comfort him.
  • His shiny brown freckled nose. So fair that it sometimes burns in the summer.
  • His deliciously soft carmel ears. So silky that they rival velvet.
  • How he tucks his rear end down when he’s running to be more aerodynamic.
  • When my mum was doggie-sitting, he quickly learned where the treats were and would sit expectantly waiting in front of the cupboard until she obliged.
  • The tiny white tip at the end of his tail. So subtle a change in colour from his apricot hind quarters that you have to really know him to notice.
  • The way he licks Felicity’s face whenever she comes near, sending her into fits of giggles and making her lean in over and over.
  • That his only trick was – sit, shake a paw, other paw, lay down – and only in that order. If you tried to mix it up, he’d get completely confused.
  • He has long white eyelashes and knows exactly how to look up at you from under them for the best puppy dog eyes.
  • When he’s really happy, his tail curls over on itself, husky style.
  • His ears can turn in a hundred different directions and completely independent of each other.
  • He cuddles his stuffed bear as a mother would her pup.
  • His scar from the car accident gives him a tough guy look.
  • When he goes to the dog park, he’s always the loudest dog there. Barking greetings at every dog and human he sees.
  • In the winter, he would dig himself a hole in the snow and then curl up in it with his tail neatly covering his nose. All you could see within minutes in a snow fall were his two big brown eyes.
  • He knew at night time that he wasn’t allowed on the couch as long as I was downstairs. Sometimes I’d be curled up under a blanket and he’d put his paw on the couch. All I had to do was clear my throat and he’d pull it back quick as a bunny.
  • When we lived in the apartment in Ottawa, Salem would bring his bear out every morning for his walk, carrying him lovely in his mouth to the amusement of our neighbours.
  • If you leave any piece of laundry on the floor, even a sock, Salem will turn in circles and lay down just right so he can rest his head on said clothing.
  • He loved to perch himself on the picnic table in the summer – looking like the king of his domain.
  • Salem is actually a keen hunter. A few times we had to bury the body of an unlucky squirrel or rabbit.
  • Once, Salem was trying to dig out a bunny den under the shed. He actually dug himself under the shed and then got stuck. Took me half an hour to find him.
  • He never did learn how to walk on a leash. To Salem, if you attached a rope to him, you were obviously wanting to be pulled around at top speed. He would have made an excellent sled dog.
  • Salem loses enough hair in a shed (which happens at least twice a year) to make a whole new dog. He loses it in clumps so that he often looks like a moulting deer and leaves big fluffs of hair all over.
  • In the winter, Salem’s paws grow long tufts of hair between the pads to protect them from the cold.
  • He hates eating out of metal bowls.
  • He never bit or mouthed any of the kids. Even when Hayden would pull on either sides of his lips to see how far they stretched.
  • He loves to completely destroy any stick that dares fall in his yard.
  • He once leapt from a porch about 6' off the ground to pursue a squirrel (which sent Adam off right after him – no one had ever seen my husband move so fast).
  • Just the sound of his collar tags jingling together makes him happy.
  • When a strange man once walked into our apartment while Salem and I were alone, he slowly raised to his feet, issuing a deep, powerful growl with teeth bared and heckles raised. He walked slowly and deliberately towards him until he turned and fled (it turned out he was a lost resident looking for the office).
  • His favourite place on earth is Bruce Pit in Ottawa (a huge, treed off-leash park). He could smell it from a mile away and would start whining as soon as he caught wind of it.
  • At Christmas Salem would always be right in the middle of the action, slowly being covered in tissue paper.
  • We once left a roast defrosting on the counter. When we came home after work, we found only a bloody stain on the carpet to show for it.
  • Often times when you drive away from the house, you’ll look back at the big front window to see him perched on the back of the couch to get one last look at you.
  • When Salem sleeps on the bed, he likes to have his own pillow to rest his head on (though yours will do in a pinch).
  • He has been the best dog ever. The one that all past dogs and all future dogs will be compared to.
  • His parting is going to leave a hole in my heart forever.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Being strong sometimes means being able to let go.

Six years ago, Adam and I decided that we were ready to expand our family. We researched, we prepared our home, we talked to others who had taken the leap. We were going to get a dog.

We both decided that the only way to go was with a rescue pup. We combed the Humane Society’s website for weeks looking for just the perfect dog for us. When a beagle named Tucker appeared in the photo line-up, we decided we had to meet him.

After arriving at the shelter and being seated in the meeting room, a young woman walked Tucker in. We happily called to him and clapped our hands but he completely ignored us. He then lifted his leg and peed on the wall. Our interview was over.

Before she took Tucker away, I mentioned to her that in the front entrance another dog’s profile had caught our attention. Was Salem still available? She clutched at her heart and grinned, gushing, “Oh Salem is just my favourite! I’ll bring him right in.”

Salem walked into the room with only about half of his body covered in fur. The other half was scattered with road rash and shaved patches from an inopportune meeting with a car. He looked a complete mess, but as soon as he saw us, his whole body wriggled with excitement. His tail wagged madly and he bounded over to lick our hands and sniff our pants. He then rolled over on his back to expose his belly for scratching. We were smitten.

The staff insisted that we sleep on it before making our final decision. Instead we ran around buying him a collar, a leash, and some toys – the decision had already been made. As we lay in bed that night, we talked about how excited we were and how nervous we were that someone might make a mistake and give Salem to someone else.

When I went to officially adopt him the next day, it was cold and snowy. As we walked out of the back room, Salem yanked me around on the leash and made a bee-line for the exit. I sat him in the back seat of the car, and by the time I’d come around to the driver’s side, he was perched on the passenger seat. I wondered if we’d just adopted a big hairy ball of trouble.

In the first few months, we really got to know one another. Salem was tentative and a bit fearful. If we ever raised our voices to him, he’d roll on his back and promptly pee all over himself.

He still pulled like crazy on the leash. And despite our encouragement, he would NEVER get on the couch or the bed to snuggle. We learned that Salem used his ears to communicate. His “Yoda ears” registered his fear, excitement, curiosity, and contentment.

It wasn’t long before love started to work its magic. Salem began to come out of his shell and be more playful. He ignored the multiple toys we bought him and instead adopted one of my very expensive collector bears. Bear became Salem’s baby and he carried him everywhere - even out to pee. Salem would whip Bear around and shake him mercilessly, only to redeem himself by gently grooming and licking Bear as a mother would her pup.

It certainly didn’t take long before Salem was firmly planted in our hearts as our fur baby. He wriggled into our family’s hearts as well; my mum (in lieu of any grandchildren), referred to Salem as her grand-doggy. And like their future grandchildren would be, Salem was spoiled rotten.

When we first brought Hayden home, Salem seemed to understand that he had a new member of the pack to protect. When Hayden cried, Salem would pace from Hayden’s cradle to the living room until one of us went to attend to him. As Hayden started crawling and toddling, Salem endured many hair pulls and ear tugs. His retort was to madly lick Hayden’s face. It worked every time.

Salem was our baby before we had babies. He taught us how to care for another life. He taught us responsibility. He taught us what unconditional love was.


And now, our baby is sick. On September 23 we learned that he has terminal bone cancer. He hadn’t been himself for the few weeks prior and seemed a bit sore. We thought that his arthritis was acting up. We never thought that we were going to have to begin palliative care.

The vet thought that perhaps we would have the weekend with him to say goodbye. But our strong, determined doggie has now held on for over a week. Living on love, morphine, and a diet of delicious people food, he’s been pretty comfortable. But these last two days we’ve seen him slide downhill again. His breathing is quick and laboured. His appetite is gone again. His shiny brown nose has dulled. It’s the beginning of the end.

Yesterday Adam started the heartbreaking process of finding a vet to help us release Salem from his pain. The cost to have a vet come to your home, lay your pup to rest, give him a proper cremation and then have his ashes returned to us is going to be around $700. We’re now faced with a horrible decision. Do we sink ourselves further into debt when we’re already drowning to give him the farewell he so rightly deserves? Or do we do the “responsible” thing and bring him to a place he fears in order to cut our final vet bill in half?

This no-win situation has led me to do something I’ve never done before. I’m reaching out to my readers to help us. I’m asking you to donate a few dollars to help us say goodbye to Salem where he is happiest, at home. But I can’t let your charity end with our little family. Every dollar that you donate will be matched with a donation to our local animal shelter over the next year. Not only will you help our rescued pup, but you’ll help countless other shelter animals too. If you feel inclined, you can donate to our PayPal account (creativecommunicator@gmail.com). You could also do an email transfer to the same account.

I’ve said goodbye to five furry family members over the years. But I’ve never had to be the one to make the tough decisions. It seems that even in his final days, Salem is still teaching us. He’s teaching us humility, mercy, and how to say goodbye. How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.