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.

1 comment:

wordmama said...

I feel like I have to update this post to say that we donated $25/month for seven years, one for every year of his life. We managed to repay your kindness and then some, helping hundreds of animals at the Ottawa Humane Society.