They say that cats have nine lives, and I’m beginning to believe that is also true for my dog. During the sixteen years Lucy has lived with us, we have prepared ourselves for that “final goodbye” no less than three times.
The first was when she was only eight years old and came down with a serious case of pancreatitis, which the vet warned us could be fatal and that required an extended stay at the animal hospital. But she recovered and came home with no ill effects aside from a very large vet bill. The vet did tell us there was a real possibility the disease had shortened her life span. But since Lucy is almost seventeen now, I can only assume that no one explained that to her.
Then one night last summer we found Lucy staggering in tight circles around the yard, panting hard and drooling, and finally falling over, unable to get back up. Assuming she was having a major stroke, we rushed her to the emergency animal clinic and called our kids to warn them that the time had probably come to say goodbye. Turns out, she was suffering from Vestibular Syndrome, which is common in old dogs. The symptoms do resemble a stroke but most dogs usually recover after a few days. And sure enough, Lucy did.
These days, Lucy is really beginning to both look and act like the extremely old dog she is. She no longer always eats her breakfast no matter what tempting and tasty treats we put in her dog bowl, so I didn’t think too much of it last Thursday when she left her breakfast untouched. But she also didn’t sit begging at the table while I ate, nor follow me around the house as she usually does. By mid-afternoon, she was struggling to control her hind legs and she couldn’t stand properly or walk across the room without falling and/or repeatedly bumping into the furniture. She ignored me when I tried to comfort her and seemed terribly weak, confused and unhappy, panting relentlessly and staring blankly ahead.
I thought, once again, the end had come. I contacted my family to tell them it was time to say goodbye. Then I called the vet’s office and scheduled a euthanasia for the next day. Lucy slept, sprawled awkwardly on the family room floor, for a few hours until my husband came home. I was surprised to see her get up and greet him. Later, when my daughter and son-in-law came, she seemed to be back to her normal (if elderly) self. And my family was wondering exactly why they were supposed to be saying their final goodbyes.
Naturally, I changed her appointment from a euthanasia to an evaluation, and the vet assured me that Lucy was fine for her age. She believed that Lucy had a neurological episode which she somehow managed to recover from. Knowing Lucy, I’m quite sure she heard me say “euthanasia,” and immediately thought, “Holy crap! I’d better snap out of it!” Lucy is many things, but stupid isn’t one of them.
Clearly, Lucy is not quite ready to cross over the proverbial rainbow bridge. Equally clearly, she will not make that crossing until she is darned good and ready. I know that we are living on borrowed time now. As the vet so eloquently put it, we are in the “gift stage” of Lucy’s life, since every day we have her with us is a gift. And it’s a gift we’ll gladly accept, each and every time she gives it.