You are not old until you have more regrets than dreams.
– Howard Tullman
Time has ceased
But cherished memories still linger
This is the way of life and all things
We shall meet again
You are only sleeping.
―José N. Harris, Mi Vida
Last weekend, we put our sweet dog, Alja, to sleep forever. The one I always called Monkey Dog because she was always jumping and playing and doing something silly, who was so alive and conscious. She heard planes go overhead and would watch them go. You could see her nose follow the path. She greeted everyone like they were her best friend that she hadn’t seen them for years, even if she had never met them. She was smart. She understood “squirrel” and “fox” just by the tone of our voices. Spelling didn’t work. She would jump up at the first “S”.
When we picked her out at the breeders, she was so small you could have held her in one hand. The breeder wanted us to get to know her while she was still in her family but I couldn’t go at the time, so Wolfgang would go alone and she would stumble over to him and fall asleep between his feet, full of trust and love. When we brought her home, she fit on a quarter of the blanket we had bought. When she was full grown, she was too big for the blanket.
When we were renovating this house, I was here alone with her and wanted to go back to Frankfurt after having done some work and she sat at the top of the stairs to the door and wouldn’t come. She had decided that this was home. She will always be a part of this house to me.
When we went hiking in the mountains, she was always climbing up high rocks and trying to pull ahead. Her joy and excitement were catching. It made the hard work less hard. Walking in the woods here near the house with her was one of the joys of my life. She seemed so alert and engaged. It was having a real companion on the way.
She was always my husband’s dog really. I took an “Animal Communicator” course just to see what might be possible and another participant in the course who tried to contact her said that she asked Alja who her favorite playmate was and she saw “some guy,” she said and seemed upset. She expected another dog. But I knew that Alja’s favorite playmate was my husband. He would lay on the floor and she would try to get the ball away from him. She never tired of that game.
But she and I had a special relationship. In the house, I always talked to her like she would understand. Somehow it felt like she did. People say that dogs don’t understand. That they just hear blah, blah, blah, treat! blah, blah, blah, walk! But that’s not how it felt to me with her. She seemed to know and sympathize.
Two and a half years ago she started to get sick and my life went on hold. The doctor had an idea what was making her sick but he wasn’t really sure so we tried lots of things. She would get better for awhile and then it would be worse again. So we would try something else. She lost muscle mass, she became incontinent. We tried something else. That really didn’t work either and she became blind. And the loss of muscle mass accelerated.
Three weeks ago, I stayed home with her while my husband went sailing to get his sailing certificate. We had planned to put her in a pension and I would go with him but she was just too fragile to give to anyone else. We had the feeling she wouldn’t live out the week. And I was tested for the first time in my life. My whole day was wrapped around her, getting her out to pee every two hours all through the day and night, getting her food, making sure she was ok. The bond between us deepened in a way I can’t really describe. And her condition improved at least some. We started to hope that she was getting better.
Then last Friday when I was already in bed, she started bleeding from the nose and it wouldn’t stop. She was hemorrhaging. We have a very kind vet who came over at midnight and he said he believed the bleeding would not stop. It was too thin, not showing any signs of clotting and that she would probably bleed to death. So we helped her go. We held her in our arms as she took her last breath.
My house is empty and my heart is broken.