Monday, January 31, 2011

For Saffron. 1994 (best guess) to 2011. Her journey is at the end.

We lost our first dog, Java (a rescue from a garbage dumpster), early in 1995, to cancer. We made the vow not to get another dog "for a while" but pretty soon decided we could not stand the empty house. A few weeks later saw us at the local big box pet store during a pet adoption day. We saw Saffron (then named with another moniker) in a crate. I hesitated, started to pass, but then she reached out with a paw. It nearly broke my heart to see her in there.

We plunked the money down.

She was a handful in our condo. Definitely the alpha dog, figuring that she ran our pack. We could not figure her breed, the papers said "pit pull", but at that point any dog that was a bit fuzzy was tagged with that. She was vastly underweight, ribs showing through, highly energetic, high maintenance, loved destroying books and gloves and watches, and even several square feet of wall-to-wall carpeting (when that happened, she nearly went back).

Age was undeteremined, we figured a year. Eventually, when we identified her breed (Rhodesian Ridgeback, now better known but practically a rarity then), we figured out why she had been abandoned: Rhodesian Ridgebacks can be born with a ridge that stands up or (in her case) a ridge that only stands up when the dog is excited. Less-than-ethical breeders destroyed puppies at that time that did not show a ridge. So Saffron was either abandoned on purpose to die or escaped being killed.

After a few months with her, we were spurred into trying to buy a house. We wanted to expand and she needed a yard.

After we bought the house, we needed to put up a fence. A six-foot-high fence, mind you. Why six foot? Because we found she could jump over a five foot fence.

After we had the fence, we needed to get a second dog. Why a second dog? Because we needed to give her a playmate. She was high-maintenance, high-energy. We got Cosmo, about whom I have written here.

Cosmo was with us for many years, and while he slowed down, and Saffron slowed down, they were inseparable. They were good buddies to the end, when Cosmo suffered a series of strokes, and as with Java, we had to perform the ultimate duty. Saffron was then alone.

After some time, we came across Mocha, a rescued Doberman/Labrador mix. Mocha...well, we had Java, a Doberman/Beagle (?) mix (another rescue, seeing a pattern here with where we get our dogs?) about whom I have written here. Mocha was not as high-energy or high-maintenance as Saffron was, was a bit energetic to the point where Saffron was, but was soon a good companion to Saffron. She was, for one thing, very protective of Saffron and careful around her: if Saffron fell and we were out of the house, Mocha would bark at us when we came home.

Unfortunately, things soon started going bad for Saffron. There were at least three occasions over the past two years where we thought "this is it". One time when I thought she was having a seizure (turned out to be something else). One time when she exhibited signs of internal bleeding. And then there were the legs.

The legs are pretty much what did it. She developed arthritis in the back legs and then nerve problems in the spinal column. Toss in the balance issues ("crazy eyes", what I thought was the seizure), a declining appetite, medicines that seemed to do less and less, the impact of the cold, the severe impact of the snow and ice...she got weaker and weaker, was unable to hardly walk inside, let alone outside, had to be carried out to do her "thing".

And, finally, Monday morning, told me what had to be done.

It is a hard thing. But it is something that you, as a pet owner, must do. If you are a good owner, you not only take responsibility for the care of a dog, the feeding of a dog, the training of a dog, but the health and ultimate fate of the dog. You love the dog, but there comes a time when you must put aside the desire to keep the dog going, in order to shield your feelings and fear of loss to what is best for the dog.

Saffron could not "speak", but I knew what she was "saying".

I told my wife that I had made an appointment. When my daughter came home, I tried to explain to her what had to be done: I was taking Saffron to the vet's, but there was a good chance that they would not be able to do anything for her and she might not be returning with me. They said goodbye, I carried Saffron into the car, drove to the vet's, and then carried into the vet's where I waited for the doctor. We discussed her health, he examined her, gave me an honest assessment of what was going on (one reason I have stuck with the firm for all this time).

And then we did what was necessary.

She was strong-willed enough that her heart kept beating after the vet thought she should have passed due to the application of the euthanizing medication, but not strong enough to keep on going through what was obviously a lot of pain. While eventually the years of joy will outweigh the pain of this moment, sometimes the cost of what you pay to have a pet seems overwhelming.

Goodbye, my friend. I miss you. I hate this. But I had to do it.

Am not going to argue whether a machine can "really" be alive, "really" be self-aware. Is a virus self-aware? Nyet! How about oyster? I doubt it. A cat? Almost certainly. A human? Don't know about you tovarishch, but I am. Somewhere along evolutionary chain from macromolecule to human brain self-awareness crept in. Psychologists assert it happens automatically whenever a brain acquires certain very high number of associational paths. Can't see it matters whether paths are protein or platinum.

("Soul?" Does dog have a soul? How about cockroach?)
 (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Part 1, That Dinkum Thinkum, Chapter 1)

"Do dogs have souls? Maybe not in the sense we reserve for ourselves, but in other sense: memory. That's where they go, and it's good enough for them...I thought of some other dogs I've known, and how it's necessary to recollect them from time to time, and thank them for the honor of holding their ghosts until you relinquish your own." (James Lileks)

"I know of no reason why I should not look for the animals to rise again, in the same sense in which I hope myself to rise again—which is, to reappear, clothed with another and better form of life than before. If the Father will raise His children, why should He not also raise those whom He has taught His little ones to love?

"Love is the one bond of the universe, the heart of God, the life of His children: if animals can be loved, they are lovable; if they can love, they are yet more plainly lovable: love is eternal; how then should its object perish? Must the love live on forever without its object? or, worse still, must the love die with its object, and be eternal no more than it?

"Is not our love to the animals a precious variety of love? And if God gave the creatures to us, that a new phase of love might be born in us toward another kind of life from the same fountain, why should the new life be more perishing than the new love?

"Can you imagine that, if, hereafter, one of God's little ones were to ask Him to give again one of the earth's old loves—kitten, or pony, or squirrel, or dog, which He had taken from him, the Father would say no? If the thing was so good that God made it for and gave it to the child at first who never asked for it, why should He not give it again to the child who prays for it because the Father had made him love it? What a child may ask for, the Father will keep ready."
 (George MacDonald)