Thursday, March 06, 2008


We have a running joke in our home about Random, one of our dogs (named for a Hitchhikers Guide character). She's seventeen years old, which makes her ninety-five by the human timeline. The joke is: that she's figured out a way to cheat death.

Knowing my opinionated little dog as I do, I suspect she's simply refused to come when He calls. I can see Him standing at the treeline with a leash in His hand, tapping His foot impatiently as she sniffs the ground nearby. He knows, like I do, that chasing her would be pointless. Somehow she will magically drop ten years, duck His hands, and dash out of His reach. So all He can do is call her name from time to time and hold out offers for eternal sunshine and bones and rabbits to be chased, which she will ignore until she's good and ready because she's not done chasing the rabbits on this side yet and she heard we were having chicken for dinner.

She's a funny mix of Dachshund and beagle, neither of which have great life expectancies, and logic dictated that she would choose the genetic time limits of one or the other. But since the age of thirteen she's lost her hearing and regained it, gone through periods of limping from arthritis and then seemed to recover from it, lost half her weight and hair and then gained it all back. Her only continuing acquiescence to age is a muzzle fading gracefully from red-brown to the shade of white just before translucence and eyes reflecting a blue sheen when she looks into the light.

The boys all share in caring for her, but the one who looks out for her the most is Daniel. When she hurts, he hurts. When I've mentioned putting her to sleep, he immediately goes into over-drive looking for solutions to whatever her biggest problem is. God love him, he's solved it more than once (aspirin, hot packs, feeding more frequently, body massages). I think he thinks he's found a way to make her live forever. Daniel is also Ruby's person and I am so glad we gave her to him to care for. He's got a gift for understanding small animals.

But Random really is coming down to the end this time. Over the last week she's lost weight, and is only eating half her normal portion. She's sleeping more, not asking for much from us and struggling to take herself outside, up and down the steps. She's sometimes cool to the touch and when I reach inside her kennel to pet her, it almost seems as though she's already half gone. I think she's experimenting a little with leaving. Maybe she's snuck past Death, peered into the treeline, and seen the the other dogs holding their bones and, knowing her, she's already calculating how she's going trick them out of them.

Yesterday, Daniel reached in to check on her and see if she'd eaten and I could see him casting around for another idea to prolong her stay. Gently as I could, I said, "Son, you can't cure death. It's inevitable. She's tired and as sad as it's going to be to lose her, what's waiting for her is ten times better."

He teared up (at nearly sixteen he's my softest boy) and said, "I know. But I don't want it to be because we didn't try."

I can echo that concern and I'm only slightly more prepared than he is, but it's my job to help him cope (Daniel is complicated). So I simply pointed out she's lived a long, busy life and how much better it's been because we rescued her from the shelter all those years ago and what a great caretaker he's been over the last few months. "Nobody could have tried harder than you and, trust me, she knows it. But it's pretty obvious that she won't leave until she's ready, she won't be rushed, but she won't be stopped. It's our job to make sure she knows whatever she wants to do it okay with us."

We've recently seen the family movie "Mr Magorioum's Wonder Emporium" (highly recommended) and I thought the old toymaker made a profound statement concerning grief and death. He was speaking to the young woman he was leaving the toy store to and helping her to think past his departure. "I've come to the end of my story my Dear. And I'm not asking you to not be sad that I'm gone or not to miss me. I'm simply asking you to turn the page and write the next chapter."

So I pointed out to Daniel that his best gift to Random at this point would be to simply enjoy what little time we've got left and make sure Ruby lives as fine a life as Random has. I think that helped some.


Dennis Bryant said...

Teach Daniel well, because such will be his future. I'm afraid that "dog-lover" is a disease for which there is no cure.

Anonymous said...

oh mary ~ you're great ~ i needed to hear this too: my beagle girl is 14 and her time with me is fast approaching its end, too. And may daniel never loose his tender heart and touch ~ it hurts, but maybe also he gets know greater joys because of it. Eileen

Mary O. Paddock said...

Very true Dennis. I suspect he will make a great vet tech.

Hi Eileen. Doesn't it just seem like a short time ago that they were young? I read your response to Daniel. He appreciated it.

Debby said...


My big old boy is having problems with his arthritis. I'm hopeful that when it begins to warm up outside, he won't have be so uncomfortable. I want that one last summer. Even though I know winter will eventually come 'round again.

Daniel's kind heart will be a gift to everyone in his world.

I've never heard of that movie, but now that I've heard just that one line, it's certainly a movie I'll be looking for.

Mary O. Paddock said...

Hi Debbie, with Random, it's a matter of her last weeks, if that long--frankly ever day she wakes up is counted as a blessing. So she's getting lots of extra attention, but maybe more than she wants. This morning I followed her outside to monitor how she was doing and at some point she turned and peered at me with an almost human sigh. It was obvious that my hovering was getting on her nerves.

Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium took a beating from the critics, but I think it was all about what they thought it should be versus what it was. They really missed the point, I think.

Debby said...

Critics, any critics, almost always do.