At first, just for a second, I thought she had tripped over something. Spur’s eyes aren’t so good anymore. Her peripheral vision in all directions is completely gone, so she trips over things often. Almost immediately, though, it registered that she had not stumbled but fallen, crashed onto her side. Just for a second, I thought she had died suddenly. She was rigid, all limbs sticking straight out, but she was breathing. When she lost control of her bladder, I realized she was having a seizure. As I knelt over her, I wondered if she was dying.
The seizure wasn’t severe. It didn’t last long–probably not more than a minute. When I took her to the vet, her vitals were good and there were no red flags in her blood work. With no obvious cause and no concerning aftershocks, we came home and I am to keep an eye on her in case it happens again. I have instructions for how to proceed if it does.
It’s been an emotional day. I cried all the way to the clinic, trying to avoid imagining how it would feel to make the return trip alone. I cried silently in the waiting room while the techs at the clinic checked her vitals and drew blood for labs. I cried on the way home while I told my mom the details of what happened. I sat down to watch some mindless tv, but found myself sobbing when one of the contestants on Dancing with the Stars danced to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” and again during a commercial, though I can’t remember what it was about. I discovered that even at the young age of 18 weeks, River is a dog that comforts with snuggles.
All the while, I am watching Spur, who is behaving totally normally now. While she sleeps, I watch the rise and fall of her rib cage, just so I can be sure. I have to resist the temptation to give her all the treats and food she wants, and also to hold her in an endless hug, which she absolutely does not want.
At 12 years old, Spur is in decline. She’s a healthy dog and she’s in great shape. She can still outrun the pup (though probably not for much longer), and she can still outlast me and River on a long hike. But her vision is going, and so is her hearing. In the dark, she is completely blind, and she can’t hear the doorbell anymore, or the word “treat.” Sometimes she can’t hear my voice, or she hears something, but she can’t figure out where it’s coming from. Her energy has changed too. She just feels older, heavier, more tired. I see it in her face and in her body. I feel it.
I know that we don’t have much time left. At the beginning of the year, I felt like we had a few more years. I thought she would live to see 15, but as her eyes and ears have gotten worse, I’ve doubted that, wondering if the loss of her senses would cause her too much distress and sadness. Today, I realized that we have entered the zone of “any day.” It could be years, really, but at this point, any day for my old, blind, deaf dog could hold a calamity or a diagnosis that would bring it all to an end. I don’t want to go on here about what that would mean to me. I know that when she does go, I will want to write about her life then, about the way that she’s taken care of me for all these years; about the way that she is so beloved, even by people who have only seen pictures of her; about the way she has often helped fearful kids feel more comfortable around dogs. I’ll want to write then about the impossible, simple beauty of being loved by a dog and the rich gift it is to care for an animal.
But it’s not time for that yet. I wish that I could say that I will spend whatever time we have left just as we always have. In some ways we will–daily walks, playing ball in the backyard, hiking in the woods, trips home to Texas. Really, nothing about the structure of our days will change until Spur needs something different. But I know–have known for a while–that I am in the long process of learning to say goodbye to this beautiful creature that has been my best friend, my family, my anchor in the world, my healer for the past 12 years. In the time of “any day,” I need to be prepared to let her go when the time comes. I have to be able to see the needs of the aging dog she is and not be hoodwinked by the young dog I remember and wish she still were.
I’m trying to learn how to savor this long goodbye, to take in all of the remaining moments with joy and gratitude, to store up warm memories. I hope that in years to come, I will remember how much she loves it when I lock River away so Spur can get some belly rubs that don’t come with a side of puppy bites. I hope I remember the way that she looks at me when we get home from a two-hour hike as if to say, “That was fun! What else are we doing today?” I want to remember those moments when River is on the floor playing, so Spur comes and sits right against me on the couch–always unusual for her–as if she wants to make sure I know we’re still close. I want to remember the funny way she looks when I accidentally sneak up on her because she didn’t see or hear me, and then the way her ears go back and she grins that dogface grin because it was a pleasant surprise after all. These days, River is the flashy dog. When we meet people, she’s all wag and bounding excitement. Everyone loves her, but especially for the kids, it’s Spur’s gentle, quiet, patient presence that they really want. “I like this dog,” they say, as they gently stroke her soft fur while she stands perfectly still except for the slow wagging of her stubby little tail. I want to savor all of these moments because I don’t know how many more I will get. And I hope that she’ll know, in whatever way dogs know things, that all of our moments are special. I hope that she’ll feel how much I love her.