April 6, 2014
(I had originally written this long post, then decided to shorten it dramatically, deleting almost all the information and many of the photos below – but, when I came back to finish the shortened version, somehow all my edits were gone and the original was still here… therefore, I finished what I had originally started… and, big apologies as I have not gone back to re-read and edit – I only added the end)
Elias and I were married in May of 2000. And, it wasn’t long before we ‘expanded’ our little family. That summer we started volunteer dog walking at the local SPCA. We knew we wanted a dog, but we wanted to be sure to find the ‘right’ one to fit our lifestyle, and our place, which was a small, a one bedroom condo. We got to know one of the staff at the SPCA quite well, and she understood what we were looking for.
And, one day at work I got a call from a very excited Elias. The woman from the SPCA had called and said a dog had just been brought in, that she thought would be perfect for us (which was not typically what they do, maybe not even allowed, but I think she wanted a dog for us as much as we did). Sheba. Elias wanted to go see her immediately, but I had to work until after they were closed.
He was terribly worried she’d be adopted out before we could get there, and had to go and have a look. He was so excited, and was ready to adopt – but we wanted to do it together. By the time we were able to go together, her sister had also been turned in.
Shagie. They looked almost identical . . . she was a little smaller than her sister, but lots of spunk. We took them both for a walk, together. I remember laughing with Elias about how they walked SO close together, bumping every so often, their bellies swaying side to side in unison. I hated the idea of splitting them up (even though they hadn’t been living together before being turned in), and would have loved to have adopted them both – but there was something about that smaller one. Sheba, seemed to be a bit ‘tougher’. Shagie, a little more on the goofy side. And, she stole our hearts.
We took her home straight away. I remember the drive home with her in the back of the car, clearly wondering what on earth was happening, and I think, so were we – but, we never looked back. (though, we did change her name . . . )
With Elias working nights, and me working days, she had a good split of time between the two of us. She joined us on road trips. We became regulars at the dog park. She’d play great with other dogs, but if she had a ball to chase, she wouldn’t see much else. And man, was she fast. We were often asked if she was part greyhound (we were told she was a Sharpei-Lab cross, though, looking back through her records, the people who turned her in had listed German Lab – which is a lab with german pointer… that wasn’t on the actual SPCA file, but looking at this photo, and a few others, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little pointer in her as well)
It wasn’t always easy. She was 8months old when we adopted her, but we still went through the chewing phase – remote controls, shoes, pillows (bitter apple spray works wonders though!). And, after a few weeks in the condo, we were ‘advised’, by way of a flyer for bark collars under our door, that apparently she barked rather incessantly in the time she was home alone (she would only give the odd growl when we were there). This was more difficult to stop. We tried blocking off the hallway to the door so she wouldn’t bark right at it, perhaps less noisy. But, no matter how high and challenging a wall of ‘stuff’ we built, we’d come home, and she’d be on the other side of it. Often, magically, without displacing a thing (she did the same when we tried to keep her sleeping in the kitchen, instead of our bedroom, but that didn’t last long at all).
I wouldn’t try the electric shock collars, but tried the ‘lemon spray’ kind, which seemed to work well enough to keep the neighbours happy, and at least our condo smelled nice and citrusy when we came home. Of course we had our fun with her, in many ways, and life was good.
She even ‘modelled’ for an article in the newspaper, about a fundraiser my work was doing for the SPCA!
And, she was there when Elias had one of his first seizures. He said he remembered her acting odd – following him more closely than usual (which is saying something). And, though he doesn’t remember much around it happening, he recalls coming to with her licking his face (along with the paramedics knocking at the door – he had been on the phone with his aunt at the time, and she called for the ambulance as this was right after his first MRI and diagnosis).
Being the active, ball crazy, jumping dog she was, she eventually managed to tear a cruciate ligament in one of her back legs. It was weeks of recovery, trying to keep her calm, which was no easy task – but, it got her a trip to Tofino with us for our 3rd anniversary!
Unfortunately, not long after the first knee was done, the second had to be repaired as well (weakened from supporting the other for so long), and our ‘free’ dog soon had $2500 knees. But, life was still good – and continued to change.
Hoping kids would be in our near future, we sold our little condo, and moved into a bigger home. With a yard. Which, we quickly realized needed a taller fence in parts, as on moving day she jumped it into our neighbours yard! Quick way to get to know who lives next door . . .
A little down the road, E came into the world, and our little family expanded once more. As it was a home birth, Cali was there. Not in the room, but present, none the less. She could tell right away, that this was something special. She was always very careful around E. She’d get worried when E would cry. And she was so gentle. Cali had a protective nature – she and I had been charged/attacked by off leash dogs while walking on a few occasions, which unfortunately made it tougher for me to walk her on my own as from that point she usually had her defences higher – and she’d make some people think twice about coming in our house, but she was never out to hurt anyone. And thankfully, in particular with E, she was nothing but gentle.
Fast forward to another move, and, another baby. She was just the same with C as she was with E (though, a ‘little’ more relaxed about the crying, as I guess she was used to it by that point). Of course, she didn’t get ‘quite’ as much attention from us as before the girls were born, but she was still a part of everything.
When Elias’ condition worsened, and we moved in to his parent’s basement a month before he died, the four of us sleeping between two mattresses on the floor, living out of suitcases, she was right there on the floor with us.
I honestly don’t have much recollection of how things went with her on the day he died, but I know that she missed him terribly after as well. You could see it in her. And I suddenly realized her age. I instantly became more aware of her greying fur, and became terrified of being able to look after her, among everything else, and of losing her too. I hate to admit it, but a part of me considered giving her away so I wouldn’t have to deal with that inevitable loss that I feared would come too soon.
Elias’ uncle Martin looked after Cali for a few days for me when we went on a trip shortly after Elias died, and it took only one afternoon of being in the house without her for me to quickly erase those thoughts from my mind. She was such an important part of my life, that I still needed her, desperately.
We had a scare and almost lost her three years ago, but she pulled through – much to the amazement of the vet – and she continued to be by my side since. The last few months in particular, her age was really catching up with her. She started having accidents. Many, many accidents. It was terribly frustrating for me, but for her as well, so it just became a part of our day – I tried to be around as much as possible to let her out, and I came to know where to look when I’d get home to clean up. Her legs not what they once were, and without the carpets to help with traction (we had to pull most everything up due to her accidents), she needed a little ‘boost’ up now and then if she got in an awkward spot or her legs slipped out from under her. Her eyes were ‘cloudier’. She moved a little more slowly, content with shorter walks. She was harder to keep warm. But, as old as she was, she still was a loving companion. Always greeting us at the door with a wagging tail. Still kicked up a little of her old ‘spunk’ now and then, barked out her ‘protection’ to people walking by our house. And, she was my ever present shadow. She always refused to go to bed until I did, and would often rest her chin on the couch, looking at me with those pleading eyes, I think to try to ‘will’ me to go at times when she was ready. But, she’d always wait for me. And, she provided me with a good reason to go.
In December she had her 14th birthday. She also got to the point where she had been with me longer than Elias and I had been together. I dare say, again, a part of me almost didn’t want that to be – but instead of wallowing in that fact, I tried to just use it to love her even more fiercely than ever. Knowing it would be a slower time at the store, I stayed home with her much more the first week of January. I just needed to be around her. I knew our time together wasn’t going to be long, but I never would have imagined just how short from that point it would be….
Though I had gotten used to the accidents, one day the following week something changed. She still seemed well enough, and though it wasn’t a big change, I decided to take her to the vet. Sure enough, though we caught it early, there was a problem. And a big one. The lengthy name of it, basically meant that her brain could no longer communicate with her bladder to release. She was in danger at that point, and any way to help would be extremely risky at her age, not guaranteed to work, and she would be in the same spot shortly after regardless. They could try, but it didn’t look good, and they felt her time had come. They encouraged me to allow it to happen that day. I was a complete mess. It was torture to think that, aside from not being able to pee, she was ‘normal’, and we needed to put her down? I thought I was just bringing her for some incontinence issues, and they were telling me that her time had come. Now.
I told them it couldn’t go like that. She couldn’t go like that. I needed to take her home, for one more night. I needed to talk with my girls. To give us all a little more time together. Something we didn’t exactly get with Elias. They gave me some pills to try to help release her bladder and to help ensure she wasn’t in pain. The fact that she still seemed completely herself otherwise, was making it all so much harder. I felt like I was making this choice, that didn’t ‘look’ clear.
I took her home, and lay down on the couch with her, and cried into her fur. I spoke to Elias – asked him for a sign of any kind – a light to burn out, a hummingbird at the feeder. I stared at the feeder for a few minutes, then decide I was crazy – it was January, and I hadn’t fed the feeder since fall. I fell asleep with her for a bit, until it was time for the girls to come home from school, and for me to break the news to them.
We made sure to give her the best night we could. Lots of treats. Lots of snuggles and kisses. The canned food for dinner. We discussed how to make the next day fit each or our needs.
The next morning she still seemed to be doing fine in some ways and continued to struggle with it all. The girls had both initially decided to stay home from school and be here while we had the vet come to the house to have her put down, but in the morning, E changed her mind and decided she wanted to go to school. The event brought up a fair bit of grief related to Elias’ death, so it was hard to know how best to navigate it all, and I just tried to honour what each of them wanted, at least in the moment. So as I was on the phone with a friend to see if she could help get E to school and was just about to walk out of the family room we were all in, E shouted for me to come back – there was a hummingbird at the feeder right outside our window. We all watched it hover there for a few moments – I started to cry again – and then it was off. It felt like Elias was giving me that message. It’s ok. You can let her go, I got this.
Of course only moments later I worried that maybe the message was really that ‘she’ would be ok – but I knew in my heart that it really was time. And even after calling the vet to arrange them coming to the house, he said that he felt it was in her best interest, that anything we could try would only cause her more suffering.
So, C and I took her for one last walk on the beach. She dipped her toes in the ocean, sniffed the air, felt the sand in her toes. We took her back past the school and pulled E out for one more chance to say good bye in the way that felt best for her.
I had one more big snuggle on the couch with her, and C read her books. Then, the vet came. We took her to my room, and C was amazing. Petting her and kissing her and loving her though it all. Looking to me and giving me loving smiles. The vet and technician seemed pretty amazed. I’m not sure how many young children are present when their pet is put down, and probably fewer whisper ‘Say hi to Daddy for me’ in their pet’s ear as it happens. But she and I gave Cali as much love as we could, right to the end.
As the vets were on their way out was when it really started to hit C more. After a few minutes, my mom took her over to our friends house, as they had taken E home from school as well. Then, Sian came back over, along some wine and a shovel. Lisa and Paul came too, and in the pouring, pouring rain, these kind souls helped me dig a grave for Cali in our yard.
When the girls got home, E then expressed an interest in seeing her, but she quickly realized it was too late. I had worried that she may have some regrets on her decision, but in the end I think it was ok.
Of course there’s always more to it all, but if you’ve made it this far, I thank you for reading at least this much of Cali’s story. In the end, the fact is she is gone and I miss her terribly. Still, three months later I look for her face in the window when we come home. I look for her in the backyard. Beside my bed. But, I think her story just needed to be shared.
I do like to imagine her and Elias’ souls are together now. The weekend after we had her put down, we went on a hike up Soames hill, and spotted another hummingbird putting on a little show. After watching it dive bomb around for a few minutes, it flew up and hovered by a nearby tree, and moments later was joined by a second. They both hovered there for a few moments, and then sped off together. It made me smile.
Now, the 5yr anniversary of Elias’ death is right around the corner. There have already been a few bumps to start the month – I managed to temporarily misplace my credit card, which I discovered when I went to buy groceries, and the next morning when I went to make the girls’ lunches – after almost completely forgetting to do that (E was already outside ready to go to school) – I discovered that I had left an entire bag of groceries at the store. But, I have something hopefully great planned for that week. I’ll try to get back here to explain if it manages to happen.
And, we have no immediate plans for a new pet. We took care of my parent’s dogs for a few weeks, and just this weekend had a kitten in our house – both of which reminded me just how much I miss having a pet – but it will be a bit of time yet, I think. And, no matter what new critters find their way into our hearts and home, we will always love, and miss our Cali…
P.S. I Love You