Over 16 years ago a little six week old cocker spaniel entered my life and changed it forever. A short year later, an eight week old golden retriever joined our little family.
I had wanted a dog since I was a child, but the situation of having one never quite worked out ideally. My parents tried on two occasions to provide us with the experience, but both attempts fell short of living up to my idealistic dream of owning a dog.
The first dog we had, Lucky, a white, fluffy bichon frise, was great and everything I had hoped it would be. Sadly though, my mom became ill not long after we got him, and overwhelming fatigue made it difficult for her to care for a new dog. Much to our heartbreak, my parents decided that it was better to give Lucky to a friend to raise, rather than keeping him ourselves. So off on a plane he flew – across the US to my mom’s close friend to live with his new family. I can still remember the anguish and loss felt leaving the airport that day.
We begged my parents continually for another dog for years, but “No” was the constant response. Finally, on my seventeenth birthday I got a card from my dad that went something to the liking of “We know this year has been ruff for you, so how about we get a dog”. I was elated. Now, it was made very clear that although this was written in my birthday card, it was not going to be my dog, rather it would be the family dog. But I did not care, I was so excited.
My parents decided on getting two dogs so that they would have each other for company during the day when we were all at school. They found a breeder and we eventually took home two beautiful golden retriever puppies. After much deliberation and some helpful suggestions from friends, we named them Tiger and Lilly. We were all excited.
Well, everyone but my eldest sister who was away at college. She was allergic to dogs and upset that we would bring them into the home, which would undoubtedly affect her negatively when she came home for visits. So as a compromise, my parents cleared space in the garage putting up walls for a partition so they’d have both room for the dogs and for their storage. They added a doggy door to the outside and gated an area of the yard so that the dogs could go in and out as they pleased. It seemed like a good compromise, but the reality is that because the dogs were now outdoor dogs, they never truly assimilated into our family.
When they were puppies we were all eager to go out and play around with them, but to be quite honest, I never really grew attached to the dogs because of the separation. The garage was musky and uninviting. There was no real draw to stay out there with the dogs for prolonged periods of time. After a while it felt more like an obligation and from my perspective, Tiger and Lilly never quite became members of the family like I had hoped they would. It didn’t help that within a year and a half of getting the dogs, I went off to college and started a life of my own.
So, despite my parents good hearted attempt, I never truly felt as if I had a dog and the yearning for one continued. I daydreamed often about the day I would have a pup of my own to cuddle with and love. To sleep in my bed and be my best friend. And if I’m being frank, someone to love me unconditionally.
Entering into my third year of college, one of my best friends and I decided that we would share an apartment off campus. This was my chance! We found a pet friendly complex not far from the university and put down our deposit. I discussed getting a dog with her – and although I cannot for the life of me remember the dialogue – she must not have said no, because not too long after, I found a breeder and bought the dog I always dreamed of – a golden haired cocker spaniel – just like on Lady and the Tramp.
Unfortunately, timing was not perfect as my friend could not move into the apartment until fall and I needed it for the summer, so my sister – the same one from above, who is allergic to dogs – came to live with me during her summer break from law school. I do not have too many memories of this time together – probably due to too much drinking and not enough sleep paired with the blocking out of less than stellar memories – but let’s just say, she was not thrilled to have a dog in the apartment. I’m sure that my sister and my best friend, whom luckily is still one of my dearest friends to this day, would have plenty to say about my poor roommate skills during this time of my life. Luckily for my husband – I am a much better roommate now than when I was as an egocentric – only viewing the world from my point of view, not to be confused with egotistical – 20 something.
All that aside, I had my puppy. Her name was Kayla and she was my world. I loved this dog more than I could have ever dreamed. She was my baby – and I treated her as such. I took her around with me where ever I could. I hand crafted toys and bedding for her, dressed her up in clothes, and took pictures of her, just like a new mom. Once when I went on vacation for a weekend I even dropped her off with a diaper bag of sorts and a three page detailed letter on how to care for her. Oh geez. I still get teased for this. Owning a dog was everything I had ever longed for and my love for Kayla was immeasurable.
A year later, I graduated college and bought my first home. Now that I had a space of my own with a back yard (and a doggy door to be installed), I decided to get a second dog. I know, I know – 22 with two dogs – what was I thinking? At least, this is the dialogue I had with my father, lol. The second breed of dog that I had always wanted, after spending time with my cousins’s dog in Connecticut, was a golden retriever. So again, I found a breeder and put down a deposit.
The timing wasn’t ideal on this decision either, as my boyfriend at the time was not too thrilled with the dog that I already owned and purchasing a second was the nail in the coffin on that relationship. But who needed a guy to love when I had the unconditional love of TWO dogs?!?!
I had my little happy family and I was thrilled. I loved my dogs. They slept in the bed with me. We took regular trips to the dog park. And they kissed away more tears over the years than I’d like to admit. The love and joy that they have provided to me in my life is unable to be captured in mear words.
Over the years the dynamics with the dogs have changed a bit. Having human children often does this. They soon lost the privilege of sleeping in our bed and the visits to the dog parks became few and far between. But we moved into a bigger house with a larger back yard and gave them two children to love them just the same.
Now, I sit here, 16 1/2 years after getting Kayla and 15 years since Saydi, knowing that my days with these two incredible girls are numbered.
Up until about a year ago, their health was good and the idea of them passing on was only there due to their age and a continued stream of Facebook posts of others losing their beloved pets who were around the same age as our sweet girls. But in this past year, Saydi has struggled with her mobility after being diagnosed with idiopathic vestibular disease and having a wicked episode that left her immobile for weeks. Luckily we nursed her back to health and are past the year mark since her episode, but we have seen a steady decline of her mobility since then.
And Kayla. My poor sweet first born babe. After arriving home from our travels during winter break earlier this month, I noticed a large mango sized tumor on her throat that was not apparent before we left for our trip. My baby has thyroid cancer. An immovable large tumor that will no doubt be her demise.
We have decided against treatment due to her age and although she seems to be in continued good spirits I have witnessed many changes. She suffers from short bouts of challenged breathing. She needs her food softened. She has extreme incontinence and will periodically have blood in her urine and stools. Her lip and side of her face is swollen due to the tumor, which causes her to drool. And she smells. Bad. Really bad.
But she still seems happy and loving. She still hangs out at my feet wherever I am and cuddles with me. It doesn’t feel like it is time yet. And perhaps this is me not ready to let go and perhaps it is a bit selfish, but until the day comes that it is so apparent that she is suffering, I will not be making any decisions otherwise.
So it leaves us with all the frustrating nuisances of having old dogs. We live on the tenth floor of our building at the end of a very long hall and have begun to carry Kayla downstairs while walking Saydi on the leash in order to prevent accidents in the hallway or elevator.
Just to get a glimpse into this exciting period of our lives – this week while carrying Kayla over my shoulder, Saydi had a poo poo accident halfway to the elevator. I put Kayla down so that I could clean up the mess Saydi made and within moments Kayla was urinating in the hall. I laid down paper towels (which I regularly carry with me) to mark the mess, walked back to the apartment, dropped off the dogs, and proceeded down the hall to remedy the situation. When that was done I got the dogs and tried again to make it downstairs so they could finish their business. But alas, Saydi squatted midway and relieved herself in the hall. At this point I wanted to cry. I was tired. Hot (with layers of clothing for the freezing temps outdoors). And riddled with guilt over my frustrations with the dogs. As I put Kayla down yet again to clean up Saydi’s mess, she too squatted and went #2. At this moment, all I could do was laugh.
I gave up, walked the dogs back to the apartment and brought back with me all the cleaning supplies needed to fix the mess. When I finally got them downstairs, they of course did not have anything left. This was just the first of many accidents of the day. And if you are wondering about my walk schedule. I, or my husband, take the dogs out last thing before we go to sleep and first thing in the morning when we wake. I also walk them several times throughout the day, as I am home most of the time. These accidents can be within 30 minutes of walking them, so there isn’t always a rhyme or reason. We use diapers too, but sometimes, like right now, they are all being washed because we have too many small accidents in a row. The only way I keep myself sane is by understanding that they are just old dogs and this time is temporary and a git.
When I first got the dogs, the idea of them passing was so foreign to me, but now it is something I think about constantly. I check for their breathing regularly, wondering if today will be the day that I have to say goodbye to one of them. In addition, I am tormented by my mixed feelings and emotions about this period of their lives. I am stressed out by the smell, constant accidents, and the strain it has on my relationship with my husband who does not have the same bond with the dogs. I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t going to be some relief once we are past this part of our lives, but the heartache I feel for even having these thoughts is indescribable. I have cried myself to sleep many of nights recently, knowing at any moment I may have to say goodbye to my girls. That I will never be able to hold them and love on them again. That they won’t be there to kiss away the tears that will undoubtedly flow once they have passed and to mend the feeling of heartache and void that I will feel once they are gone. And there is so much pain admitting that there is a part of me that is at the same time ready to let go. It hurts even writing that.
I am beyond grateful for the generous amount of time that I have had with my girls and I will continue to be thankful for every moment with them that is gifted to me, even if that includes less than ideal conditions. Kayla and Saydi have brought more joy into my life than I could have ever expected and they each taught me to love in new ways. I am glad that my children have had the privilege of loving them as well.
Only time will tell how this story ends, but I am forever grateful for each chapter. Even the final ones.