McKenzie’s last breath

There were no words thought, only moments felt. My head nestled against hers resting on a blanket, the soft puffs of her breathing in my ear. She was sedated, my old German Shepherd McKenzie, who loved and guarded my life with her own every second of our many years together. And now, as the vet injected her with the drug that would end her peacefully, I held her close, tears streaming, no words, though I heard someone saying Thank you, thank you, thank you, and realized it was me whispering in McKenzie’s ear.

And then her last breath came and went. Silence. Moments later the gentle-voiced vet saying, “She is gone,” and still I held her close. The vet and vet tech hugging me, take all the time you need, they said, and quietly left the room. Now words tumbled out, professing love for this amazing animal, my friend, she was my friend. Then laughing through tears telling her I used to say dogs are people too until I realized I was insulting the dogs . I apologized to her still form and thanked her for all she’d done for me, not the least of which occurred a few weeks earlier when a bout with pain had me on the floor pouring sweat. Age and weakness did not stop McKenzie from getting to me and licking the sweat from my face and staying close, watching over me.

McKenzie was 14 when she died. They say that’s a good run for a German Shepherd and I suppose that’s true. Were it up to me she’d have lived forever and gone on to add love and safety to another’s life after I’m gone.

There are people whose passing would bother me less than McKenzie’s. This may surprise some, maybe even offend a few. Can’t help it. Dogs don’t lie, don’t betray, don’t care about skin color, politics, sexual orientation, economic status, whether you do or don’t live with a disability. They love you because you are you. You can’t say that about too many people. You can say that about every dog, save for those who’ve been abused by….wait for it….people.


Last pictures

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When a dog dies

My dog Milo died peacefully in my arms today a few minutes before 12 noon. He was in the neighborhood of 16 or 17 years old.

Milo and I had been together since 1998 when I adopted him from a shelter. I was surprised that unlike all the other dogs he wasn’t barking. “Wow, he’s doesn’t bark,” I said to the shelter staff who chuckled, smiled, and said, “Oh, don’t you worry, he barks.” He was right. Milo was a brindle-colored beagle mix and next to his steadfast commitment to eating all the food on planet earth, barking was his favorite pastime. Well, that’s not entirely true. His favorite pastime (next to eating) was, in truth, to be near me. Whichever room I was in, Milo would be curled up next to me. If I got up from my writing table and moved to another room to read or watch TV or listen to music, he’d follow me in in a matter of moments, circle over his landing spot, and land. Throughout all the years we were together this pattern never changed, though as he got older, he’d let out a groan of annoyance when I’d change locations and I swear once or twice I think I caught him shooting a glare in my direction.

Milo was my friend, a member of my family. In fact he was named after the French Canadian side of my birth-mother’s family. I can tell you now that I know quite a few people whose deaths would bother me far less. When the veterinarian, a remarkably compassionate woman named Joan Puritz of Crescent Pet Lodge in Oneonta injected Milo with a drug that would and did allow him to die peacefully, my insides collapsed and there was nothing to do but hold him close, and say thank you thank you thank you out loud through my sobbing. Thanks to the help of friends I was able to pay to have him individually cremated and when his remains are ready, he will come home, where he belongs.

I don’t know that I am mystical by nature, maybe, I’ve not really given it much thought. But I do know this, when I got home today, exhausted, spent, perhaps somewhat stunned, certainly heartbroken, I went for a walk with my remaining two dogs, Charley and McKenzie. When we came back inside I gave them fresh water, stoked the fire, and sat down to rest. Soon both of them were curled up by my feet, thank God. But there was noticeably less life in the house, less energy. Milo’s living breathing absence was real. Living beings really do have energy and when they die, the energy leaves, it is glaringly obvious.

Today talking to Dr. Puritz and her delightful and deeply compassionate assistant Lisa, I mentioned Milo’s quest to eat all the food on planet earth. “How close did he get?” asked Lisa, her question a gift to me, offering me a moment of kindness and connection that moved my heart and won a permanent place in my memory. “Pretty close,” I said. “In fact, if you call some area food pantries you’ll find they’re nearly out of food.”

I used to enjoy saying, Dogs are people too. I don’t think I’ll say that anymore because it dawned on me today that the phrase is rather insulting to dogs.

I love you my whole wide world Milo. My heart hurts. Thank you thank you thank you.