Early this morning (about 07:40), Barbara was taking the pack outside for their morning constitutionals. As I was preparing to brush my teeth, I heard Barbara racing up the stairs. When she got there, she blurted out “I think Sly just died!” At which I dropped everything and raced downstairs with her. Sly was just inside the back door, where Barbara had left him. It was obvious that he wasn’t breathing, but I grabbed our stethoscope and put it against his chest. He had no heartbeat and was definitely not breathing!
For the last few weeks, we’ve been struggling to keep Sly as comfortable as possible. We knew that he was very ill (see this post) with a number of medical problems, but we’d just started a new medicine that we hoped would bring him back to comfort (if not health). But his fainting spells continued, sometimes more and sometimes less. I spent last week at a business meeting in the south of Portugal. Just after I left, we had concluded that Sly was at the end, but he perked up — quite literally as Barbara put him into the car to take him to the vet for the last time! It was like he didn’t want to go until I returned and he could say goodbye to me.
I got back from Portugal late Saturday night. Sly was very happy to see me (as were Abby, Star, and everybody else) and really wanted attention from me. On Sunday (yesterday), Sly and I cuddled a bit and he frequently stuck his head under my arm to get a few pats on the head — he loved to have his muzzle scratched, too. I am so, so grateful that I was able to spend that day with and near him.
Barbara told me that Sly went out to go potty and, just as he walked back in the door, had one of his fainting spells. She laid him down gently and held him, whispering all those loving things we always say at times like this. Sly’s breathing got a bit labored and he tilted his head back as though he were trying to get more air, but the real problem was probably the mass in his lung. Then he jerked his head a couple of times and was still. That’s when Barbara raced upstairs to get me.
We stayed there on the floor with Sly for a half hour or so, crying, talking to him, petting his still body. Star and Abby both were incredibly sensitive and comforting to us. It was clear that they knew that something was wrong and that we were very sad. And Lucy, the new puppy, complained from her crate that she wanted breakfast. That’s how life is…it goes on, no matter what.
But we put everybody into their crates in the food room (to be ready for breakfast), then we carried Sly down to the car and drove to the vet’s to leave his body for cremation. The box in which we will receive his ashes will have his name and “Our beloved big Pooh Bear” (or something like that…my mind is still foggy from sadness). Sly would have been 14 years old in exactly three months, on February 24. Not too bad for a very large Sheltie who came to us eight years ago virtually in a coma from terrible neck wounds (dog fight) and a complete lack of any thyroid activity.
I know that life really will go on. The other kids need to be fed, taken outside, and loved. But right now I just cannot imagine what life will be like without Sly, my big ol’ Pooh Bear.
This is so, so hard. All of us rescuers have to say goodbye to the old, sick dogs that we rescue, and nothing can ever make that easier. In 2008 alone, we lost our own dogs Isaac and Sly, as well as a number of rescue dogs, some of them adopted and others with us in hospice care. It gets harder every time. I honestly don’t know how many more times I can do this. I know that Barbara feels much the same way.
Is this “just” rescue fatigue? Maybe. We’ve been doing this for so long, with not nearly enough help, ruining ourselves financially, destroying our house, and enduring the heartache of loss over and over. But it feels to me like more than that. We have something like 30 or 35 little boxes of ashes on our family room bookshelves. Every one of those represents a dog whom we loved dearly and who came to the end of their lives while in our care. There are so many cancers, so many kidney failures, so many heart diseases, and one automobile strike. And I just don’t know how to keep on bearing it.
Goodbye, my precious Sly. You’re no longer in pain, no longer worried that the other dogs will crowd you or knock into you, and no longer dealing with the loss of appetite you suffered lately. You’ll see so many of your friends and family members at the Bridge, and we’ll be there with you eventually. I love you, my beautiful boy. And I always will.