I remember when I first picked her up from that shelter, knowing I was getting a dog that would need a lot of help and care.
Then I saw her and she looked even worse that the pictures and my heart stopped but she ran to me, straining on her leash, ready for what was next, despite how weak and hungry and in pain she must have been.
I remember standing in the vets office, mouth agape, as he outlined all the treatments and pills and instructions and my ears started ringing with the overwhelm of it all but he looked at me and said very calmly, ‘This the best time because it will only get better from her. It will never be this bad again.’
I remember having to carry her upstairs so I could bathe her because she was too weak and freaked out to navigate them and her legs stuck out at all angles as I clumsily tried to carry her as gently as I could. How I thought she couldn’t possibly look any worse until I had her in the tub and she sat there, bedraggled and naked and even skinnier somehow as the water ran brown with the layers of dirt and neglect washing down the drain.
I remember the time, about 4 days in, when I took her outside to do her business and a leaf fell or something and she pounced on it and I started crying because it was the first time she did a normal dog thing.
I remember when her hip bones no longer became prominent and people stopped asking me what was wrong with her and when our wonderful vet put his hand on hip at her one year appointment and said, chucking, ‘I didn’t expect her head to get that big.’
I remember around that same timeframe when she jumped up on the couch with us for the first time and we both just looked at each other, not daring to move lest we startle her and ruin the moment.
I remember mundane, silly, sweet, sleepy moments that don’t mean anything to anyone but right now are my most treasured memories.
Like her squeaky bark and how she liked ‘to be her own dog’ and spend time alone out in the yard and how she was the boss of everything and anyone that walked into our house was required to give her belly rubs.
I remember when she started limping two years ago and we took her into the vet thinking it was arthritis or something but he walked into the examining room with a grim look and X-rays and a box of tissues. How he said it’s usually osteosarcoma and gave me some articles so I could prepare myself. How he patiently and kindly let me wipe my tears before he said, ‘Don’t count her out though, she’s a fighter.’
I remember eating lunch with Jason when the specialist called with the biopsy results and said it wasn’t osteosarcoma, it was chondrosarcoma which had a much better prognosis and we cried together in Burrito Jimmies because our girl had been given a fighting chance.
I remember the day I picked her up from the leg amputation and clenched my jaw until it ached as I tried to help her walk so that I wouldn’t scare her with my tears.
Then blessedly, there were more mundane, silly, sweet, sleepy, somewhat slower moments where things sort of went back to normal and life went on. We moved across the country. We settled into new jobs and a new home. We continued to give her belly rubs and peanut butter and fall asleep to the sound of her snores.
Until a few weeks ago, when I noticed she was licking her remaining front leg a lot. And her breathing sounded weird. I quietly told Jason that we needed to make a vet appointment for her because I knew what that could mean. Cancer in the leg so easily metastasizes into the lungs.
And I remember all the air going out of my lungs as I looked at the Xrays. That knowing that this might be the diagnosis hadn’t prepared me in the slightest for the sucker punch to my chest as I looked at a death sentence.
I remember our kind new vet letting me know what pills they’d give me to keep her comfortable and how her breathing would change and that’s when we’d know it was time.
Then last saturday night, it did. I sat next to her on the floor as she labored to breathe, sounding like she was trying to suck air through a hole in a wet plastic bag and she looked at me, staring at me for a long moment right in the eyes and I understood.
We said goodbye to our sweet, spirited princess Monday, July 3rd.
You know what the messed up part of it is? Not the abuse and neglect she endured before we got her, not the cancer and amputation and then cancer again. Not that towards the end, every step hurt and she couldn’t move without gasping for air. It’s that no matter what she was going through in her life, she kept running towards it. She WANTED to be here, even when she was scared or skinny or sick. Running towards life. Right to the very end.
And I’m mad, I’m so fucking mad that cancer overtook her spirit and that it backed me into a corner where the kindest thing I could do was make her leave.
Keely taught me to keep going even when I was scared or unsure. She taught me to live completely in the moment. She taught me not to tell myself stories of how things ought to be but instead keep looking forward. Maybe she’s just a dog to some but she was the bravest creature I ever knew.
And I’m hurting and grateful and grieving and relieved and appreciative and mad as hell and don’t know what to do with all of it.
So I guess I’m going to do what she would do and keep running towards life.