I’ve been thinking about and missing my dog lately. This was originally posted on April 24, 2008, on a blog that has since been abandoned. But it’s important to me that I keep the grass around her digital gravestone trimmed, so I’m reposting it here.
It has taken me a while to write about this.
The above is one of the last pictures of her, taken about a week before her death. She is in an oxygen chamber at an animal hospital. Earlier that Friday she was with the groomer whom she had seen weekly for well over a decade, and who noticed that her tongue and gums had turned blue. My mother and I met the groomer at the animal hospital, where Muffy was diagnosed with heart failure. The x-rays showed her heart was swollen and her lungs filled with something I had heard of before on medically-themed television shows but forgot the second after it was told to me. The relevant part was that they were milky white on the image, and were supposed to be black. We were informed that another hour off of oxygen and she would have expired, that her best chance was to be put on a relatively new vasodialator (“I don’t want to say wonder drug, but I’ve seen amazing things.”), and that she would have to stay in the hospital over the weekend.
The following Monday she came off oxygen and had clear lungs on the x-ray. Her blood work was good and her echocardiogram was indistinguishable from that of a dog without heart disease. The veterinarian was sufficiently optimistic that when we took Muffy home he instructed us to schedule a follow-up with our usual vet in three months.
Muffy lived for another week. I came home during her second to last day of life to discover her making strange, convulsive keening noises that sounded more bird-like than canine. When I let her outside she walked out into the grass and remained hunched over, cawing and wheezing, seemingly unable to defecate and making herself bleed in the attempt. The next day she died.
I wasn’t there when she died, and I never saw her dead body. I was at the Trinity University library, working on a story to submit with my Clarion application. I got a phone call from my parents informing me of Muffy’s passing. I thanked them for telling me, and then continued working. I didn’t really feel anything. The day before, when I had discovered her struggling and gasping I felt panicked and impotent, but I didn’t have an emotional response to her death. I think this was because it had been clear for a long time that she was fading. For the past year I had been taking time specifically to sit with her whenever I was at my parents’ house. She had begun to move very gingerly, and her personality had begun to wane away; for the first time since my childhood I was unable to reliably discern her needs from her actions. And she was nearly twenty years old. The average life span for her breed is 12.2. At the time of her death she was the oldest AKC registered bichon frise in the country, and had been for over a year. While I certainly would not have minded Muffy deciding to live forever, she was a part of my life from baby teeth through bachelor’s degree and it is hard to ask for more than that.
And of course I got into Clarion, and the story I was writing in the library when Muffy died was published in Asimov’s two years later, and then I went and got an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where just yesterday I signed a contract to spend some time as an adjunct professor. And through it all, on my keychain, I’ve carried this.