This story I wrote the day after Maya died. I didn’t post it because I wasn’t sure. I hope you enjoy it. If not… I don’t really care. It needed to be told. Thank you.
Our dog died Sunday, 28 October, 2018.
She was twelve and a half.
Even though she had recently been diagnosed with heart disease and a heart murmur she was going strong until the final day. In fact, she and I had just completed our nightly walk when the pain hit her like a cannonball to the stomach. I won’t soon forget, watching her go for a drink of water as I was briefing my wife, her mother, on the details of our walk, when she nearly collapsed. I raced to her and helped her to the ground. The pain was obviously debilitating because our dog could take pain. Water on the lungs? No problem. Ruptured knee tendons? 2 in a calendar year. No problem. Battle wounds from doggy daycare? She must have had 40 stitches in her life, all from “playing” at daycare. They never bothered her or deterred her from going back. She loved her time at daycare. No, this pain she couldn’t handle and so she laid down, augured in and in true Maya fashion, she took the pain.
It only took a minute or two to realize this was serious. Lisa and I started combing the Internet for things to relieve the pain. You see, it was a Saturday night so we didn’t think we had many options. Finally, struggling to find options, we called our animal clinic and via outgoing message, I was told that if it were an emergency I could call the doctor direct, so I did. He was on his anniversary dinner so he gave me a quick remedy and told me that if we couldn’t find any emergency care call him back. Bottom line, we ended up driving to him after his meal. He took great care to find out what was ailing our baby, but after a couple tests and x-rays, he couldn’t determine anything. The look on his face said it all. He was scared and he had no idea what could cause this kind of pain this fast. He gave her a shot of pain killer that he said would “probably knock her out” and it did. We returned home only to watch her struggle with the pain. The vet had told us that if the shot didn’t relieve some of the pain to give her a huge dose of more pain meds, which we did. It was the saddest night of my life, rivaling only the last night I was with my father, but this was different because my father had been slowly dying for years and when the end came there was relief. This was sudden. Abrupt. It was horrible.
She was finally able to fall asleep so the next morning we headed to Louisville, Kentucky, determined to help her. It was not to be.
Our vet had called ahead so the team at Blue Pearl was ready. They ran a battery of tests, ranging from simple blood work to x-rays and ultrasounds. It was the ultrasound that finally revealed what had been hiding from view. Our dog Maya had tumors in her liver. Not on her liver… in her liver. One for sure and a possible second. The doctor also said she had fluid in her stomach which looked like blood so it was at this time I thought the worst and Lisa asked, “wait! Are we not going home with our dog?” The doctor suggested that her issues had been developing for some time and that something on her last walk must have triggered things to get worse. They ran a few more test to determine if there were tumors in her lungs, which they didn’t find but the damage had been done. The issue, in the end, became the blood in her stomach, potential complications of surgery and her age. Our choices came down to a final three.
One, have surgery. Open her up and try to remove the tumor but first they had to determine if the blood was old or new which would, if new, meant potential internal bleeding. If internal bleeding was present they would have to stop the bleeding before or during surgery. The doctor also said that, very often, when they open up dogs with similar symptoms it may be worse than the ultrasound showed in which case the doctor would be forced to euthanize on the operating table. It wasn’t a pleasant prognosis. Two, take her home on palliative care. Manage the pain and try to let her enjoy her final days at home but Lisa and I both thought that sounded selfish and was only benefiting our grieving while Maya suffered, so that option was quickly eliminated. As stated earlier, she already had other health issues that may have made surgery harder. We couldn’t let her suffer so we went with the final option. Three, euthanasia.
It was an easy choice but the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and I know Lisa would agree. To make matters worse, they brought her in to see us so we could say goodbye and she seemed like she might be OK. Of course, that was because of the host of drugs in her system, which you could clearly see in her eyes. She was in the room with us but she wasn’t “there”. She was like a zombie. I mean, she was all over the room and even ate a little food that had been brought in for her but her eyes were already gone. We laid her on the floor with me on one side and Lisa on the other and the doctor came in to finally relieve her pain. As the doctor injected her with the drug that would put her to sleep before stopping her heart, Maya turned and looked at me, straight in my eyes and I can only hope she was looking to reassure me that this was the right decision and that she was thanking us for getting rid of her pain. I will not forget that look as long as I live. In that instant I saw our life together. It was just a flash but I saw it all.
Maya was given to me, already named and a bit high strung to put it mildly. A family had found her tethered to a tree. They were a young family so when the hyper pup came home she was a bit more than they could handle. She was a jumper and a biter. Not a vicious biter, she would naw on arms as a way to determine who you were. She did it her entire life but only to those she really knew, like me and Lisa and even my brother-in-law, Josh. Anyway, the first year went fast. I had just moved into a new home and so we spent our time exploring our new neighborhood and getting to know each other. We had our fights. She was as stubborn as I was but we learned each other and a bond was formed. Things were really good. We spent all of our free time together. That second year things didn’t go so well, for me. I received the call to go to war so Maya had her world shaken again when she was forced to live with my parents, which turned out to be the best thing for her.
I say “forced” which is true but my parents’ house is a fantastic place for a dog. Ranch style home so there was only one step to climb. A big backyard with a chain-link fence for 365 degrees of sight-line. She loved that. She could see everything yet she was safe behind the wire. They also had a pool which she hated but that pool brought visitors and visitors she loved, and they loved her. It was that pool, while I was deployed, that really began the socialization of Maya. By the end, Maya was one of the most social dogs I’ve ever known. She wanted to say “hi” to everyone but then she would be on her way to the next thing. Other dogs never were of much interest. I mean, there was an initial interest, a quick sniff, but then it was on to the next thing. Maya was the perfect dog.
I eventually came home and Maya and I were back together, only now she was more relaxed, which after a deployment was amazingly soothing for me. She knew when I was anxious and she knew when I was calm. She would sleep in bed with me when I struggled but she would sleep on her own bed on the nights that I slept well. Looking back now, I hadn’t realized what she was doing. She was my compassion dog. She was my friend. She was my “everything” and she knew it before I did. We spent the next three years in relative peace and harmony, living life. The “ups” and the “downs” all the while becoming a dynamic team, although I often worried about her solitude. I’d hurry home after work. I’d stay in on the weekends. Not every night, I wasn’t a saint but I was very aware that she was home alone. Often I would send her down the street to stay with my sisters. She loved that and developed very special bonds with our nieces and nephews. They meant the world to her and I know that she would have loved to say goodbye. I’m sure of it. She loved those kids. No matter how many times she had to stay somewhere else or no matter what time I would come home at night she would be just as excited to see me as the previous time. That trait never faltered and never failed to bring a smile to my face. It’s an amazing thing, a dog. They don’t ask for anything, really. All they want is to be appreciated. They don’t hold grudges. They don’t judge. Their love is unconditional and Maya was the best at all of it. She was soon to take on her most important role.
In 2012 we met Lisa, me in November and Maya in December. That was the game changer. Maya and I went from a bachelor and his dog to a family, almost overnight. Where I had saved Maya, Maya had saved me and Lisa, she saved us all. She probably wouldn’t agree with that statement but it’s true. Maya now had another friend. Someone to go to when she wasn’t sure of my mood. Someone else to love because she had love to give and Lisa and I both needed it. Again, Maya had taken care of us before we even knew we needed it. Lisa told me when we met that she wasn’t a dog person and she still isn’t. What she will tell you is that she’s not a dog person, she’s a Maya person. I always liked that statement. Maya didn’t do anything special, she was simply herself and that was enough.
For the next 6 years we were one happy family. Well, when it came to Maya, we were one happy family. Lisa and I have been and will continue to learn how to live together but there was rarely a dispute when it was about Maya. She was central to our universe. After all, we don’t have any children so Maya was it and she loved her role as “queen”. We both spoiled her. We had to. As she aged we changed her diet several times and by the time she passed she was eating better than any dog I’ve ever heard of and better than most people. She deserved it all. During her last six years, Maya was everywhere we were. It was just assumed in our family that if you invited us to an event, we were bringing our “plus one” every time.
Maya was so good at reading us and our personalities, she knew how we felt before we did. She was integral in helping Lisa through several “events” and constantly helped me with my anxiety, without me even realizing. She just made everything better.
Last Sunday, lying on that floor with her, we couldn’t make anything better and it hurt. We felt like we had been punched in the gut. We were helpless to help her and that’s an awful feeling.
When her eyes met mine in that final moment I hope she saw our life together with the same happiness and joy that I saw when I look back now. I loved that dog. Lisa loved that dog. She helped me live life the best I could during a time of struggle. She helped my wife not only deal with me but also enjoy a part of life that she hadn’t experienced before.
I’ve been thinking, since she passed, does the pain I feel now make me regret any decisions I made with Maya or does the pain of her passing change anything about our time with her? Would I do it again? Would I take in a young dog who was too aggressive for the rest of the world? Would we buy an eleven year old dog two new knees within the same calendar year? Would we pay hundreds of dollars a month to keep her healthy as she was aging? Would we walk hundreds of miles in all manner of weather just so she could get her exercise? Would we drive hundreds of miles just to ensure she wouldn’t be alone when we had to leave for a day or a month? Would we spend thousands of dollars for tests in an attempt to ease the pain?
YOU BET YOUR ASS! All of it. I would do it all again. Hopefully I would do it a little better but I would absolutely do it again. Was her last 24 hours miserable and painful to watch? Yes. I’ve cried many times over the last couple days. I can only hope that her last vision wasn’t just of me, but of all the fun times we all had together and I hope…I hope she enjoyed her time in this world. She made my life better. She made Lisa’s life better. She brought a little joy to every life she encountered along her journey. I am going to do my best to take part of her memory and wear it daily. Everything she did was to make us happy. We should all be so lucky to live that kind of life, making others happy.
In the end, she took the pain, just like she always had and she went out like she came in, fighting to survive. As a pup I was able to take her in and ease her pain, her sense of abandonment. At the end, Lisa and I were finally able to ease the pain coursing through her and send her on her final journey, to that big field in the sky.
I can see it now, a wide open field with plenty of other critters to chase, a creek to cool off in and the sun, eternally frozen just above the horizon, as it sets. I hope that every time she looks over her shoulder she sees the silhouette of a tall, goofy guy in a fedora holding the hand of a beautiful woman with a long scarf blowing in the breeze, waiting for her to come home. We love you Maya. Thanks for everything. God bless you.
Forever, your parents
Matt & Lisa