Just before 10:00 AM on Thursday, August 11th, I said goodbye to my best friend of just over 11 years, Kota, as she crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
It was peaceful.
We did it out of love.
Letting her go was the most difficult decision my husband, Pete, and I ever had to make.
I cry. Gut wrenching guterral sobs. At any moment of the day. It comes in waves.
It’s every evening at 8:00 pm as I go to the door to let her out one last time for the night. “Cookies and potties!” That’s what I would shout as I opened the back slider. She would run down the stairs out into the yard, go “potty”, and run back up and inside for her treat. It was usually something high value, like steak or burger leftover from dinner.
It’s every morning as I look for her for her morning routine. I would put her bed out on the deck and she would nap there for a bit. I could work at my desk and watch her, peacefully sleeping. I’m still putting her bed out every morning. I know she is with us.
Kota first became ill several years ago. Her “conventional” vet put her on 4 medications. We did an ultrasound and that came back “normal”. Her liver enzymes were through the roof they were so elevated.
Kota never medicated easily. Pill pockets were a joke. Meds could not be hidden in anything – she was a smart pooch! We would have to go down her throat, but she started to become angry, hide, and ultimately, shut down. I also had the feeling she knew something that we didn’t know, so why force her? We took her off of all meds and found the most compassionate holistic vet, Dr. Martha Lindsey of Alternative Vet Services. (notice Kota on their website!)
We had a great run for several years! Kota responded very well to holistic and homeopathic treatments. Our grocery bill was comparable to a family of 8 since we cooked for her, but that didn’t matter. Kota was worth it! We had a few more amazing years that I don’t think we would have had if we had done surgery!
Signs Leading Up
The last several months with Kota were a mix of “good” days and “bad” days – more good!!! We worked with different homeopathic treatments and Kota had some amazing days! She struggled more at night and couldn’t seem to get comfortable to sleep.
The last few weeks of Kota’s life, she began to lose weight. A LOT of weight. As a husky mix, her normal weight was around 70-72 lbs. I would cry every time she got on the scale, her last weight being only 55 lbs.
She started turning her nose up at everything. It was difficult because she was a picky eater anyways. What was strange was that she would lie by her food bowl, acting like she was hungry, but nothing felt good to her. Her systems were failing.
The “pacing” is what really broke my heart. Kota couldn’t get comfortable. She would move from room to room throughout the night, not being able to settle. I honestly don’t think she was in severe pain, per say, but just didn’t feel well. (she was one who would get “growly” with pain, and there was none of that.)
Wednesday, August 2nd, I took Kota in for a blood draw. When she bounced into the vet’s office he said, “What do you mean she’s sick? She looks amazing!” All was good on the outside.
The vet called that following Monday around 9 pm. Nothing good comes out of a phone call at that time of night from your vet. Her liver enzymes were at 1408 – more than double the highest they ever were. (If you have ever had pet with liver issues, you know what I’m writing about.). I completely tuned out as he mentioned 4 medications, an ultrasound… but then what? Surgery? Chemo? Why? I’m grateful my husband and I have always been on the same page. Quality over quantity. We weren’t going to keep her alive for selfish reasons. We wanted what was best for her.
Does one know when it’s time? I think that will be different for everyone. Pete and I knew. We always had that intuitive connection with Kota.
It was Tuesday, August 9th at 1:34 AM – I looked at the clock. Kota had been pacing. My husband’s side of the bed was closest to our bedroom door. Kota nudged him. She stood at his side of the bed as he scratched under her chin.
Note: Kota was not an affectionate dog and loved her bubble of space.
I got out of bed and went over to her, and started to stroke the fur on her back. She laid down on the floor, and I laid down on the floor with her and we slept there.
That morning, Pete and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “She’s telling us she’s ready to go. She’s done.” (tears)
I made that phone call to Dr. Jennifer Cushing of Beloved Pet to schedule an in home Euthanasia, the most difficult decision of my life.
The Last Days
Those last days were the hardest days. We questioned our decision every moment of the day. What made things even harder was Kota running around like a puppy. She had a favorite toy, her “owl”. She still grabbed that toy every night and threw it in the air at around 7:00 pm. For years we would say, “Go get your owl!”. Out of her hundreds of toys (isn’t that how many we have for our dogs?), she only played with that one owl!
Here are a few owl pics over the years!
The day before, some of her best friends came by our house to say “goodbye”. Kota didn’t love everybody. She did love the ladies, and if you were a guy and she made her way into your heart, she was your friend til the end! She ate treats and she ran around and gave some pretty darn good kisses that day.
The whole time Pete and I were asking ourselves, “How can this be? Are we doing the right thing? Why does she seem so happy? “
The night before, we took our last photos together. If she looked and acted sick, there was no way I would have been taking pictures. She was happy that day and full of spunk and sass. I’m grateful that she put on her best face and we have these memories!
Kota paced. And paced. And paced…
“Are we doing the right thing? Should we get that damn ultrasound? She would we just try the medication? She’s eating… it’s cat food… but she’s eating! I’m not ready to say goodbye!”
When Dr. Cushing came through the door, Kota was so excited to see her! She was running around and licking Dr. Cushing’s face. Ugh. Dr. Cushing is going to think we are horrible people! Kota is acting perfectly fine! I was sick to my stomach.
I had printed out Kota’s bloodwork and handed it to Dr. Cushing. She looked it over.
“If you hadn’t shared this with me, I would have questioned your decision. Looking at this bloodwork, I have never seen liver enzymes so high. She is extremely sick and doing a great job at covering it up. She’s not ok.”
Yes, Kota was so sick. When I looked into her eyes, I knew she was “done”. That is the connection we had. She was ready. I may not have been ready. Are we ever ready?
We talked to her. We told her how much we loved her over and over again. We let her go, out of love. We wrapped her up in a Kansas University blanket so she would know we were with her. She was transported to Forget-Me-Not Crematorium in Northboro, MA.
As I finish up this post, Kota is back home with us.
I miss her so much. I miss her smile. I miss her sass. I miss the neverending shed that decorates the house. Vacuum? What’s the point? I miss our hikes. I miss her broken ear. I miss her floofy tail. I miss the tap tap of her nails on the hardwood floors. UPS just came by… I miss Kota letting us know that they are here with a delivery.
I’m going to miss winters without her. I’m going to miss shouting, “Hockey!” and she comes running to the TV to howl at the Boston Bruins. I miss my bestest sidekick in the world. I’m going to miss our intimate holidays at home with her. I’m going to miss our road trip excursions. I’m going to miss my ever-so-patient dog model and photographing the hell out of her. I’m grateful for the thousands of pictures I took over the years and every album and print I made.
Grief and healing. I’m taking things one day at a time. These are some things that are helping me heal:
- Running – it clears my head. It also triggers the good memories. During Kota’s younger years, she helped me train for races. Her high energy kept my ass moving! She kept me fit – it wasn’t an option!
- Writing – I journal. I write down all the happy memories that we shared. I will used these stories when I need to smile or laugh… or cry some more. I spend each morning writing down everything I’m grateful for, including moments I shared with her for over years.
- Photographing – I wasn’t sure if I could pick up the camera. I’m finding it helps me heal. It’s therapeutic. Kota was my inspiration for all things Pant the Town. She’s right over my shoulder every time I pick up the camera.
- Kota’s Memorial – we found the perfect spot for her “shrine” as we walk up our stairs. Thoughtful cards, candles, clay paw print, ink paw print, collars, photographs…. it’s helping us heal. She sits on the top shelf in her beautiful lotus flower urn.
- Tattoos – yes, I just scheduled tattoos for me and Pete this fall with one of the best for dog portrait tattoos in our area, located in Keene, NH. Check out Cesar Perez’s stunning work: Creative Ink Tattoo Studio (the results will definitely be a future blog post)
- Adopt-a-Stray – reaching out to Kelley with Adopt-a-Stray rescue in Arkansas to let her know how forever grateful I am for all she does with rescue, and for connecting Pete and me with Kota in April of 2011. She is a true angel.
One Last Network
It’s strange how the universe works. When Angela Schneider of Big White Dog Photography reached out to me a little while back about a project she was looking to launch, I never thought Kota wouldn’t be with me. One Last Network is dedicated to connecting pet parents to services and resources they may need as their best fur friends age and ultimately cross the Rainbow Bridge. It’s something needed in the pet community. Would I like to be a “Founding Member?”
As I grieve… I’m in the midst of being coached by Angela to become a grief counselor, a service that will help myself and other pet photographers when working with clients who have senior and terminally pets. As I experience the raw emotion, I do believe it’s ultimately going to help me relate to my clients on a much more sensitive level. Right now, I’m taking things one day at a time. I’m giving myself time to heal and to “feel” ALL the emotion. I’m grateful for Angela’s vision and the journey we have ahead.
The first podcast recently launched. Please give it a listen and be sure to have a box of tissues in reach. Angela speaks from her heart and openly shares her story that led her here. Episode 1: One Last Network
Around The Circle
This week’s blog topic, the Rainbow Bridge, brings together a group of amazing photographers located throughout the world. You will read a variety stories, all with their individual “take” on this topic. I will be following along, and I will for sure have box of Kleenex close by. Next up is Linda Perdue of VP Shoots Photography in Tampa, Florida tells about her experience with end-of-life for your fur child.
Please give your dog the biggest hug from me in memory of Kota xo