My dog, Victoria, is dying. She has congestive heart failure. It all began in December 2011 when, one night, she began to cough and have trouble breathing. When I took her in to see my veterinarian, she told me that Vicki’s left heart valve was leaky. But there was still time; medications and rest could prolong her life. In July, Vicki took a turn for the worse; her right heart valve had begun to leak. But my wonderful veterinarian adjusted the medication, and Vicki is still around and happy, at least for a while.
There have been a few changes in our life together. Vicki cannot go out and run in the fields like she used to do. She still goes out into the fenced area but no more running free. I can tell that she misses this. Every day when she awakens, she runs to the door to the outside and looks at it hopefully. And the medication makes her lose control over her bladder every now and then. It’s probably my imagination, but I sometimes think that she looks a bit embarrassed at the puddles. I also find myself spending a bit more time at home these days to be with Vicki and the other dogs. And I probably give them all more treats than I used to do.
So far as I can tell, Vicki really doesn’t know she’s sick let alone that our days together are numbered. In fact, I have to make sure that I don’t look upset when I’m with her. She may not know that she’s sick, but she can quickly tell if I’m upset. She’s sweet about it and comes over and licks my face to comfort me. I usually have to go in the bathroom to hide for a few minutes when that happens.
Losing a dog or any companion animal is a hard thing. I don’t have any children so, like so many Americans, my dogs and cats have become children substitutes even though I know that’s not really a good thing. Of course, dogs don’t live as long as people, so when we adopt a dog and bring him or her into our lives, it has to be in the knowledge that we’ll probably outlive them. On the other hand, at 60, I often think that maybe I’ll get lucky and my dogs and cats might stick around as long as I will. Unfortunately, that probably won’t be the case for Vicki, not unless my demise is unexpectedly imminent.
It is hard to lose a dog. It’s losing a friend and a family member. Dogs give unconditional love to their human companions. They steal food, mess up carpets and can bark in the middle of the night loud enough to wake the dead, but they are wonderful companions. As I contemplate losing my friend Vicki, alas, in the not to distant future, I do feel sad, but I also feel grateful. She has been a wonderful, loving friend and companion for more than a decade, a decade that was not easy for me in many ways.
She has made me appreciate the joys of that special relationship humans and canines have shared for tens of thousands of years. She and my other canine and feline companions have enriched my life and filled it with love. There can be no greater gift, and every day that I have with her is an additional gift, one I intend to appreciate and never forget. For those of you who’ve never had an animal companion, it’s not too late. Visit the Humane Society, who gave me Vicki, and find a special friend and fill your life with joy.