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Creek Running North

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August 10, 2005


The bad news is that Zeke's x-rays today showed no sign of bone deformation nor arthritis, his spine is straight and no disks out of place, neither tumors nor injuries obstructing the flow of information from brain to legs.

Thus we ruled out most of the potential treatable causes of the increasing weakness in his hind legs. One other possibility looms large in the list of remaining diagnoses. Tonight he wobbles around the house after a day of sedation, his splayed limbs a preview of what lies in store.

We have kept him in excellent health these fourteen years. The only things that can take him from us are the unpreventable and incurable. We have run fourteen years with our hands cupped full of water, and it at long last begins to leak through our fingers.

I fed him: he lifted his chin from the floor into the bowl and ate. I walked down to the creek.

At the end of the day, all things leave. The creek bears a slightest pink from the haze on the Sonoma hills. Gray turns blue turns silver. The creekside path is too wide to walk alone. Not yet, not yet. At creekmouth, I close my eyes hard against welling tears. He still lives, and at fourteen something will take him, if not this year then almost certainly in the next. We are lucky he's lived this long. Tomorrow the drugs will fade. He will be himself again, for a time.

He turns translucent before my closed eyes, fades. Wind rakes my hair, steals sweat from my temples.

A long life is a landscape of holes where things once grew.

Posted by Chris Clarke at August 10, 2005 10:17 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Chris, this is what it's like to be immortal: In those moments when they leave us, it's LONELY.

I say half-jokingly that I want to outlive my enemies and my friends both. Because I want to be able to piss on the graves of my enemies, but also because I want my friends to live their whole lives and never be without my love.

Tito the Mighty Hunter, going on 16, has the same thing with his back end. He got into a muddy pond a week ago and it was such hard going that his back legs collapsed and he couldnít get up. He dragged himself out in a most scary, ugly fashion, and I had to hold him down for a couple of minutes before he got enough strength back to stop lamely struggling and actually get back up and walk. But for a short while, his two dads were both biting back the fear that this was The Moment.

But on the other hand, as far as HE can tell, we immortal humans have always been there for him, and always will be. My beloved beast has never been scared, or hungry, or cold, or bored or ALONE for long ... and that is no small thing.

When heís gone, Iíll miss him something terrible. But Iíll know that he had the best that two people who love him could give, for his whole life. If there were some Olympian palace where the choice could be given me, I might be strongly tempted to trade lives with him, for that alone.

And for a while yet, I get to be a vessel traveling down the river of time with the memory of the always-visible joy he found in life ó on all those mountain hikes, in all those cool mountain streams, from all those glorious wildings off by himself, with all those he found to adventure with: the deer and cows and bunnies and elk and skunks and porcupines and coyotes and bears and all the dogs of his home pack ... and all the people he charmed and impressed all the days of his life.

For now and always, Iíll get to tell people great stories of Tito the Mighty Hunter, the Best Dog I Ever Even Met, and the tears wonít all be sad ones.

Posted by: Hank Fox at August 11, 2005 01:06 AM
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Chris-and Hank-I'm so sorry.

Posted by: Stephanie at August 11, 2005 04:50 AM
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Chris: It is inadequate, but I am so sorry for you, and Zeke and Becky.

Posted by: Becca at August 11, 2005 04:58 AM
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Chris, I look at my elderly little guy snoozing at my feet (important to get breakfast digested properly, you know) and realize that, at 13, it's all gravy from here on. He's still spry, though, and loves his evening walk through the neighborhood, loves his toys and his food and sleeping on Mom and Dad's bed at night in this new puzzling house. He lives in the moment, he doesn't wonder what happened to the old house. He'll look for Laura a bit when she leaves for college, and then figure that we'll handle it.

Zeke's living in the moment, too. Dogs, I am convinced, don't think in terms of loss, they just cope. He's a happy guy with you and Becky and Thistle around, and when he closes his eyes you'll know that he had a life any dog would envy.

You're going to miss him, though. I know you and I don't believe the same things, but it's always been my opinion that it would be a pretty poor sort of Heaven that didn't include our beloved animals. I love the notion that our mutual friend Madeleine's Emily went walkies when Maddy came to get her that last time. Maybe Zeke will be the one to come and get you for that final hike in the desert.

Posted by: Vicki at August 11, 2005 05:17 AM
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In the past six years we've lost three elderly cats. The male was in perfect health until some neurological disorder took him out in a month. The females lingered into rather feeble old age. And as painful as all those were--it's painful now to write about them--it's also some of my fondest memories of them, the time when the only thing between us was caring, when there was no more yelling at them to get off the freakin' kitchen counter. I'm glad you can share some of that with us, Chris.

Posted by: doghouse riley at August 11, 2005 08:39 AM
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A few months ago, my wife and I lost our cat to kidney failure. He was only 10, just devastating.

I don't understand why, but the death of a beloved pet tends to hit me harder than the deaths of most humans. There's something about the fact that our pets are so innocent and unconditionally loving, moreso than any human could ever be... It just seems so unfair that they should have to die.

Posted by: Mike Anderson at August 11, 2005 08:55 AM
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i'm so sorry to hear this chris. it would be hard to say it better than hank has. i believe that individuals come into our lives to help us learn things. i believe this is especially true of our beloved canines. i try to think of it as a blessing that we have so much time to learn from so many of them - even as my heart breaks watching another dear one age and become infirm. i look at my wonderful old retriever who has endured more physical infirmity than any human would be willing to accept. and yet she is joyous and sweet and accepting, of every dog i have ever had, i believe she loves me the most fiercely. we could have no better teachers than those who love us so unconditionally.

Posted by: Anne at August 11, 2005 09:19 AM
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Chris, I'm so sorry for Zeke's failing health. I saw a photograph that might help for a while--guy had rigged a sort of trailer on a harness across the dog's chest, with a sling that held up his hind quarters above four-inch wheels. Dog pranced along with a big grin on his face. My old dear Mac died last winter at my own hand, because he was suffering too much to wait for a vet. We kept him in the freezer until the ground thawed so we could bury him under the cherry tree. I miss the dear old boy every hour of every day. Cherry tree's doing well--sweet red fruit from Mac's old bones.

Posted by: Jane at August 11, 2005 09:53 AM
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I'm so sorry. At times I look at my cats and know that, barring a catastrophe, I will live to see them grow old and it pains me. But better that than to have never had them at all.

Posted by: Amanda at August 11, 2005 09:59 AM
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We don't know each other but I love your blog. My eyes filled with tears as I read about Zeke. I clicked through the pictures and thought about how much he looks like our dog.

October, a collie/husky (?) mix, came to us thirteen years ago by surprise. A dear friend rescued -- stole -- him from humans who kept him outside on a 18" leash in any weather and beat him when he wouldn't walk up the stairs. She presented him to us, a confused, hyperactive but gentle year-old dog. Some months later he learned that stairs were no longer scary. He ran up to our second floor, circled around the bed, stumbled back down four steps at a time, looped around the dining room table, charged up the stairs, and repeated this about 10 times until he finally relaxed, exhausted. Because he needed to run, I got off the couch and ran with him. (Thanks to him I completed five marathons.)

Now Tober is very old, his life no doubt shortened by the mistreatment he received as a puppy. We've been carrying him up the stairs for quite some time. He still barks at passing cars and presses his head into our hands when we pet him, but his arthritis won't let him go on walks anymore. His beautiful eyes - one blue, one brown -- are clouding over, and he doesn't always hear us when we call his name. He stumbles into corners and sometimes slips and falls on the hardwood floor. He cries and cannot hold himself up when he poops, so we rush over to lift his failing body.

The worst is the toe. On his right rear foot a tumor has taken hold and he limps in pain. The vet says he cannot safely remove it. It kills us that something as stupid as a toe tumor will spell the end of our faithful, gentle Tober. On Monday the vet will come to our house. We pray we are doing the right thing, but we cannot bear to see him so confused and in pain any longer.

Love Zeke all you can.

Posted by: Charles Jones at August 11, 2005 10:50 AM
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Chris, I'm so sorry. Unconditional love is the best we get in this life, and it's also the reason for what hurts us the most. The only consolation - and I'd argue that it's a big one - is that Zeke doesn't, and won't, know the latter part. He'll always be with you, too, and through your words, with all of us - making tears well up in my eyes right now too.

Posted by: beth at August 11, 2005 11:21 AM
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Oh, Charles, I know I don't know you, but I'm so sorry. Love is entirely worth the pain, it must be, but oh it hurts sometimes.

It must have taken a great deal of courage and love on your part to make the decision you've made for Tober. Who else could, except you who know and love him, and can't bear to let him go, and can't bear to see him hurting? My heart goes out to you.

Posted by: Stephanie at August 11, 2005 02:24 PM
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Thank you for your kind words.

Posted by: Charles at August 12, 2005 08:14 AM
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And let me add my own gratitude to Charles'. Your commiseration truly helped.

Vicki, I don't believe in heaven, but I do often let myself believe in Dog Heaven, which looks much like a beach in the mountains where the spaldeens throw themselves and are made of chicken. And lately when I've imagined the place, I imagine Madeleine working there as Activities Director.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at August 12, 2005 11:12 AM
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Chris, I hope I am not hijacking your blog. I want to write something and your blog is so welcoming.

Tober expired peacefully early this evening. We spent much of the weekend feeding him beef and turkey treats. Our vet, who may be the kindest man we know, came to our house. We talked with him about Tober, how the poor old dog only stumbled around restlessly, how the cortisone shots that he taught us to give were wearing off (again), and how Tober's spirit left some time ago and all that was left was a painful body. He assured us that it was time. He administered a sedative to calm Tober. We petted Tober as the sedative took effect. Then he administered the other dose. We watched our faithful, gentle Tober take his last breath, and as we did so we thought about Tober running through the fields on his way to Dog Heaven. Tober will not be the activities director there, but he will happily bark at the other dogs while running around in circles.

This past Saturday evening we got a call from the orphanage in Colombia from which we adopted our son three years ago. They told us that we have a baby daughter waiting for us in Bogota. We have been waiting for our second child for more than a year -- although the timing of the call was a complete shock -- and we will travel next week to be presented with her. We like to think Tober had something to do with this on his way out.

Posted by: Charles at August 15, 2005 05:15 PM
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Both sadness and joy to Charles. My son is adopted from Calcutta so I know what those calls are like...
Chris, I think you said it all. Our lives would be empty without the love we've had for people, pets, and the cost of that love is the hole they leave in us when they go. But I'm not sure its really a hole. Maybe a shadow? Because a hole is empty, and yet the memories are still filling us, holding spots reserved in our hearts for only them.
Wishing you courage.

Posted by: susurra at August 15, 2005 05:21 PM
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Charles, that sounds as gentle and loving and peaceful a goodbye as could be. I'm glad that you were able to give that to him, and to yourself.

You've told Tober's story here beautifully. It-and all the other stories on this thread-have been deeply touching and thought-provoking to me.

And let me congratulate you on the imminent arrival! That's wonderful.

Posted by: Stephanie at August 15, 2005 06:02 PM
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Chris and Charles, You have my -- sympathy isn't the right word and I don't know what is. I've been reading this thread and pulling back and forth, posting or not posting. Last Tuesday, I had to put my 15 year old Australian shepherd down. It's been a half-year of watching him dwindle -- not just his physical ability but himself.

Last December, we brought home our brand new baby daughter. And Fitz, who had started -- as best an Aussie can -- to retire, immediately went on full alert. He had a baby to protect and it was a serious job and he was on it. For about two weeks, it was like he was 8 again. Or maybe 10. And then one day in mid-January he tried to stand up and couldn't. That day began us doing, what I've come to think of as, the math on his life. You know wondering where the balance is. When he stopped eating, even almonds from my hand, we knew.

I didn't know how much the picture I carry in my head, the picture of myself drinking coffee or even typing this, includes him. Next to me, trotting toward me.

Like I said sympathy. It's a bad word. And I miss Fitz. But, even for missing him, I wouldn't trade one furry minute of it.

Posted by: marnie webb at August 15, 2005 09:01 PM
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