I’ve been lying.
To Facebook Friends, blog readers and anyone who has asked me how I’ve been doing lately.
I’ve been lying because it was a whole lot easier to not face the truth.
I’ve been hiding behind a smiley face and snowy pictures and happy-happy joy-joy comments while slowly a large part of my heart was dying on the inside.
I had to lie.
If I told the truth then I would have to actually say the words.
Words that hurt so much and made tears come to my eyes and fall down my cheeks.
If I wrote the words down on a post or a blog then that would make them real.
That Harry was dying.
I didn’t want to face this ugly truth for so many reasons.
Obvious reasons, like he’s one of the coolest dogs I’ve ever known and we share a special relationship that is just plain different and fabulous and he protects me when we hike or snowshoe and he protects UB and Cleo and even Casey and he plays with the barn kitty, Mouse and he always wants to be with me even if I’m splitting wood or shoveling snow and I just love our Husky fur-ball so much.
And less obvious reasons, like the fact I have been preparing myself mentally and emotionally for the loss of our aging animal companions but Harry wasn’t even on that list.
Casey. Boomer. Maybe even Loki.
They are all older (we think) or they have health concerns that could conceivably take them from us at any time.
But not Harry.
When he began to have episodes of weakness and collapse after exercise a few weeks ago I was suspicious.
His gums would get alarmingly pale during these episodes.
But after several minutes of me sitting with him and talking with him he would slowly get to his feet.
There are few diseases that cause this in older dogs.
I feared… no, I knew it was probably hemangiosarcoma- a fairly aggressive, blood-filled cancer that grows on spleens and then spreads via the bloodstream to other organs.
It isn’t necessarily a painful disease so it seems to creep up on animals until one day a tumor ruptures and the animal starts to bleed internally.
That’s when they get weak and pale and often collapse.
With time, smaller tumors can clot off and the dogs seem normal again.
Like Harry did.
Until his next episode a couple of weeks later.
And then the worst one just earlier this week when he couldn’t stand and wouldn’t eat his kibble.
I sat with him and cried and told him everything that needed to be said because I wasn’t sure if he would survive the night or if I would have the strength to do what might have needed to be done.
Alistair, who is in Bismarck, asked me to hold off.
He wanted a definitive diagnosis because he’s a human doctor and they like that sort of thing.
He also didn’t want to lose our Harry.
Harry wasn’t suffering or in any distress- he just was too weak to stand or eat.
I set out blankets for him and cried some more and when I went out first thing the next morning both Cleo and Casey were laying on either side of him, right next to him.
Dogs know when something is up.
Our dog pack is pretty tight.
Those 3 have been together since Cleo joined us almost 10 years ago. She has never known a world without Harry.
But Harry rallied slowly that morning and I was fortunate to have him with me for a few more days.
We didn’t hike or do anything extravagant; Harry really didn’t have all of his energy back.
But he followed Casey around and he followed me around and he laid with Cleo and he ate his kibble with newly-added canned food and he slowly spun or walked his circles to the left and he watched me split wood and shovel snow and he occasionally threw in a “Woo-Woo” and he wanted his chew treats and he ate them like always with Cleo and Casey.
And yesterday morning was a very good morning.
He spun his circles, he shouted his “Woo-Woo’s” and he devoured his breakfast.
He had good energy following me when I went to get water for them all and I was looking forward to having them with me when I would be splitting wood in the afternoon.
I had a book event to go to but was only gone a couple of hours.
When I got home, though, my heart sank.
Harry was down.
Really cold in his paws and limbs telling me he had been down awhile.
Really breathing slowly.
I laid with him in our barn and put blankets on him.
Cleo and Casey came in and out but I eventually left them goofing around in the snow outside and shut the barn door.
I told him that he was brave and that I loved him.
That Whitney, Lynn, Jessi, Loki, UB, Cleo and Casey loved him.
That his daddy loved him and had hoped to see him again but that was okay because he would have memories of his running-around, Woo-Woo-ing, UB-protecting, wolf-howling, lefty-spinning, pee-on-Cleo’s-head or Loki and everything in sight, fastest furry friend in the world.
And that he brought such joy and fun to our family and that everyone thought he was so handsome and amazing and wolf-like and that I always felt so safe when he was hiking behind me.
And I looked at him and we both knew it was time.
Harry wasn’t having any fun anymore.
He deserved better, so I gave him better. One final act of kindness and love.
As he sedated peacefully, Mouse, the barn kitty nuzzled against both him and I.
I don’t know how I found a vein through my tears or how I held my hands still while I sobbed.
But I did.
And Harry is gone.
And my heart is broken.
And Cleo and Casey seem a bit confused.
Even though I’m a veterinarian I’m still just like you.
I don’t want to talk about my pets’ terminal diseases because that just makes it real.
I would rather not have written this (and cried much of the time) but its important to understand that everyone has a different idea of when its “time”.
That even veterinarians struggle with this final act for our own companions and that every pet and every disease is different.
That sometimes people are smiling but you never truly know what personal Hell they might be enduring.
We are lucky to have loved Harry and privileged to have shared so many wonderful years with him. And I am lucky to have had these last few extra days.
Rest in Peace, Harold Fyfe. xo