Lissie – Go Your Own Way
Kila died on Tuesday, February 4. Her whole face swelled up the Friday before, big like a St. Bernard, i wanted to take a picture but that would have been cruel. The Vet and our thought was a scorpion bite or similar. Kila got a steroid and some meds, which masked some pain and the vet said would upset her stomach, so we didn’t really tumble to how little she was eating til later on Saturday, which was pretty much too late.
Kila spent a terrible day shuffling from room to room, inside then outside then back in again, staying on her feet, full of stress and dogonlyknowswhat, shunning the many pillows we laid out for her. Why wouldn’t a dog who willingly snoozes for 20 hrs a day rest if she was achey? We gave her painkillers and antacids and benadryl. She’d survived so much for so long we just thought it was an injury, even though in her whole floor-lying life shed never been bit by a scorpion. In retrospect, she was sluggish and not eating much starting on Wednesday. Easy to see now, who the fuck dies from a scorpion bite? She’s gotten so old and used to treats that its not unusual for her to skip her dry food for a day, or want a slow walk instead of a run. I didn’t take her to the Vet til noon on Friday, or panic when she didn’t quickly get better. The Vet too was calm about it, it just didn’t seem urgent.
Kila is 90 and had a great long life, loved by her family. The banality of saying that makes me strive to say something original, but I figure that sentiment is as old as mankind, so its probably genetics making me say it and believe it. The more death I see I realize its lucky to grow old, and even luckier to die gently. For months I’d hoped to one morning find Kila still and unwakeable on the porch, gone painlessly in her sleep. Not collapsed on the floor, smeared in a thin coat of her own blood. Sunday i slept on the couch next to her, til she crawled off silently in her own pain. Monday night I told her i loved her, what a good girl she was, scratched her ears and left her gasping where she’d collapsed in the back yard. Her last act was to drag herself inside out of the sprinklers. I’m sure she didn’t feel inglorious about it, versus being ripped apart by other huskies. At least she made it onto the tile to bleed.
I get it now, i have a pattern. When an old person who has had medical care finally dies, they crash down quickly, the inevitable being held off so long by money and medicine. I just didn’t expect it in dog-years.
For three days she wouldn’t eat. Only some chicken broth I found puked up in the yard a week later. We gave her meat puree and soup, we made a ham but she rejected hamfat. She drank water, her hips collapsing under her while she sipped from her bowl. Finally she was sitting, a little, falling to the side and forcing herself upright. Nodding off, fighting sleep. It must be a sick-dog thing to reject rest. I incredulously thought to myself “she is dying.”
She deteriorated. Her facial swelling had subsided, and Sunday we saw a lump on her jaw too big for a bite, which on Monday we found out to be an abscess full of staph and strep. Dog can’t talk to tell us she has a toothache, that was probably blooming into an infection for days. The parrot would have said my beak is killing me take me to an ornithologist. But not the dog. The closest she came was Thursday night, when she sat directly under the legs of my chair, another thing she’d avoided her whole floor-lying life. But never made a whimper.
We were prepared to put her down Monday, and it would have saved her so much pain, but the vet suggested draining the abscess and immediate antibiotics and subcutaneous fluid might turn it around. We wanted to give her one last shot, probably more than she wanted it. Monday was awful for Kila, she couldn’t stand, continued to slowly bleed from the shoulder, puked up food we spoon fed her, along with a stomachful of blood. She was whining and was so weak.
I hope she forgave us her last torment for 3+ yrs living with Valley Fever and 6 months of steady painkillers; medicine had been good to her so far. Any bitterness she may have felt went into the incinerator with her. They knocked $25 off the cremation price, because she was no longer 51-100 lbs. Only my guilt remains. Would you risk 1 day of pain for a chance at a few more months? I would, so I will not self-flagellate. I’m just really, really sad.
The last morning I carried her on a blanket curled up like a baby, a little dogball. I had never carried her that way before, and she had never looked at me with resignation before. Kila always looked at you like she…had a say in the matter. Always her bright eyes said she was ready, ready for something, ready to stand there slack-jawed and await the train bearing down on her but ready nonetheless to face that train. She finally was calm after they gave her the sedative cocktail, and moments after the vet finished the lethal injection her heart stopped.
I have not experienced the sudden stillness of death since Tsaina died in 2001. I am so very lucky. There was Kila, then gone. I wanted to hold on, for Kila not to be dead, to scratch her ears and nuzzle her neck and kiss the magic doghead for just a moment more. There was nothing to be saved from that second not already tattooed in my memory, but it would have meant she hadn’t left us.
Kila’s fur is course, she looks chocolatey creamy and caramel, but its really a shiny layer of dirt and grim and dogscust. Scratching her for any length of time galvanizes upon you that you are intimate with a filthy lyingdownwith dog. Its the downy undercoat that creates Kila’s velvety impression. Her undercoat is so warm it feels hot, and sweat beads on your lip immediately when you kiss her. The fluff adheres to your nostrils and eyebrows and dries your eyes, sticks in your stubble, you pull back and wipe your face and squint. Chin-to-neck and shoulder-to-shoulder are the best ways to snuggle with Kila, inhale her richness and glow and butterscotch.
Her eyes didn’t shut, even after i tried pulling her lids down like in every tv show. I kissed her neck anyway, pushed my face all the way in. The tips of her fur were already cooling. I had to, and i had to smell the blood and rot in her mouth one last time. That’s what killed her, not me. That smell — decay, disease, death — wouldn’t leave me for several days. It engrosses me every time i edit this post.
Tsaina took a long time to die. Her body was still so strong, the cancer in her leg having not fully destroyed her. I felt so guilty over Tsaina for so long, that we went too soon and she was so young. We needed it done finally more than she did, we’d agreed on Tsaina’s fate a lot farther out. Compared to Kila’s anguish, I can finally forgive myself for the decision to not let Tsaina suffer. In Kila’s last moment did she see herself as a puppy nursing her momma again with her brothers and sisters? Did she think of us, or the kids, or see a white light? Or did she gratefully greet the soft blessing of sleep, and fade out with a blissful buzz? I miss you so much Kila, I am so sorry.
The vet will return your cremated dog’s ashes to you, if you pay an extra $50. I didn’t want her ashes, but somehow seeing her swept up like rubbish felt wrong. So i decided the family will have a wake for her. Eventually. I haven’t had the fortitude yet; I get angry listening to Alana ask questions about where Kila went and if we’ll get another dog. She is still young and so insensitive, she doesn’t realize her mercilessness.
Kila is gone, and I feel addled. Each day for the last two weeks I have been overwhelmed by the extra efforts of prewashing dishes, so many wasted calories, the cosmos will surely punish me til i adopt another dog. I made a whole ham and my dog died. Her last act as a diner was to somewhere bury the hambone that she wouldn’t eat. I haven’t found it in the yard yet. I’m sure when i do I will break down into sobs. The house is much quieter. No double slap-slap slap-slap of her going in or out, ripples of clicking tired toenails, shameless sloshing in the water bowl or toilet, tongue sliding a plate around the tile floor, barking at someone to tell them what the fuck was up. The hair on the floor, in every crevice, in my clothes are almost gone. There is less dust, and i swear the air inside the house is crisper. I get out in the mornings quicker and have an extra hour every night. So much more time to waste inside, the kids stare at video games where just days ago we took dogwalks and explored the dark. I’m in no rush to head back out. My bright eyes are shattered, its too lonely. I don’t know how to do it, watching a sunset without my dog.