The !#*&%?$! Circle of Life
Cheyenne's Raining Silver. Mattie, my rock, my guardian angel. She’s seen me through a lot of good times and also some really dark times. Through the last 10 + years she’s been the one constant thing in my life, always by my side, always the same old Mattie. Over the past year I’ve watched her slow down, beginning to show her age and the accumulation of years of a super athlete pushing her body to it’s limits. It’s a hard thing to watch, this once magnificent creature, her body now betraying her. But hey, life’s not fair, is it?
Shortly after moving into the new house, Mattie came up lame. She was holding a rear leg out at an odd angle. Already weak in the rear, she was having a difficult time even walking. The new house has mostly wood floors that can be extremely slick. My guess is that she’s slipped and pulled a muscle. I try to make her comfortable and help her in and out of the house. She's up and walking on her own in a couple days. It's a relief, I have enough to keep me busy with the puppies. She's still not quite right, she's begun to have some strange episodes where she can't move her head and shivers uncontrollably. An hour later, she's back to normal. There's something about them that makes me think it's neurological.
On a Saturday in early August, I take Mattie to see the Holistic Vet. It doesn't take him long to come up with a diagnosis - Stenosis of the spinal cord, commonly called "Wobbler's Disease". Pressure is put on the spinal cord by the degenerating spinal vertebrate causing pain, numbness, and eventually paralysis. When the onset is in a younger dog, it is usually genetic. Mattie's first symptoms were not until she was 10, so chances are, it resulted from an injury in her younger years, though it's impossible to know for sure. Neither Mattie's Mother, or her 2 half sisters, who all lived to be 13, had this problem. At 12, surgery is not a viable option. Treatment consists of acupuncture twice a month and natural supplements to reduce swelling and inflammation. Keep her comfortable and on her feet for as long as possible, cause when she does go down, well then this dance is over. Enjoy every moment.
We leave the vet after the first treatment and Mattie is noticeably perkier and moving without pain. I'm hopeful. She does well over the next 2 weeks, then a second treatment.
The puppies just turned 8 weeks and we're evaluating their hunting potential. I've acquired some quail for the test, which we're doing in the back yard. In hindsight, I should have put Mattie and Sparky in their crates in the house before I brought the birds out. Mattie, especially, is a bird nut. She nearly flipped her wig trying to get in on the action, jumping around like a dog half her age. I rewarded her by giving her the quail when the puppies were done with it. Later that evening, she's walking stiffly, evidence that she'd overdone it today. God it sucks getting old....The following day brings a visit from some old friends, and some young ones too. ;o) Chad and Sarah are old friends of mine, old friends of Mattie. Mattie's son Woody shares their home with a Chocolate Labrador and their twin sons, Dillon and Evan. Mattie spent 3 months with the Schneider family while I was in transition the early part of 2007. Mattie, or "Maggie" as the boys called her, is special to them, and they are special to Mattie. It was fitting that they spent this day with us, spending quiet time with Mattie and meeting her great grand puppies.
About 2am, I’m awakened by a noise in the hall. Mattie’s fallen. She’s lying in the hall, struggling to get up. She can’t convince her legs to do what she's asking them to. It’s bad. The moment I’ve been dreading is here. I touch her on the head and tell her to hang on, I’ll be right back. I hurry to the family room to fold the futon out so I have some place to lay her. When I get back to her, she’s lost control of her bladder and bowels. Life can be horribly indignant sometimes. As gently as I can, I lift her stiff and struggling body off the floor and carry her into the family room, laying her on the futon.
She’s distressed. So much goes through my mind. Is this the end? Is this it? Is she going to be in this condition until I help her cross over? I refuse to allow her last minutes to be on a cold steel table in some vet’s office. Morning is a long ways away…… Now the puppies are all awake and whining to be let out of the night time enclosure. I block off the futon from the rest of the family room with the puppy x pen, and turn the little heathens loose to play. From what I know about my own back problems is that if you can reduce the swelling you can take the pressure off the nerves. It’s worth a try. I take an icepack from the freezer and attach it to her spine with some vet wrap. I sit next to the futon and stroke her head, trying to calm her. Little purple girl scales the x pen without batting an eye and climbs straight into my lap. It's as if she knows I need her quiet presence. Nothing to do but wait. Soon the episode passes, Mattie’s breathing relaxes and she drifts off to sleep. I lay down and wrapped my arms around her and I dozed off too, holding on to love.
Pink rays of sunshine streaming through the window, tell us it’s morning. Mattie’s still sleeping peacefully. I kiss her on the cheek and quietly slip away to start breakfast for the puppies. When I peek around the corner, Mattie is sitting up. Before I can stop her, she's slid off the futon and is standing on her own power. No, it's not a miracle. We just managed to get the swelling under control to where it was no longer pressing on the spinal column.
Reality is harsh. Here is what I know. Fact #1: Mattie’s just been to the homeopath 2 days ago, there is likely nothing more they can do for her at this point. I can’t bear the thought of leaving and her having another episode, lying there helpless and afraid for who knows how long? Fact#2 I am fairly new to my job and have limited time off. Fact#3: I have people coming starting tomorrow, lots of them. Beginning tomorrow, I have 5 straight days of people coming to pick up their new puppies. Some are coming from out of state, one is even staying with me. I have a terrible decision to make…. And I don’t have the luxury to hide from the inevitable. I’m a survivor. One thing I’ve learned is that when life comes at you, teeth bared, it’s best to turn and face it head on, on your own terms if possible. I have only one day to shut the world out and cherish one more day with a beloved friend.I don't remember much about making the arrangements... I talked to a few places before I found one in my area that could accommodate my schedule. They were all kind and patient with me. I was supposed to meet with an artist the following week to take some pictures of Mattie for a painting I wanted to have done. If he was going to meet Mattie, it would have to be today. He understood, he would come in the afternoon. I called in sick to work. With the particulars out of the way, the day belonged to the 2 of us. Ok, more like the 12 of us, but hey it's all in the family. I made her a special breakfast. I massaged her, trying to memorize her body with my hands. We marveled at the 9 beautiful great grand puppies playing in front of us and their amazing mother. It had been a good run, 12 years, hard to complain, but harder still to think about closing the door.
The artist comes and takes pictures. He gets to see real Mattie. Another special meal, her last. How can this be? Too soon and the vet is at the door. Home to Heaven is what she calls her business. She goes over the process with me and I write her a check. There is no rush she says. She meets Mattie and the gang. This is a first for the vet, a litter of puppies present at an at home euthanasia. Somehow, I feel this is the the way it is supposed to be. After a while a calm settles over the group. It's time.
I slid a quail wing under her nose as the tranquilizer was administered. I wanted her to dream she was on a magnificent hunt. The scent roused some of the puppies and she lifted her lip telling the youngsters, "Don't even think about it!" The tears came as I wrapped my arms around her still body. I waited until I thought my heart would burst before silently nodding to the vet. I wish I could say she passed peacefully, like drifting off to sleep, but that's not how it went. Afterward I kept holding on to her, letting go does not come easy.
I help carry her to the car. It's odd how heavy she feels, her lifeless body. Home to Heaven will take her to the crematorium, they are waiting for her. I watch them drive away. It starts to rain. Fucking irony...
I've got just 12 hours before I have to pull myself together.
Cheyenne's Raining Silver
8/03/95 - 8/27/07
To read more about Mattie and her legacy, visit www.cheyenneweims.com