The love affair started with a bee. We met our black beauty in the back of dingy concrete courtyard in a suburban pound. Katie was unleashed from her cage for a momentary viewing. She was instantly warm but not overly jumpy. Katie looked like a small lab with Rottweiler markings. We both wanted something different. I wanted an Aussie blue heeler. Lisa wanted a Lab.
Right away Katie came close and she was affectionate especially with Lisa. Something grabbed Katie’s attention, she pulled away suddenly, then out of the blue she snatched a bumble bee out of the air. She swished the bee around in her mouth then as if to say “blah” she spit the bee carcass in front of her. We both laughed and thought: This dog is so ours.
Katie slept on our bed. I took her to work. She was my constant sidekick in the passenger seat of my truck. The neighbors all knew her by name. She was the unofficial Mayor of the block. Katie’s presence in our lives was a constant.
I enrolled in Dog Behavior classes. The classes are essentially set up to train the owners not the dogs. Before any of the pure breed pooches, Katie learned to follow without a lead. I was so proud. My first baby was the top of her class.
When Jake was born I brought his baby blanket home for her to whiff. Katie greeted him with a tail wag and a lick on his little hand. Lily got the same welcoming. As the kids grew up Katie endured a lot. She was relentlessly prodded, poked and pulled on by speechless little midgets. I would get these pleading looks from her, the blond Rottweiler accents above her eyes arched, as if to say “Come on, really?”
Weeks quickly became years, Katie eventually lost her pep to run. Her needs were more than just food and a walk. There were the pills. It was our first exposure to elder care, with daily doses of medicine for her thyroid and her incontinence. She struggled to get up the stairs at night. We gave her pain pills for her hips. In the last few months her breath became labored and forced.
Her first episode with vestibular apparatus disease occurred in June. A dog feels like they are literally upside down in a rollercoaster unable to walk without listing to one side. We watched and waited and within a week she was 75% better. Katie was never 100% again. Then in September she trotted out happily to the front yard, echoes of the pup she once was with her tail in the air smelling the scents of all the constituent dogs that had passed by her Town Hall. By the time she got to the front door she was splayed out unable to move. This one attack took her life force away. She looked miserable from here on.
When I walked into Lily’s art class after school she called it quick. “Daddy, what’s wrong with your eyes. Is it Katie?” Jake crossed the playground and saw me “It’s Katie isn’t it. It’s time?” I brought the kids home. We cried for a solid hour telling stories to Katie and sharing our remarkable experiences with her like tall tales at a campfire. The vet, who is our friend called to say she was delayed. The kids determined that it would be too difficult to be around when the final act took place so they left the house to see friends.
The front door was left open when the last kid was out the door. The afternoon sun streamed in on to Katie. She loved to sit on the porch in the sun. The vet office called to say she was on the way. Lisa and I took the moment to pet and stroke her together. THEN a fly mistakenly flew into the house. It was big – horse fly big. As it buzzed around Katie she tracked its flight path closely. Suddenly without a much struggle she snapped her head back and grabbed the fly out of mid-air; one last great conquest for the Great Bug Catcher.
Our friend walked in and sat with us on the floor with an assistant to tell us about the procedure and prepare us for what was next. Katie took her cue and stood up. She needed to pee so I let her out to the backyard. I asked if I could feed Katie her favorite liver treats. “You can give her anything.” Once Katie was comfortable in her bed the vet administered the sedative. We lay next to her on her. “This treat is from Jake, this one from Lily, this one from me.” By the time the bowl was empty Katie was so happy. It was doggy lotto time. She gently put her head on her paw. I nodded and our friend stopped Katie’s heart.
Timed stopped, the day became muted, our heart began to break. The assistant began to wrap Katie in a blanket to pick her up. I stopped her. I did not want a stranger taking her out to the vet’s car. I gathered her up. Her once rigid body was now dead weight. I took Katie out of her house, her place that she made feel like a home. I lowered her down in the back of the hatchback. I kissed Katie’s forehead and soft puppy ears and began to sob.
We have not recovered. The house is too quiet. We keep looking for her in the dark corners of rooms or under the kitchen table. Life has not returned to normal. There is no normal without her here. There is just a new reality – one without her sweet face in our lives.