The Last Chapter

Posted by & filed under my life, The Puppy Diaries.

It’s been a long time since I wrote a puppies diary post, which began as an outlet for my experiences raising Columbus. Six years have passed, in fact. Koda is lame and mostly deaf and seems to have a harder time seeing in the dark. She’s going to be 14 next month, and I’ve been preparing my heart for the inevitable, watching her closely to make sure she doesn’t seem in pain. Because I won’t keep her here once she isn’t living a good life.

What I never expected was for Columbus to leave us first. He died last night. I hadn’t prepared my heart for that, and it has been smashed into a million pieces. Andy’s, too. Columbus really wound up being Andy’s dog. The kind of dog that you can snuggle with and pet until the cows come home. Evenings found Columbus at Andy’s feet, looking for snuggles (and food). Just the other day Andy said, “watch this, it takes 3 seconds for him to open his eyes when I stop.” Andy was petting him, and Columbus had his head in Andy’s lap, eyes closed, look of complete bliss on his face. Then Andy stopped, his hand hovering over Columbus’ head, and we counted, “1, 2, 3” (I’m not sure we made to three). And Columbus’ eyes popped open. Andy’s hand returned to his head and Columbus’ face returned to its bliss.

Not to say that Columbus wasn’t my dog, too, or anybody’s dog, really. You were human, he adored you. I was the one that took him walking and hiking with me all these years. And to training classes. And brushed him. And shared in the feeding duties. And took him to the vet. And petted him here and there (but not everywhere).

Andy and I both went to the animal hospital last night. I’m really glad about that based on how it turned out because we were both able to be with him as he left this world, on to his next puppy diary adventure.

It was a typical evening. We never knew anything was wrong. I was out on the porch listening to a webinar and had come inside to watch a Netflix show with Andy before bedtime (which is early these days). As I came off the porch Koda was all excited. I asked her what was up and if she had to go outside but she went towards the living room. “Wow, you’re all excited Koda!” The living room was the way it was every night. Andy in his chair, Columbus sleeping on the floor near him. I sat down, we watched the show. Afterward, Andy got up and went to the other room. Koda was looking towards me but her ears were flattened backward. I thought she was listening for Andy but it was a weird look for her. So I got up and let her out for what we call “last outs.” I told Andy, “I just let Koda out, you can let your snoring dog out,” joking around. By the time I got Koda back in and came back into the living room Andy said, “something’s wrong.” Columbus wouldn’t get up. And he wouldn’t be enticed by a treat. He’s had times before that he’s resisted leaving the living room and heading to bed, so it took us a while to realize for sure that it wasn’t just that. At that point we FaceTimed Tracey, who assessed him remotely and told us we should take him to the emergency room.

With all this COVID-19 stuff going on, we had to drop him off and wait in the car for the doctor to call us. At one point I picked up my phone and saw it had entered “do not disturb” mode for the evening (we were past my bedtime!). Oh no! So I called the hospital and they put the doctor on the phone and she said she was just about to call us, that Columbus had something called pericardial effusion (fluid around the heart) and the rest is kind of a blur. She was talking, but during her explanation, Andy and I silently agreed that this was it. We weren’t going to go down a road with no happy ending. Columbus had lived a good life, he’d had a good day, he hadn’t suffered much before we realized something was wrong, and we weren’t going to put him through all kinds of medical stuff for something that wasn’t going to resolve. I thought we wouldn’t be able to be there with him as they euthanized him and asked if they could bring him out to us so we could say our last goodbyes, but we learned that they had an outbuilding where they were doing euthanasias to allow families to be there. What a gift. What a true gift. We petted him and told him what a good dog he was and how much we loved him as he gave up his life in this world and began his journey in the next.

It just was so sudden. It’s thrown us for a loop. Andy even remarked that Columbus was playing like a puppy this weekend while he was out stacking wood, zooming around the yard and jumping on Koda and tearing up the lawn. He was also eating pieces of wood, and that’s what we thought we were heading into – a digestive situation. I figured an x-ray, potential surgery. As we came home into the garage with an empty dog collar and Koda to face, I asked Andy, “wasn’t this morning the morning he sniped my tissue?” “Yes,” Andy replied. It seemed like ages ago. (Sniping tissues was a favorite thing for him to do. He would stealthily sneak over trying to get the tissue without us seeing him.)

I think Koda knows. I mean, in hindsight she knew and tried to tell us. I showed her his collar, told her he was gone. She sniffed my hands, which had just been stroking Columbus 20 minutes earlier. I hope she’ll be okay. Columbus was so good for her. He calmed her. He calmed us all. I keep walking around the corner expecting to see him. It’ll take a while.

Before I sat down to write this post I made a lot of phone calls to family, and texted with friends, and then read all my puppy diary entries, from the beginning (which doesn’t really flow all that well in WordPress). They made me laugh, mostly, which was great. But sadness came, too. Sadness that our dog (who never really quite made it all the way out of his naughtiness) had really grown into a great dog and now he was gone. He was so full of love. We’re going to miss all that love. We dubbed him the “aggressive lover” because he never gave up wanting to jump on people’s cars so he could see who the wonderful human was who had just entered into his world. And he jumped on people, too, including me this last time I came home from a week-long trip. Because of this he never made it as an official therapy dog, although he did earn his Canine Good Citizen certification, the first step towards that. Even so, he had plenty of therapy moments with people in real life. And I always joked that maybe when he was 11 or 12 years old he’d settle down.

He only made it to 8 1/2. Way too young to leave us. Rest in peace, dearest Columbus, you joyful, lovable, rapscallion dog.

Addendum: after we got back into the house last night, I realized I hadn’t put the cooler out for a food delivery we are expecting today. So I walked down to the farm stand with it and as I walked back towards the house I looked to the sky. It was the evening of the full moon, which had been bright in a clear sky at the animal hospital. But now there was a carpet of fluffy clouds in the sky, with enough light from the moon to illuminate them. “The sky looks like I just brushed you, Columbus,” I said because it reminded me of the clouds of fur that came off of him every brushing session (which he adored except for when you came to his tail). And then I noticed a formation in the clouds that covered half of the sky. It looked like a dog’s paw, I kid you not. The “toes” were long like fingers stretching to the edges of the horizon, but they radiated from a section of cloud that had a round cloud in the center, like a dog’s pad. It was above me and as I approached the house it was above the house. I stood in awe and said goodbye again to Columbus, the very good dog.

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