Last Licks

By Linda Rose
Tuesday December 23, 2008 - 10:37:00 AM

I kissed my beloved canine companion on the lips yesterday and let her tongue lick all over me. Something I would never let her do if I had lipstick on.  

Many moons ago, a dirty, wounded, malnourished stray with a collar showed up in my backyard and decided to stay. This fluffy, blonde, wolf-like creature made herself at home, and I fed her while attempting to find her owner. We couldn’t have a dog. We already had a cat who hated dogs.  

A storm hit on the third day and it was pouring outside. The dog was soaked. So I decided to keep the back door open with the inside door to the house shut. The next morning, I woke to find her sleeping in the hallway. Something came over me and I picked her up, carried her to the tub and gave her a bath. First time I ever gave a dog a bath. My young son, who had been asking for a dog, named her Princess. 

My little digger made her first hole right after she was spayed about 14 years ago. Princess worked diligently for over an hour digging a deep hole. When she was done, she filled it with gloves, woolen hats, stuffed animals, and slightly deflated balloons from my son’s recent birthday party. She carried each item one at a time to the backyard and put them into the hole. Princess would take one or two of the cuddlies out, lick them, and put them back lovingly in the hole. She would also whimper constantly with grief and resignation. My vet said that it was a rare and little known reaction to the spaying, something that occurs only in ultra-sensitive dogs: an inner knowing that she would never conceive. 

Several months ago, Princess had a mild stroke that left her slightly debilitated. I was just thrilled that. at 16, she pulled through and was able to walk, albeit slower, down the steps to the backyard again. Every now and then she would seem disoriented, and she’d lost some of her bowel control, but she was doing well, considering.  

Last Sunday, early on Mother’s Day morning, my beloved girl had another round of excruciating seizures. This time it was severe. She could longer move her hind legs and had to drag herself, inches at a time, to move at all. Her head was contorted at a 90 degree angle. The angle of her head made it impossible for her to drink from her water bowl ... and the only way to hydrate her was to shoot water into her mouth with a syringe. Not easy to do, since she had no control over her head or mouth. I did this for three days, while we waited hopefully for a prescribed remedy to kick in. If it was working, she would show signs of improvement on the third day.  

By Wednesday, she was worse. Much worse. It was unsually hot and she was incredibly thirsty. She desperately needed to lap up big mouthfuls of water but ... she just couldn’t. Princess tried with everything she had in her, even trying to extend her tongue as long as possible to reach a bowl of water that I held right under her mouth, but the only angle that would work was literally upside down. We tried every possible method and there was just no way to get that water into her mouth... except by syringe.  

Princess did not sleep more than five minutes at a time that night because she was in so much constant pain. We slept a total of 2 hours in those three days. I sat vigil with her around the clock with that syringe, sleeping a few minutes every night. She was grateful.  

Wednesday night was torture. It took up to 30 minutes to stroke her face and talk to her sweetly to get her to shut her eyes, but every single time she did, a train passed. We get a lot of trains passing here in Berkeley. Long, loud locomotives with loud horns. All night long. I’d finally get her down into a state of repose... and another damn would go by. Or planes overhead. Or a bad muffler. And she would wake up. All night long. This is how it was. I was hearing every sound through her sensitive ears and it was agonizing. 

But still, her big, beautiful brown eyes were saying “Thank you. Thank you, mom, for keeping me alive”. And I redeemed myself. For all those times she missed her morning walk because I was too busy working. 

Thursday morning, an angel of mercy arrived to ease her though her transition. I held her, stroked her, told her how much I loved her, and let her tongue kiss me ravenously on the mouth as the sedative started to take effect. Her favorite CD, a healing instrumental called Bliss was playing softly. Unbelievably sad. But it was a relief to see my precious girl out of pain. The vet’s gentle presence was the perfect final ending.  

As Princess passed from this realm, an unusually powerful but benevolent breeze started to blow wildly.  

Water. The stuff of life. My relationship to water, being mostly water myself, is far from ordinary. I’ve been talking about water shortages, water related calamities, water wars, etc. for years. It’s beyond ironic that my own precious girl had to die thirsty. For today, my first heartbreaking day without Princess, I am drinking only with a syringe. 

Princess started digging a hole several months ago in my backyard, right below my bedroom window. Being an indulgent Cancer moon mom, I let her to bury her nose in the moist, cool soil and even bring some of it into the house. The odd shaped hole, which kept getting bigger, was soon filled with half-chewed bones, a basketball, and some dried leaves. After Dr. Smith left, I had a sudden impulse to walk over to where Princess was digging. I took the basketball out and looked at the odd shaped hole. Then it hit me. The hole was the exact size and shape of Princess’s contorted body. Crazy grief talking? Both my son and a dear friend saw it and agreed. 

Now Princess Rose is in repose in the hole she dug below my bedroom window.