Sunday, May 30, 2010

Purple Flowers.

A story of love, but a sad one nonetheless.


When I was 20, I got a job working for a veterinarian. I was in community college and pretty sure I might want to be a vet when I grew up, so I decided working for one would be a good way to get my feet wet, so to speak. The vet who owned the practice was sort of a blow hard. I was a receptionist by title, though I was often invited into the backroom to help the techs, and once he publically yelled at me for 'talking to clients too much'. Yes. Apparently I, the receptionist, was too friendly.

But blowhard though he was, he had a soft spot for strays, and it's to this crack in his armor that I owe one of the greatest joys of my life to date:

Miss Piggy.

She was there one day when I got into work, whimpering and leaping at the front of the kennel run as I walked by. When I tentatively opened the cage door to reach in a hand, she wiggled over to me, so excited she half-rolled onto her side as she frantically licked my outstretched palm. The love was instantaneous. All I had to do was convince Darrick and find a way to get around the pesky 'no pets' policy at the apartment complex where we lived. Convincing him ended up being the easy part, as the second he met her he met her great and joyous spirit and a face he could not say no to. Those were the days before the world went digital, so I don't have pictures of how she looked when we brought her home, but she appeared to have been 'on the streets' for some time. She was thin and dry, her skin hanging from a peaked spine and her paws licked and rubbed raw. And she was exuberant, for sure, but beneath that spirit lay a dog who was broken and easily intimidated. The first time Darrick waved his arms around her (not AT her...not even AT me...just waved them in excitement), she cowered and peed on the floor. But she also had the heart of a lion. Several weeks after bringing her home, we were in the process of moving to a new complex. The first night, Darrick stayed in the new place and I stayed in the old and Piggy stayed with me, standing sentinel most of the night between the mattress on the floor and the apartment door.

In addition to guarding the door, she also had a penchant for jumping and climbing, and would often be found at ease atop our patio set. We chalked it up to Short Dog Complex and the need to survey the land from a better vantage point.

In the beginning, she was a dog broken down by life, weak and tired but with a soul that begged for love. And love her we did: rubbing behind her velveteen ears, taking her on walks and feeding her treats and letting her sleep in our room first and eventually in bed between my toes and his. She was ever eager to please, lerning quickly to roll onto her back and be held like a baby until she was lulled into sleep (an exercise in both dominance and trust for a dog who had no compass for the human world), standing atop a table to be used as a model for a friend and I who took animal anatomy classes together, and learning how to show love gently by 'cobbing' things she loved rather than biting down in joy. More than once she attempted to leap to 'freedom' (from a moving car's window...and a 3rd floor balcony to name a few). And more than a dozen times - many more - she high-jumped over our 6 foot wall and roamed the neighborhood befriending everyone she met. We were famous on the street when we bought our first home because of her. Everyone knew her and the kids would come to our house on Halloween saying, "Can we see Piggy????" instead of "Trick or treat!". And she ate it up. She never lost her urge to run for freedom, though we could never quite understand from what she was trying to get free. But she did bond to us as dog will to master, learning first to like us, then to love us, then to trust us. It was a testament to the power of the human-dog bond.

When we were expecing Luca, fears and concerns bubbled to the surface. Not knowing Piggy's history nor how she would act around children, we worried over how she would respond to the newest member of our family. The night Luca was born, Darrick rushed home with receiving blankets fragrant with her new-baby smell, to acclimate the dogs to this sweet puff of baby girl before they met her in the flesh. I was told she sniffed and ignored, and I didn't know if this was a good sign or a sign of trouble to come. And it took a few days once Luca was home for the disgusted curiosity to wear off and for Piggy to stop looking at her as if to say Who are you, tiny critter that sounds like prey? Why are you here? When are you leaving? In time, she grew not only comfortable with Luca, but present and protective of her. Much like how she had stood guard at the apartment door for me on one of our first nights together, she could often be found sleeping on the couch beside us or barricading the tile between where Luca rolled on a blanket and where the front door, and all the wild world beyond it, lay in wait.

And so it began, this last leg of Piggy's journey. Coincidence or not, after Luca was born, Piggy never once tried to escape our yard. This dog who would dig through irrigation tunnels, scale wood and block fences alike, and attempt a leap from a 3rd story or a car heading down the highway at 65 mph, became grounded. Perhaps Luca was the love of her doggy life. That I won't ever know. But I do know this: once Luca entered the family, Piggy never tried to leave it. She would stand ever calm and patient as Luca scaled her body and pulled at her ears and jabbed her eyes with little baby fingers. She allowed Luca to steal food straight from her bowl and to hug her with fervor and to even claim the warm spot in the middle of our King sized bed. She would kiss Luca's face when she cried and lay at her feet on the couch when Luca was sick. And she never once, not even when things started to slip for her, turned a mean eye or bared a single tooth toward her.

And when Rohan was born, there was no adjustment period to be had. Just acceptance, as though she had been waiting for him to come along and join his sister this whole time and wasn't it fantastic how now he was here?!?! Much like his sister, Rohan was drawn to her soft face and ears and quite often dug a fat baby finger into her mouth, and she sat still and calm, ever the patient lover of these children we'd welcomed into her family. But Rohan was drawn more, it seemed, to Ruby - and she to him. And so Luca and Piggy remained best friends forever.

And so as Luca grew up, Piggy grew older. And her patience and her joy of life never waned.

In March of this year, we celebrated Rohan's first birthday. Piggy stole food from the plates of our friends, but more than anything, she lay in the warm sun on a carpet of green grass and, I believe, soaked up the laughter and love of the little ones surrounding her. By Luca's birthday, May 7th, things had shifted drastically. Reminiscent of her appearance when we'd first taken her into our hearts 12 years earlier, her skin was sagging from a spine and ribs that struggled to support her. Her muscles had begun to atrophy. She was regularly having accidents in the house. She smelled like sick. She had stopped running out the back door and skittering across the patio with the morning sun, and instead had to be coaxed to stand and drowsily pick her way to the back door, over the step, and out to a spot in the yard where she would soon be found lying down snoozing in the warm spring sunshine.

On one of those days, very close to Luca's 3rd birthday, I woke to find her lying on the floor beside my bed and I was surprised at the realization that this, her favorite spot to sleep as she'd aged, had been vacant for some time now. She had stopped venturing upstairs at night, favoring the couch or the recliner or a blanket on the floor.

The next morning, I woke suprised to feel her warm bag-of-bones body up snug against my feet. I woke to feel her ribcage rise and fall, and I started to cry. I knew it was no accident that she was returning to sleep by me, her primary master, at this season in her life. She was telling me she was getting ready to leave....telling me she knew her time was coming soon.

I heard her say this to me, and I was not ready. I needed more time. Time to celebrate Luca without taking away her best friend. Time to make sure we cuddled Piggy on the floor and fed her whatever she wanted to eat. Time to sit beside her, absently rubbing the softest fur ever, found only on her forehead and ears and paws, and reflect on 12 fabulous years.

She gave me, all of us really, that time. And while we figured out how to say goodbye to a part of the family, to our first ever 'baby', she slept in a corner on the floor, curled atop one of Luca's blankets and licking her worn paws. Her vision and hearing began to fail, and in a freefall descent she started eating almost nothing and drinking very little. She appeared disoriented when she was asked to go outside, taking a moment to stand and gain equilibrium. She would come to me, from time to time as I sat on the floor playing with the kids, and look at me from mere inches away. She would rest her head atop my thigh and allow me the luxury of absent-mindedly running my hands across her smooth cheeks and over her chest where I could feel the labored breathing and rapidly beating heart. It was like the wings of a hummingbird...almost without weight and faster than I could understand.

In healthier days

And then one day, as I drove home from work, I got a call from Darrick. "I just want to warn you," he said with a sad gentleness in his voice, "that she's much worse today. I think it may be time and I want you to prepare for that however you can. If you can." By the time I got home that night, it had been two days of her refusing all food and water. She had been carried outside and back in by me that morning, and Darrick had carried her out so that she might enjoy the sun that evening. He had gone back in to tend to the kids, leaving her in the soft grass with warm winds caressing her old tired body, when the sprinklers had come on. And she had stayed there, only finally raising her head and, after three attempts, standing to move out of the water's spray. She hates sprinklers.

When I got home, Luca asked if I wanted to see her. So together we walked into the yard and immediately I sensed her need for space. Luca walked over near her, and Piggy walked away. Luca followed, and Piggy turned and went another way. Not once, not even when Luca and Rohan were very tiny and screamed like shrill alarms at all hours of night and day, and not even when their infant hands and toddler bodies pressed and climbed and poked and jabbed, did Piggy ever walk away from her kids.

And that, more than any moment leading up to it or following, was when I knew without a doubt she was ready to say goodbye. She was separating from the pack. And so I sent Luca inside we left Piggy alone for a bit, to have her space in the sun and the breeze and the songs of birds. And I went back out in a few momoents to find her lying in the wet grass, her fur soaked and cold, her eyes wide open but no longer seeing. She was alive, but she was not longer living as a dog should be able to live.

I wrapped her in a red blanket - the same one of Luca's she had been sleeping curled in on the floor for almost 3 weeks now, and carried her inside. I laid her on her side and she did not attempt to move or get up. As my mom made her way over to watch the kids, Darrick took them outside to dig a hole. Angry at the world and sad, I threw something and then sat next to her, stroking her face, and cried.

I was able to hold her as the vet helped ease her transition from this world to whatever the universe holds for her beautiful, amazing, loving soul next. I help her and felt her heart beat and then stop. Is the absence of a heartbeat even something you can feel....or was that my own heart breaking just a little which I felt instead? Either way, we two were there for her in her last moments as we were there together for her in so many moments before. Good ones and bad ones and angry and happy and sad and funny ones. She was just a dog to some, I'm sure, but to us she was family.


Post Script: Miss Piggy was sent home with us to be buried in the soil outside our home. The home we lived in when she first met Luca. The home in which Rohan was born. When Luca and Rohan went out to help prepare the earthly burial spot, Darrick explained to Luca that Piggy would be laid to rest here. She asked why, and unsure how to answer her he said, "All things die, Luca. Not you or me or Rohan or mommy. Not for a long time. But Piggy lived a very long time. And so it's her time to die, and someday the trees and the flowers and the birds will die too. And they will all go back to the earth to help other things grow. Piggy will help this tree under which she is being buried grow bigger and make more shade." She smiled, looked at me, and said, "Did you hear, Mama? Piggy will make shade for you, and for Dada, and for Rohan and for me!" For someone who was unsure to answer, I think he did so beautifully, and perfectly as well.

That night after we returned home, Darrick took Piggy around back to bury her and I went inside to where my mom was getting Luca ready for bed. We read her a book, The Tenth Good Thing About Barney , and talked about how now that Piggy is gone she will go back to the earth to help other things grow. Luca laughed at some parts as kids will do when they are uncomfortable and don't know how to respond, and she looked very serious about others. I went to bed unsure she understood.

In the morning, she asked me if she could see where Piggy went. She looked at the ground, then looked up at me and said, "Piggy can help the trees grow now, Mama! We need to plant her some purple flowers!" I told her I thought that was a splendid idea, and so purple flowers it will be.


Sharon said...

Oh Kate. =(


Piggy was so loved and so lucky to have you as her family. Lots of love and hugs to you guys.

L said...

I am crying and crying. You are a beautiful writer and I bet Piggy loves these memories written down about her and you and your children.

Lee Anne Holman said...

oh man I am bawling, you are beautiful writer. What a sweet, sweet story. All of us dog lovers can relate or at least fear going through the very same thing.

Kari said...

I am crying like a BABY right now!!!!!! :(

Bless her loving heart!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin