What a difference a week makes.

Last Saturday I anxiously and emotionally watched two hours tick off the clock until it was time to take Natasha to the vet for the last time. This Saturday I’m anxiously and excitedly ticking two hours clock until I can leave to go see a puppy.

Beginnings, endings, the circle of life.


We went to see some puppies last night, little six week old border collies.

The family that has them lives right up the road (we get our Christmas tree from them every year), and our vet and her brother (also a vet) took puppies from this litter. It seems like it might be a good match.

David and I have decided that if we get a male we’re fine with that. He’s had a lot of his concerns addressed about agression, spraying, etc.

I had absolutely no idea what the dogs were going to look like. I had spoken to the breeder where they got their female (she didn’t have any puppies) and learned the mother is a smooth coat border collie. I’m not a big fan of the smooth coat. I like a dog with fur. But the father is a semi rough so there’s a good chance the puppies could have about 1/2 the fur Natasha had.

When we got there, the first thing I noticed were bundles of black and white falling all over each other in the garage, and I started crying. I had told David that I couldn’t do a black and white because it would remind me of Natasha.

Once I got over the initial shock we kind of played with the pups. It was a little chaotic. The mom came in and the dogs nestled right up to her to eat, and then she came and brought me the ball to play, then their kids fed the pups their dog chow mush, and then the puppies pooped all over the place, LOL. I actually dropped one at one point because on of the kids was handing me a puppy and I already had one one my lap that I kind of plopped down without thinking, and it yelped. I feel horrible about that. But it was a little overwhelming for me.

They finally managed to sort out which puppies were already taken and which were available. One came to see me while I was sitting on the floor, and picked one up to hold for a bit. I asked Tim, the owner, if most people let the dog pick them, and he said not really. They just kind of find one they like and that’s it.

In any event, I didn’t get any sense any puppy fell in love with us, and we were both kind of iffy about the fact that the dog won’t have a full coat like Natasha. We always liked that about her and David said if we’re getting a male it’ll hide some of the … well, you know.

I told David that after seeing the pups, I think I’m fine with another black and white, because that’s what a border collie is, after all (although the dog I have in my head that I see myself walking down the street isn’t black and white … that might be the late dinners I’ve been eating more than any vision of our next dog.)

We spent a lot of time last night looking at pictures of Natasha, commenting on how perfect her coloring and features were. After a while we realized that by doing that we were never going to find another dog. There’s none that will compare. Our next dog may be black and white but it’ll have it’s own quirks and personality.

I talked to a woman earlier in the week who had two 15 week old puppies, one merle and one black and white. She said the puppies hadn’t sold so she had dropped the price. After seeing the puppies last night I got to thinking about how I hadn’t fallen in love with them – maybe because I was in shock over the color and I needed to work through some emotion – and how this woman had two older puppies waiting to be adopted.

Maybe I need to get a dog that needs to be got. At 15 weeks, those puppies are less attractive than 6 wk old puppies. In fact there was an ad in this morning’s paper and the voice mail has been full all day. I think a lot of folks are looking for pups.

I called her again this morning, praying all the time that if this was the right thing they’d be available. Her name was Kate, and she said the black and white was gone but the merle was still there. Now, I kinda like a merle – they can be anything from gray and white to spotted and quirky. However, she said she’d just told a woman she could come and see the dog tomorrow. If that woman didn’t take it I could some look at it.

Kate and I talked for a while and she said they’ve turned some people down – one family that had a bunch of kids in an apartment, some others she just didnt’ get a good vibe from – but she’d love to have me see the dog if it doesn’t get sold tomorrow. I told her that I’m praying for a dog, and that if this woman takes the dog it’s because that’s the dog she’s supposed to have. I’m thankful that 15 weeks that other dog found a home.

So we’ll see. We think the problem we didn’t fall in love with the litter last night was the commotion and the emotion. If nothing happens we’ll go back Sunday and see them again (they haven’t even been advertised yet) with a fresh insight.

I need some dog fur to run my fingers through. The cat just isn’t cutting it.

Yesterday, she found some place to hole up for the entire day, and no matter how hard I searched or called or shook her food dish she completely ignored me. I was getting worried that with the heat she’d gotten herself stuck someplace and we wouldn’t find her until it was too late.

She finally came out around 9:30 PM as if nothing was wrong. Yeeesh.

Sure, she lets me pet her, and sure, she rubs up against my feet, and OK, so when I go to bed she’s all over my face. And I’ll even grant that this afternoon she rolled around with her catnip toy next to my computer while I tried to talk to her about, oh, a whole bunch of random stuff.

But she quickly bolted after about 5 minutes and is now sound asleep in some drawer or the pile of clean laundry or some obscure hiding spot.

Some companion. Oh well, we’re so much alike it’s probably better we limit our together time.

Natasha The Wonder Dog: Final Update

On Saturday, July 15, just one day short of her 14th birthday, we had to put Natasha down. It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life, and I’ve made some whoppers.

Even up until Thursday afternoon I was hoping she’d hold out for another month until Cassie came home. But late Thursday afternoon it became clear that she was getting weaker and having trouble walking around. I told David that I thought it was time and we agreed that we’d call the vet after the weekend, maybe Monday or Tuesday.

Just goes to show that even with euthanasia we’re not really in control.

Friday afternoon Natasha was lying in the foyer at the foot of the stairs, sound asleep after eating 1/2 of my Philly cheesesteak sandwich for breakfast and 1/2 a pound of top round steak for lunch. Until then, she’d been living on popsicles and Cheerios. I figured she was building up some energy so I tiptoed around her and let her sleep.

I had gone out earlier in the morning to get some steak, and she seemed very anxious when I left, pawing and closing the door that leads to the basement. Usually that door is left open so the cat can get down to her litter box, but I thought it better that Natasha couldn’t fall down the stairs. The cat could wait for 1/2 hour. I went to Wegmans fairly quickly and hoped she fell back to sleep.

When I got home, she was right at the door, waiting for me. She ate, we played (as much as she could; usually we talked while I rubbed her fur), I went back to my work while she went to sleep.

A couple of hours later I heard this infernal scratching coming from the foyer. Usually that is the sound of Natasha’s paws on the hardwood floors while she scratches fleas, only she’s too weak to really work up that good of a scratch and she was on flea meds anyway. I found her lying flat, all four legs splayed out but desperately trying to push her weary body up. I picked her up and brought her into the living room, holding her on my lap while her heart raced. The episode had clearly scared her.

Throughout the afternoon she had trouble getting up; if she was on the carpet she could pull herself up with difficulty, but I usually just helped her, steadied her, and walked with her to catch her if she fell. By 8:00 PM she couldn’t even do that, and by the time David came home she couldn’t stand by herself to go potty. “It’s time,” I said through tears. “She can’t even make it until Monday like this.” It was the first moment I realized that everything we’d been doing – the special diet, the IVs, the vitamins – had been helping keep her comfortable for as long as possible. Now, we were resorting to holding popsicles for her to lick and feeding her Cheerios one by one. She wasn’t going to get better.

Back in the spring, David had prepared a place to bury Natasha on his family’s land, a deer camp out in the country. (“I don’t want her to go in the winter and have to be digging through frozen dirt,” he’d said.) The spot was under a big tree overlooking the pond where she loved to swim. The problem was that his brother & his family were having a huge weekend pig roast and party with at least 100 people. We couldn’t crash the event with a dead dog and there was no way Natasha could go another day. She couldn’t stand, eat, or potty by herself. We decided to play it by ear and see what the vet said.

It had been unbearably hot the night before and there’s a window air conditioner downstairs so Friday night David and I slept in the living room again, for comfort but also to be with the dog. She had gotten onto her dog bed and couldn’t move. We did one last IV treatment, just in case the vet couldn’t see us Saturday and she needed to hang on one more day.

The air was too cold for me so I got up during the night and went upstairs, but after a couple of hours it started to lightning and I knew what that meant: a storm was coming and Natasha would be frightened. David’s a deep sleeper (he often doesn’t even hear his alarm go off) and I was afraid she’s try and get up so I went down to find both David and Natasha wide awake, his inflatable bed pulled right up to her head so he could pet her head. I squeezed myself in so I could lie next to her and pet her side and together we all laid there until morning. If either of us took our hands off her she lifted her head to see where we went. David and I were praying the whole night, not for a miracle but for her peace and comfort and thanking God for sending us this dog.

At 8:00 we got up and called our vet, Dr. Hawkins. I think she’d been expecting us, because I talked to her on Thursday and she reminded me when she’d be in the office for the rest of the week. She agreed to put Natasha down Saturday morning and then meet us on Sunday afternoon to give us the body.

David went to work to get the restaurant open and would meet me at the vet’s, and I sat there with Natasha for a couple of hours until it was time. I made some eggs and toast, curled up with her in the living room and watch a little of the Saturday Early Show. But after a few minutes I realized that this was the last morning I would be able to sit with Natasha and eat eggs and toast. I shut the TV off and when I was finished eating curled up next to her and just pet her and talked to her and cried my eyes out, watching the minutes tick away on the clock.

I was most afraid of taking her in to the vet. I had already told David and the vet that I was going in with her whether they liked it or not, and our vet assured me that I was most welcome to be there. David said he would wait in the lobby because he just couldn’t do it.

When it was time, I went out and got the car doors open and spread out her comforter on the seat, then went in to get Natasha. I got her standing on the grass while I ran back to lock the doors, and lo and behold when I came out she’d managed to not only remain standing but take a few steps toward the car. She knew we were going for a ride.

I got her in and situated. She was too weak to hold herself up to put her head out the window so I opened all the windows and hoped she could get some of the breeze. We pulled into the vet’s office lot, I got her out of the car, sat her down and turned back to close the door. When I turned around she was walking toward the building, wobbling like a drunk and in danger of collapsing at any moment. But I figured that if she wanted to walk in doggone it we were going out in style. She didn’t have a collar or a leash on, so I followed her with my hands at her sides to catch her if she fell. Just then David pulled in.

We kind of herded her slowly to the door and just as we were about to go in a woman was coming out with a dachshund on a leash.

“Can you please hold onto your dog,” she sniffed, as if somehow this dog who had to have her behind held up for her so she could poop would run after her little hot dog. Sure thing, we told her and held Natasha back like she was a fierce beast, smiling all the while. If she only knew.

David and Natasha sat while I checked in and signed some papers, and when Dr. Hawkins called us Natasha got up and headed for our old room on the right. It took a minute to direct her to the other side of the room but neither David or I were about to pick her up. She was wobbling and couldn’t walk a straight line, but she was going out with grace and on her own power. She went right into the exam room like she owned the place.

They took her back to put in an catheter IV and David and I waited in the exam room. While we were sitting in the waiting room he’d changed his mind and decided that he needed to come in. We both were emotional, but we’d seen Natasha nosedive in the past 24 hours. We both knew it was time but that didn’t make it any easier.

Understand that this visit to the vet wasn’t really unusual for Natasha. She liked Dr. Hawkins and every time she saw her was poked with at least one needle. She didn’t have an IV catheter every time but she did the weekend she spent at the vets when she was first diagnosed. She even knew the helper who carried her in, because she was usually in the room at some point. I don’t think she was really scared.

They brought her in and put her on the table with a blanket covering the cold table. (That was probably the only unusual part; usually the dr. would get right on the floor and we’d do everything with Natasha standing.) I got down on my knees with my face right in front of Natasha, hands buried in her fur, talking and petting and reassuring her. David was on her side and I could tell he was praying.

The vet gave us a few minutes with her and when we were ready she started injecting the narcotics into the catheter. I told Natasha that she was a great dog, an amazing dog. I told her that she’d done exactly what she’d been put on this earth to do, that God was so good to us by giving her to us, that she’d protected us and loved us, that we were go thankful for her love.

Natasha kept her eyes on me until the vet moved in with the needle, then looked to see what the dr was doing. In a millisecond, she turned back to me, sighed, laid her head on her paws as if to get ready for a nap and simply went to sleep. It was so peaceful and so quick I didn’t even realize it was over until the dr quietly took out the stethoscope to check for her heartbeat. We’d been praying that she would just fall asleep and not wake up, and that’s exactly what happened.

That’s when I lost it.

“She’s not even my dog and I’m crying,” the vet said.

Dr. Hawkins told us to take as long as we needed with her and then to just leave when we were ready, adding that she’d call us in the morning with a time we could come and pick her up.

David and I stayed for a long while, crying and then just talking about this dog. I stayed kneeling on the floor with my hands in her fur, kissing her nose and talking to her like she was still there.

“If there really are guardian angels, “I said, “then Natasha was surely one.”

“I wonder how many times she’s protected us that we don’t even know about,” David said. “Who she’s scared off by barking, or how many tragedies were prevented simply because we had to go home to let the dog out.”

We played some “remember when” and then the vet came back in to see if we were still there and make sure we were OK, so we figured it was time to go. I took one last look at my puppy lying there sleeping.

David had to go back to work and I went home. Alone to the empty house. It sucked.

The next afternoon we met Dr. Hawkins at the office and got the dog, wrapping her in a sheet we’d brought from home.

“I don’t want to be morbid,” she said, “but she’s been in the freezer all night so she’s frozen.”

We thanked her again for her kindness, she offered to show us her new border collie puppy (she already had two; that’s what bonded us so well with her), and I gave her a hug. David and I actually felt pretty good. We’d been worried that this might be the hardest part but it actually was OK.

The drive to camp was somber but we played some country music and rode in silence. I dozed off and David told me later he’d cried again while I was asleep.

The spot he’d picked out was perfect but the weeds and grass had grown very high over the summer, so while he prepared the area I waited at the truck. The dog was in the back of the Xterra, so I sat on the bumper and touched the sheet-wrapped bundle. It wasn’t frozen solid. It was cool to the touch, but soft. I tentatively pulled the sheet back and there she was. I reached in and felt soft fur, not icicles like I’d expected. I pulled the sheet back to about her midsection, exposing her head and shoulders. She was rolled on to her side a bit, as if she was taking a nap, paws curled up around her nose. She looked exactly as if she was deep in a slumber that involved dreams about chasing the cat and swimming in the lake.

I buried my hands into her fur and began just running my hands over her body. Then I laid down in the truck bed and curled myself around my dog, my face buried in the scruff of her neck, my arms around her back, just stroking her fur. She was cool, like she’d gone swimming and her fur was wet even though she was completely dry. But otherwise she felt just like she always did when she napped and I curled up around her. I lay there crying and petting her until David came to get her.

“Feel her,” I said, sitting up but not letting go.

“She’s so soft,” David said. “Her fur feels just like normal.” He was surprised as I was. We’d been expecting her to be covered in ice. We both pet her for a while.

I gave her one last kiss on the nose, put her Dr. Doris toy between her front paws, and pulled the sheet back around her.

And we buried her.

And that’s the story of the last days of Natasha the Wonder Dog. She was a faithful companion, a fierce protector, a loyal friend. Truly one of God’s guardian angels. I wish I could say we’ve shed our last tears but they still come at strange times; I found a Scooby Snack on the nightstand last night and wept. I picked up her squeeky Santa in the yard and cried till I couldn’t breathe. When I had to tell Jimmy the Mailman she was gone I could hardly stand it.

It’s just not a home without a dog. I find myself looking around for her whenever I eat so I can share a taste of whatever’s on my plate. When I get up in the morning my feet hit cold rug instead of warm fur. I went to take a shower on Sunday and left the door to the screened porch open, like normal, and it was only after I was naked and soaped up that I realized my security system was no longer operative, because even in her weakened state Natasha’s bark was fierce enough to be scary.

I’ve said through this entire process that I did not want to even think about getting another dog, and yet the house is so empty without her that I’ve changed my mind. Not because I want to replace Natasha – there’s no way that could happen – but because a dog adds so much to your life. If I had a dog, she’d know I was hurting right now and be by my side.

Instead, there’s just an empty place.

Natasha The Wonder Dog

Most of you have never heard about my dog, Natasha, and probably don’t care. But I know a few of you who know our family well know Natasha and understand why what I’m about to tell you is devastating news to our family.

About two months ago, Natasha was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, which in a dog is just dealing with the situation until it’s over. We’ve had her on a special diet – homemade, because she refused to eat any dog food, especially the prescription dog food from the vet – and we’ve been doing subcutaneous IV fluids three times a week to keep her hydrated and help her kidneys to flush out the toxins.

It sounds really bad, doesn’t it? But the reality is that while she’s getting around much more slowly and being extremely fussy with her food she’s in pretty good shape for a dog that will turn 14 years old next week. She’s in control of her mental faculties, her bodily functions, and her attitude. She’s pretty deaf but because she’s a border collie she’s always communicated via hand signals as much as sound. She gets around with only occasional help. She still splashes in the wading pool.

So we’ve just been helping her stay comfortable, feeding her a diet that consisted of rice or pasta and beef or chicken, with an egg and bread thrown in for good measure. (It’s actually a very specific recipe from the vet so that she’ll get all of the vitamins and nutrients she needs without overtaxing her kidneys.)

She started getting mad fussy about her food about ten days ago, and last week when the vet check Natasha’s blood she told us that her kidney functions were so bad that it didn’t matter what she was eating, and that soon her condition would probably necessitate “a decision” on our part. She upped the subcutaneous fluids to daily to help keep her comfortable for as long as possible.

Again, physically Natasha’s showing her age but there’s no way she’s ready for us to make “a decision.” She brings the ball to play, even if it’s only for a couple of catches, and barks her fool head off at Jimmy the Mailman, who she loves because he carries dog biscuits in his mailbag.

So here’s the bad news. This week Natasha has turned her nose up at beef, chicken, bacon, french toast, scrambled eggs, toast with butter and today a Scooby Snack. She’s been living the past two days on Cheerios and will only eat chicken if I cook it on the grill with a little sesame and garlic marinade. Oh, and she likes mashed potatoes.

The vet said yesterday that that’s part of the whole kidney issue, that she’s not in pain, and that as long as she’ll eat something that we should let her whatever it is. When Natasha sniffed and turned her nose up at the Scooby Snack I knew we were in trouble. (She later snuck back and ate it.)

I know many of you reading this are thinking, “Good grief, she’s an idiot. Just put the dog to sleep.” And at some point that may have to happen, although I pray every night that when the time comes Natasha just lies down and goes to sleep.

This is so important to us because for the past 14 years our family has been defined as Dad, Mom, Cassie and Natasha. I’m not talking about a dog, I’m talking about Natasha, a bona fide member of the family. (While the cat is also a member of the family she usually chooses not to admit it publicly.) And we’ve only been a family for 15 years, so you can see how the loss of Natasha changes our family dynamics. We already lost Cassie to the big city life (a change I have yet to accept as permanent) so losing the dog is going to really mess things up.

Who’s going to warm my feet while I write at the computer? Who’s going to listen while I read my rough drafts out loud? Be my pillow while I lay on the floor for two hours talking to my friend Gail on the phone? Ride in the car with me and remind me why sometimes the most important thing you need in life is a cool breeze blowing on your face while you speed down the highway with the music blaring? That’s no fun when you’re by yourself.

Anyway, that’s the update on Natasha, for those of you who wanted to know. I know, I know. It’s just a dog. I’m not that mentally challenged yet to put this situation above all of the other tragedies in the world.

But shoot, this is MY dog. So I’m going to wax a little poetic about her.

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