Sunday, July 18, 2010

Us Old Dogs Have To Stick Together

My dog and best girl friend is sick. Asti, my whippet, shepherd mix is in the hospital tonight after being diagnosed with vestibular neuritis. I found her this morning sick as a dog. She was unable to walk, vomiting profusely and her eyes were rattling in her head like nothing I have ever witnessed in animals or as a nurse in humans. Her head twitched uncontrollably as she looked my direction trying desperately to focus on my face. I had thought when I first saw her symptoms that she might be having a stroke. I was a geriatric nurse for over 20 years, so my experience with anyone of age was limited to humans. I was out of my league and knew I needed help.
Michael was at work, the kids weren't up and I was shaking like a leaf. I knew the first thing I had to do was to try and calm myself. I closed my eyes and took a single deep breath. My girl was depending on me to do the right thing by her and I was not about to let her down. I got dressed, woke the kids, while calling Mike. I looked up the number for the twenty four hour animal hospital, telling them all I had seen and that I was bringing her in. I carried Asti to the car, whispering to her to hang on until I get her help. Driving, the tears ran down my face. My greatest fear was that I was going to have to let my best friend go. I had thought about this situation for a while now. My girl is 14 years old, 98 in human years. We had been so fortunate that she had always been such a healthy animal requiring only vaccinations and being spade. She is the pack leader in the house and had been since the day she was brought to us. The other dogs, Schnitzel and BoBo paced, circling around us while we were in the apartment. They sensed something was terribly wrong. They are both in love with Asti, vying for her constant attention.
Asti is not a hugger. She loves being petted, wallowing in affection, but is intolerant of being held. I knew instantly that when I picked her up she was really sick because she rested her head against my shoulder, seemingly grateful for the help.
I got Asti for the kids after my divorce. I had bought a house and the kids really wanted a puppy to love,protect and play with. Their world had been turned upside down. I had pulled them from the only house they had ever known. I had moved them out, away from their father without their consent. They were trying to adjust the best they could and I agreed that a puppy might be just the thing to help us all.
I contacted a number from the newspaper for a dog that had been rescued. We agreed to meet at my new house. Asti was quiet, shaky and nervous. She settled in by curling up on a pillow I had gotten for her and she didn't really move much for several weeks. She slept more than any other four month old puppy I had ever seen. The kids would go up to her, petting her, talking to her and still she didn't move. I took her outside to potty, fed her special treats as she continued her narcolepsy.
The kids pouted, "She doesn't do anything. You got us a broken dog, Mom. Why doesn't she move?" Perplexed I watched our new family member, pleading her after the kids were in bed to try and be more fun. "C'mon girl, just try and play tomorrow. The kids love you. Can't you at least try and walk around a little bit?" Asti's tail would wag, as she looked at me with her big brown doe eyes. Soon enough, Asti was running circles around the kids in our backyard, herding them in, keeping a watchful eye on my brood. She became the Nanny, like from Peter Pan. No one dared enter our house or yard without her approval. Her total devotion to her kids kept strangers at bay. I never worried about the kids playing in the yard as long as Asti was near them. She was my better half.
When Danny died the house felt dark, dank, depressing. Asti felt the heaviness, guarding us all the more. She stayed near the kids and me, lying at our feet, at the ready in case we needed her. So often we did need her to remind us to keep living, breathing, smiling, even when it seemed so much easier not to. She was my only friend on the nights when I felt like I wouldn't survive the grief, fear and anxiety. Asti kept me going when I felt like giving up.
It is my turn to be there for my girl, like she has been there for me a thousand times before. I will be at her side until this is resolved. As my tears flow for my girl, I feel so lucky to have a dog like her. She has been exceptional in loyalty and love. I can't imagine my life without her, but I will guard her life, her dignity and her legacy, knowing if it is her time, I will pull from the strength she has shown me for 14 long years. Today when I went in to look at her, as she laid in her hospital kennel, I whispered it would be alright. I watched her, careful not to upset her, as she needs dark, quiet and rest in order to have a fighting chance to heal. She can't focus on anything right now for any length of time, but she looked at me until it was too painful for her to continue. She wagged her tail and then laid her head down to rest, spent from the strain. I willed my strength to her. My heart pushed hard against my chest, radiating the love I feel for my loyal friend. I call every few hours to check on my girl. There is very slow progress, but I need to be cautiously optimistic.
I know what real love is. That is the greatest lesson my girlfriend had taught me, back when it would have been so easy to give up on love. That is truly her legacy, the ability to teach this old dog a new trick.

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