This is not the blog post I wanted to write today.
It's the holiday season, and I want to help you get into the spirit and share all of the great Nashville-based goodies that should be on your wish-lists or under your trees.
Instead, I'm cuddled up with my oldest dog, Sasha, watching her go through what appears to be the last stages of liver cancer. Praying that I won't lose her over the holidays (and knowing I likely will).
If you're a regular follower then you know I am a dog lover and animal rescue advocate. You've read all about my foster dog, Rhoda, who has been with me for the last four months of her long journey towards recovery. Eight years ago I found my brindle boy Jack, literally in a ditch, starved, swollen, and suffering from Demodex. He's at my feet as I write this.
But 12-year-old Sasha has always been the one to whom I feel most connected. It could be because I've had her since she was five weeks old, no bigger than my foot, weighing in at a whopping two pounds. More likely it's because I see so much of myself in her personality. She is an intractable alpha dog in every sense of the word. Willful, intelligent, and self-centered, when she was a puppy she barked at every Autumn leaf as it fell to the ground. She stole my panties from the laundry basket to proudly prance them all over the backyard like a banner. Commands were learned quickly but followed sparingly, and only if the mood struck her - unless, of course, I had a treat in my hand, at which time she was the picture of obedience until she could snatch it up and wolf it down. She has chased away mice and consumed small birds (after which I always felt the need to apologize profusely). She also managed to kill a full-grown hare that she proceeded to drag through the house, entrails in tow; a look of maniacal satisfaction on her face.
Most of the time she seemed to have more in common with a cat than a mutt. My better half would laugh when I would tell her, "you should never be unhappy", because she seemed to embrace that as her mantra. Sasha slept as late as she wanted, ate what she wanted, let me pet her when and if she wanted. If I dared displease her she would shake her head back and forth and mutter a "pfft-hurrumphh", and if her dinner wasn't provided in what she deemed to be a timely manner she'd start punching me in the shin until she got it. Only two things compelled her to be close, leadership and illness. In true alpha dog fashion Sasha insisted on walking directly ahead of me during my backyard exercise walks. She's also one of the few dogs I've had that actually wants to be cuddled and coddled when she's not feeling well.
So, several months ago, when she started following me everywhere and setting down beside me I knew there was a problem. Lots of bloodwork and an ultrasound revealed at least three tumors on her liver - one if them 7.5cm in size. They have all but taken over her liver to the point of being inoperable. My vet said she could live another year or so. That was last month. She stopped eating yesterday and sores are beginning to appear on her belly. I fear that the end is near, and I vow that Sasha will not suffer - not be unhappy - just to stick around for my sake.
I'm writing this from some bizarre out-of-body plane that contains my composure. The truth is I am one thin hair away from a complete breakdown. The truth is that I have often found it difficult to deal with people - whether that is a fault of mine or theirs I don't know. I've found it especially difficult to try to negotiate with some people who have used the word "family" as both a dagger to wound me and a blanket absolution for all of their misdeeds. I've spent a large chunk of my middle age as a recluse, either feeling guilty for things I wish I'd done differently or feeling overwhelmed by people with agendas I refused to conform to.
But a dog gives us all the opportunity to be a better person every moment of every day. i knew when I scooped that tiny pink and blonde puppy into my arms to save her from Animal Control that I would likely outlive her. I could not have imagined how profoundly I have come to love her, nor how immensely she has changed the way I deal with people. She is the one thing in my life I've done right.
She will die at home, wearing her cupcake Sunnyband dog collar, and we will bury her in the backyard that she has spent her life exploring. I will bury a piece of my heart with her.