She would have turned 12 in April. Our Grand and Wonderful Duchess.
What words can I possibly come up with to do her justice or describe the sadness permeating our home this day. She truly was a Grand Duchess and carried herself accordingly…confident, kind, with a dash of entitlement. Along with those qualities, she was the friendliest dog I’ve ever known, both to humans and other dogs or cats. Always interested and affectionate, never hesitant to approach. The ‘something special’ about her was evident from the moment she entered our lives. When I picked her and her ‘husband’ out at the pound, I took a risk in choosing them without my son present and the reason I say there was a risk is because not all dogs are comfortable around autistic people. Some dogs react to the difference of thought and energy that these amazing individuals possess. But, it felt right. They felt right. When they first arrived at our home, Duchess immediately ran over to my son, who was sitting on the floor waiting to meet them, sat right in front of him, showered his face with kisses, then curled up in his lap. I fell in love with her at that moment. I watched how incredibly special she was and how she loved him so completely and unconditionally. And, that never changed.
She was an Aries, ever playful, bouncy and joyful, always ready-for-action, right up to the day before she died. People who met her could not believe she was 11 years old because she was so energetic and bouncy, her graying face went unnoticed. I used to laugh sometimes when she was acting crazy and tell her that she could chill out a little now that she was getting old. She wasn’t having any of that. Between her and her husband, Moose, she was the one always pulling on the leash a bit, trying to lead the way and be, at least, a little in front of him. She would run to the water dish first and he would stand and wait for his turn. Sometimes she would drink ALL the water and leave nothing for him! haha. I learned to be watchful and refill the bowl so he always had enough, also. When we first got her, she would make valiant efforts to bust in between us and Moose whenever we were petting him but, fortunately, she was very obedient and we quickly taught her to wait her turn when one-on-one petting was being doled out to each one individually.
The things I loved most about her were her unconditional love that she so freely gave to everyone, her optimism about life, her playful spirit, and how she would curl up on the floor with my son and lay there for as long as he wanted to pet her.
She and Moose have both been there for me, solid and loving souls I can count on, helping me get through the past couple of years, which have been a rough road of post-relationship healing. They have been my sole companions, through many lonely times as my heart continues to heal, and I wait patiently for the ability to open it again and trust. On countless occasions, their love has supported me and given me strength.
I always thought she would outlive Moose. After all, he’s a year older (he’ll be 13 this year) and he is far less active than she, and getting slower all the time. But who knew she had a tumor growing inside her. We petted her all the time, every day, and never felt a thing. She has always had regular vet care and had her last annual checkup just a couple of weeks ago. Her body never changed on the outside and her activity level and desire for food did not change. But, this morning, when I took them out to go potty, she was not her active, playful, dancing self and her breathing seemed a bit labored. Not terribly, but noticeably. I felt something was wrong. The vet’s office would open in less than an hour so I readied her and myself and I was at the vet’s office when they opened the door, hoping they would tell me she was fine and I was worrying needlessly, but the pit of my stomach feared that I may not have the joy of being embarrassed for over-worrying.
When they X-rayed her, it was not good. There was fluid in her lungs and the reduced lung capacity was causing the labored breathing. A second x-ray from another angle revealed a huge internal mass in her chest putting pressure on the lungs and heart. They offered to express some of the fluid from her lungs to make breathing easier and help her make it until my son arrived. On the weekends my son is with his dad, which meant waiting for the next ferry to Seattle. Everything was happening so fast that it felt very slow, like a dream. A very bad dream. When they expressed her lungs, they said that instead of the fluid typically found in the lungs in these situations, all of the fluid in Duchess’ lungs was blood. They thought possibly the tumor had ruptured and was bleeding into the lungs. Whatever the cause, she did not have much time left. They graciously allowed me to be in the back treatment area so I could be with her and comfort her. They provided oxygen while I held Duchess, reassured her, and asked her to try to make it until my son arrived. I knew, and I think she knew, that it would devastate him to be on his way to her, and so close, and then have her pass before he arrived and could say his goodbye and hold her one more time. I could tell it was hard for her as she deteriorated with each moment but she held on.
My son arrived and was able to tell her how much he loved her and how grateful he was for the time we had with her. When we adopted them, he had promised them that he would love them for the rest of their lives and they would never have to change homes again. We thought we would have so much more time with our little lady. Only two precious years together. Our tears dropped down onto her fur as we talked to her, and she knew why. We both thanked her for loving us so beautifully and deeply. We thanked her for helping us during tough times, for making us laugh, and for being so amazing. We thanked her for hanging onto life until my son arrived….yet another deeply loving act on her part. We told her how much we would miss her and that we would take great care of Moose. About 20 minutes after my son arrived, she died.
It’s strange to walk out of a vet’s office with the collar and leash that were on your dog when you arrived. It’s so disturbing to hear the silence in the car caused by the absence of their panting. It’s agonizing to arrive home and all of their things are staring at you… their food bowl, crate, bed, toys. And, it is heartbreaking to see the confusion in your other dog’s eyes and to somehow try to tell them that their lifelong partner will never be coming home. To see them smell her dog bed and her collar, to look for her outside on potty runs, to be too sad to fall asleep.
It is surreal, especially when it is sudden and unexpected. Looking back this evening, I know that I was in shock (maybe I still am). I keep thinking…did that happen? Is she really gone? But, when it’s time to go outside and I put only one leash on one dog, it suddenly feels very real and the tears well up again.
I’m so glad Moose is still with us and I hope he will not miss her so badly that he joins her from a broken heart. We are going to pour on the love in extra measure and hope that he stays with us for as many more years as he can but I cannot imagine how difficult it is for him when he has never, ever, been apart from her other than his first year after birth. Ever. They belonged to a breeder before me and when Moose and Duchess had produced all the litters the breeder wanted, she took them both to the pound. They were so close and so dependent on one another that the pound (in partnership with SPDR) would only adopt them out together, as a couple. And, when they had their routine checkups at the vet, they went together. To the groomer? Together. The groomer and the vet always put them in the same crate together because they said they could tell the dogs were more relaxed and comfortable when together. So, I cannot imagine how Moose is feeling without her. I can only hope that somehow he understands and knows that everything is going to be alright, that he is loved, and that we’ll get through this together.
This last photo is Moose coming over to see Duchess and give her kisses, a common sight in our home. Until now. She will be missed and always loved by us. I hope Moose will still feel her spirit nearby and draw strength from her love for him. And may she always know how deeply we loved her.
Please forgive the lengthy post. Some rambling was necessary tonight.