It was about fourteen years ago; I was managing a retail store in Santa Barbara California when a lady came in with one of the most adorable dogs I had ever seen. I knew it was an Australian Shepherd, because I had Emma, who was my “Aussie-shadow”. However, this dog was little, like half the size of Emma…yet it looked the exact same. I am sure that I was a bit overly excited when I squealed, “Oh my goodness!!! What kind of dog is that?! Is it an Aussie pup?”. The lady kind of laughed and told me that the dog was actually about seven years old and that it was a “mini-Aussie”. I simply could not believe my ears.
See, my very first job was given to me at the age of twelve. A family friend owned her own dog grooming shop and I started working for her. I learned so very much from her: excellent customer service, scheduling, payroll, how to groom dogs, and of corse…dog breeds. I could tell you the breed of ninty-five percent of every dog that I saw, always. I was even pretty good at determining what was in mixed breeds. I mean, I’d been doing it for most of my life.
Now, I have this lady telling me that there is a mini version of my most beloved dog. The dog breed rolodex, that I kept in my head, just started spinning. I found nothing. I quickly realized that new versions of breeds are popping up all of the time, some people call them “designer breeds”, so it was entirely possible that this could be true. Thankfully, at that time, the internet was just coming into it’s amazing resourcefulness, so I rushed home, after work, and immediately began a search for my next dog. I found a lady, up in Washington State that had them so I picked my pup, via picture, and made my deposit. She was a beautiful red-merle and would be shipped to be once she was old enough to fly. A couple of weeks later, I got an email from the breeder telling me that she made a mistake and that the puppy I picked wasn’t available but I could have her sister. She was just as cute but she had an all white head, and was the sweetest of all the pups. (This was before I was educated on “puppy-mills” and bad breeders. Not that all breeders are bad or that they are all puppy-mills…you know what I am saying here!) I was disappointed, but agreed to the change, so “Kate” was put in a little cat carrier and was on a non-stop flight to Santa Barbara within the week.
When Kate first arrived, she was the tiniest thing I had ever seen. She was a fluff ball that was no bigger than my hand. I was instantly in love, as were my daughters. She became fast friends with our two other dogs, Kristy and Emma and she became instantly bonded to my youngest daughter, the one in the picture with Kate. I could’t imagine life without our little Kate. While she was never the alpha of any of our packs, she was an amazing “side-kick”, if you will. Like Batman had Robin and Superman had Supergirl, that was Kate to everyone. She was always the one to make sure everyone’s food bowls were completely cleaned out, that everyone’s dog beds were kept warm for them, and to run and get the occasional tennis ball that got away (not that she ever brought it back).
Kate was one of those dogs that wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone. She was the sweetest, least reserved, most “awed at” dog, I’ve ever owned. She greeted everyone she met with a body wiggle and a kiss, unless, however, you were up to no good, in which case, she was the first to tell the big dogs that they had some work to do. She was a regular at our local beach and was liked much more so than Emma because Emma could get ball aggressive. Kate never got aggressive about toys; she would simply wait until the culprit lost interest in the stolen toy and would then quietly swoop in and take it back. She would generally deliver it to back Emma or Kristy, no questions asked.
For the past several years I would comment on how Kate was going to outlive us all; she was never sick, was always full of energy, and ran, everyplace she went. To watch her was like watching “joy”, in action. I do not think that Kate ever had a “bad day”. She simply made everyday better.
A couple of weeks ago, right around Thanksgiving, I began to notice Kate slowing down…a lot. She was no longer running around like she always had and was not that interested in staying outside. She started spending most of the day inside and in bed. I decided to give her a little time, she was still eating and was still very attentive. I thought maybe it was the change in seasons, I mean colder weather to a thirteen year old dog can be a lot harder on them than when they are younger, right? Well, a week went by and she wasn’t getting any better, in fact, she was slowing down even more. So, I took her to my vet. Her initial diagnosis, just from what I was telling her and from her initial exam, led her to believe that it was cushings disease, which I talked about last week. This would have been bad, but, like I said in Friday’s blog, it was manageable, with the correct treatment. We decided that a full blood panel was to only way to get to the bottom of what was going on inside her little body. The results were not what I had expected.
Kate has severe diabetes, cushings disease, and a massive infection. It would have taken about a week in the hospital for her to get stabilized, then she would need two injections of insulin per day, medications for her cushings, on a daily basis, and medication for the infection, that probably wouldn’t be able to be completely cleared up in the week that she would have had to have been hospitalized. On top of all of that, she would need monthly visits with blood work to make sure that her insulin and cortisol levels were where they were supposed to be. Basically, she would have had to spend the last of her years as a pin cushion. My initial reaction was to do whatever we needed to do, despite the time, the cost, and the long term care that would be required! Then, I looked at Kate and I realized that was not the fair answer. She had spent her thirteen years living free and happy, loving everyone and everything, without abandon. She had supported all of her four-legged friends as well as her two-legged family members and now I was going to subject her to so many unpleasant and painful things? I just couldn’t do it, not to her and not at her age. So, I made the hard decision; to say good-bye.
It was such a peaceful and sweet experience; under a huge oak tree, in the grass, on a blanket. Kate fell quietly into a forever sleep, being petted, kissed, and loved. A piece of my heart was taken from me that day and I gladly gave it. There has definitely been a huge gap in the household here. I cry every time I feed the dogs and my sweet and faithful Emma, stays closer than usual. She and Kate were the best of buds and I know that she misses her as much, or more, than I do.
I do not regret my decision. I understand that every animal is different, that every diagnosis is different, and that every situation is different and would never judge someone for choosing a different path. We all have to make these hard decisions and it is us who has to live with them; for that, for Kate, I am completely at peace.
There is a bit of a humorous side to this: my dear mother was not raised with pets, of any kind. Most of her siblings have never had pets and have no desire to have pets. I was an anomaly, to say the least, and I think it drove my mom a little crazy. I was always coming home with some lost or abandoned animal that she was always having to find owners for. She got me my first dog when I was six years old. As Kate was taking her last breath, a thought came to me, out of the blue…Mom was up in heaven, getting all of my animals! I could hear her voice, as clear as day, sternly saying, “Tammy Lorraine! Another one?!” Oh Mom, just wait, it’s only just begun.
Many blessings to you and your four-legged-loves ~ Tammy