Two weeks ago we had to let our dog Cleo go. Until the end, she was surrounded in love, listening to her favorite music, with her favorite dog treats under her nose. My heart hurts and as my husband said, our life feels like a level of gravitas has fallen over it with her departure.
She’s just a dog. I expect there are people out there who are reading this and thinking those words, or maybe saying them out loud in disbelief. Yes, Cleo is(was) a dog, but she became my muse, and to thousands of people who met her in person, or online, she inspired them to adopt, educated them about senior dogs, lifted their spirits and made them laugh. She showed them how dogs give fearlessly, and they can too. Her positive influence was felt all over the world.
Cleo gave us everything we could have ever hoped for from a dog. She was my husband’s biggest fan, and she simply, utterly, changed my world.
As Cleo's Guardians
Our decision to let her go was excruciating but it was time. Cleo’s nature is to give fearlessly, but over the last couple of months, I could see how much harder she was struggling to remain true to her nature. It broke my heart each time I found her confused, lost in a corner, or suddenly unable to find her water bowl, two inches to her right. It wasn’t a matter of protecting her from slipping or hitting her face on corners of furniture because she couldn't see, or was wobbly.
She didn’t careen off the cupboards on her way to her bowl because she was so overly excited for tasty turkey or sardines that she couldn't steer straight. Her ability to follow a wall or the texture of the carpet squares had severely diminished permanently. Her curiosity and independent streak rarely made an appearance even when the garage door opened. She wasn’t just panting because she was tired from our walk around the block, it was pain management.
She was dealing with pain in ways that signaled the end. I tried hard to bring Cleo joy and fun during the day, fit for a sweet senior dog, but I could see how hard she was struggling to understand where she was, and what was happening to her. She reminded me of my dad, only she didn't mutter those sentiments out loud.
In the last couple of months, Cleo had gone from pooping by the same one or two trees on every walk, to suddenly pooping in the middle of the sidewalk. Picking up those stinky but healthy-looking round little balls, I appreciated the quality of her meals and snacks. Cleo had always been fastidious, from the first night we brought her home, she woke us up to take her outside. Now, we saw how it troubled her to wake up from a nap, only to realize there was pee under her. When she began to become incontinent we knew the time was close.
Our dread left when we removed her uneasiness
Cleo pushed herself for us. Through it all, she was a dog who gave for her family as good as she got. She knew we loved her without question, in all her big alpha girl glory. She knew this was her home and we were family - her family - through thick and thin, forever. This confidence we'd given her made it easier to decide on finding a veterinarian who made house calls. How we could let her down at this stage?
You see Cleo saw the car as an uncomfortable flying bed, and the vet’s office as noisy and unsettling. From the start of our relationship she bolted out of both places with a nervous stomach. Out of love and gratitude for the protection and trust she gave us, we made arrangements for a veterinarian to come to the house.
It felt good that we were able to give her that peaceful exit, while it was still possible. Focusing on her comfort helped us stay in the moment for her. We could cry later. Cleo deserved to go with the soft sounds of our love in her ears, and our light touches on her body.
Trying to guide her, and ease her mind during those final moments so that she would cross ahead of us was the hardest thing I've ever done. My husband whispered to her that she needed to go ahead, to explore the terrain, in order to report back to us when we each got there. Cleo being the a smart, loyal dog, I knew she would listen to his voice and go on confidently, and without fear.
What dreams may come
While we wait for her ashes, the dogs at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue are enjoying her many beds, blankets, and various brushes. It feels right that those dogs in need are eating Cleo's favorite healthy foods. A sweet senior dog right now is eating a meal from those nice elevated food bowls her grandpa bought her.
When the time feels right, we’ll take some of her ashes to her two favorite places in the world. Her spirit will be freed to chase the shore birds again along the beach at Fort Funston, and back at home in the garden she'll be guarding us from the neighborhood varmints.
Cleo was a big dog with a big personality who took up a big part of our lives and home for almost ten years. This is a difficult time for us. She was my heart dog and I found my tribe of dog lovers thanks to her. All of the words I’ve written about dogs and our life together, and all of the photos I’ve taken, are what hold me together right now.
For the past three years, since her diabetes diagnosis, I began to prepare in earnest for this loss, weaving Cleo into my heart and soul, petrified her departure would inflict a mortal wound. Time will tell how I did, and whether I can find my way back to that happy place. But I'm hopeful, because even in my pain and tears, I feel her positive influence all around.