Thursday, January 15, 2009

Goodbye, Sweet Girl.

It is Christmas Day. The four of us are on Irie, near Dewey on the island of Culebra, Puerto Rico. We made it safe and well to the Spanish Virgin Islands and are happy not to be “on the dry” during this special time of the year. We finally made it to the Caribbean islands and are looking forward to some fun times on the beaches.
I am making eggs and bacon, while Mark is taking the dogs to shore. The boat is rocking in the wind, and I’m thinking about today. Once Mark is back, I start the conversation.
“I’ve figured out what I’d like to do for Christmas.”
“I’d like to move to the West side of Culebra, where the water is calmer and clearer, and where there are beaches for the dogs. It’s easier to take them to shore there as well. It’ll only take an hour. Then, I’d like to go snorkel on the reefs. In the afternoon, I want to take the dogs to shore and hang out on the beach, and in the evening, we could go out for dinner. It’s been a long time…”
“It sounds appealing, but there is still too much wind to move. Maybe we can move over there in a couple of days. We can take the dogs to the beach from here as well. Going out to dinner sounds good, though.”

We have a wonderful breakfast. Darwin is eating his food. Kali is not touching hers at all, as usual. This behaviour has been going on for a few days now. She did eat less, the previous weeks. We thought she didn’t like the new food, once again, or that it was too hard on her teeth. We have been mixing it with wet food or boiled rice and she was fine with that, until recently. In St. Thomas we would take both dogs to the vet for an annual check-up, and see what was going on with Kali’s appetite. When Mark and I finish our meal, we pour the bacon grease over her food and watch. Nothing happens! This is weird. Normally, she would gobble it up. She loves bacon grease! We are getting really concerned now and decide to take her to a vet, first thing the next morning. We search in books and online what could be wrong with her…

Around noon, some friends come over and invite us for a Christmas meal around 2:30 pm. Nice of them! Mark and I accept the invitation. “We better get the dogs in the dinghy and head for the beach if we want to give them some time off the boat!”
Without further delay, we all pile into the dinghy and drive over the choppy bay, under the draw bridge and into calm water on the West side of the island. From the moment, we reach the beach, Kali disappears in the shallow water, where she stays until we leave. She strolls through it, wagging her tail and barking excitedly. She looks for rocks in the water to “paw”. Sometimes, she moves them closer to shore and carefully picks them up with her mouth. That’s what she did the previous day in another bay. Here, the sea floor is sandy and no rocks are to be seen. “She likes the other place better,” I mention to Mark, still hoping to move the boat over there one day. Today, we don’t have time to walk to it or take the dinghy. Darwin tries to play with his “sister”, but she shows no interest. She stopped playing and running around with him more than a year ago. Her age is catching up with her.

Mark and I watch her, while we sit on the sand. The thought that something serious is going on enters our minds. We don’t want to believe that, though. She is still so happy.
“Look at her tail wagging!”
“She seems a little weaker when those waves push her.”
We’ve both noticed how she has a harder time jumping in and out of the dinghy and walking on the back steps of the boat. “She’s getting older,” we keep thinking.
“I hope she doesn’t have cancer,” I say.
“I don’t think so,” Mark answers, “We would have noticed it in her body. My guess is that it has to do with her heart.”
We hate to think those thoughts and it makes us sad.
Hopefully the vet figures out what it is and she gets better soon! She’s still playing in the water and eating some and she wags her tail when we come home…

We leave the Christmas party right before dark, to take our pups to shore one more time. They both enjoy the walk and do what is expected from them. Kali is a little bit slow. Before we go to bed, I pet our girl and let her know how much we love her. I feel something heavy in my heart, but don’t know what it is. I give her kisses on her nose and hold her head. I smell her ears. They always smell very sweet. It’s her smell.

The next morning, Mark and I find the house of a Humane Society member. We explain what our problem is. By then, we had discovered that there is no vet on Culebra. Marsha is a great help to us. She calls her vet, Dr. Delgado, to confirm his clinic is open today, she arranges transportation for us once we arrive in Fajardo and she manages to find a big cage for Kali. We need the cage to transport her on the ferry to mainland Puerto Rico. The only other option is to fly her there. “Are you coming with us,” Mark asks. “I probably should. It would make things much easier,” I reply. I have no idea yet how important that decision would be for me.

At noon, we put Kali in the dinghy and take her to shore, which is a bit challenging with the high waves. Darwin stays on the boat. This is the first time in his life he is all by himself for a big amount of time. The three of us pick up the cage and Marsha accompanies us to the ferry dock, where she wishes us good luck. We are half an hour early and wait in the shade. “This is going to be a long day,” Mark comments. Kali lies comfortably on the curb, but when she gets up, she limps. After a while she’s back to normal. Her foot must have fallen asleep. From the moment we enter the ferry building, she is required to get in the cage. Mark and I carry her all the way onto the ferry. She is not allowed in the air-conditioned section. Cargo has to be put outside, in the back, partly in the sun, on top of the roaring engines. Mark and I keep our girl company during the hellish ferry ride. The noise is unbearable, the sun hot, the boat rolling back and forth. Kali is trapped in a cage. She doesn’t deserve this. Poor girl. We are angry at the ferry company and feel helpless. We wish to take the car ferry back, at 4 pm, where we hopefully find a better spot for all of us. It will be hard to make that one, since this 1 pm ferry won’t get there until 2:30 pm and we have to get to the vet and back.

As soon as the cage is off the ferry, we release our girl. Man, what did we hate that treatment. A taxi is waiting for us and takes us to the animal clinic. We are lucky; it is a quiet day at the vet. After ten minutes or so, he calls us in to examine Kali. Mark lifts her onto the observation table. We talk about her symptoms, while the doctor checks her out. When he reaches her abdomen, he tells us he feels a big bump there. Are we sure she barely ate this morning? This is not good. He will take a scan and do some blood work. Mark eyes fill with tears. We hold Kali while the doctor draws her blood. Then, we put her back on the ground and sit with her. She stretches out over the cold floor and relaxes. We talk to her, pet her and hug each other. We hope that whatever it is can get removed.

When Dr. Delgado comes back in the room, he starts with the good news: the blood work all seems fine, nothing out of the ordinary. The scan, however, shows two big growths near her abdomen. He shows us the photos in his lab. One tumor is the size of a baseball, the other as big as a football. He tells us immediately that with growths this big the chance of it being spread out is pretty high. Kali is not in pain, but the masses keep her from eating much, because they are pushed against her belly. A shock comes over us. This can’t be true! Tears well up when we ask the vet what he recommends. “I can’t recommend anything,” he says, “I can only give you options.”

We stare at him, unable to grasp what is going on. None of the options sound good. We can take Kali home, keep feeding her wet and liquid food until she becomes too weak and has to be put to sleep. Or, the vet can perform an exploratory surgery and remove the tumors if not spread out, and Kali will heal. Or if the cancer is too bad, he can either sew her back up and we take her home in an even worse state or put her down right there and then. The meaning of his words hit us like a lightning flash and we are faced with a terrible and hard decision. This is just unbelievable. Who would have guessed?

Mark and I turn back to the observation room, unable to see or think straight. When we enter the room, Kali is still comfortably stretched out on the tiles. Her tail sways back and forward, slapping on the ground. Three times. It always made us happy when she did that on the boat, at a slow pace: thumb, thumb, thumb. It was one of the few and typical expressions she showed. We sit back down with her and let the tears flow. “I’m not ready to let her go. Are you?” Disbelief. We’re crying out loud. She doesn’t deserve this. Ten and a half years is too young for her. We still need to let her play in the water, give her steak and surround her with balls. She has to come home! We can’t say “goodbye” yet. Mark and I think through it all and understand she must be very sick. How could we not have noticed before? There is a chance the tumors are removable. We have to take that chance! Her blood work is fine. Maybe it’s all not that big of a deal?

We decide to go ahead with the exploratory surgery. We need to know what’s going on and this is the only way to get her better. If the cancer is too far progressed, we will take Kali home and give her all she needs and likes for her last days or weeks. We can’t part with her yet. After making our decision clear to the vet, we spend more moments alone with our sweet girl. Does she have any idea what is going on? We cherish her, pet her, communicate with her in the same way we always did, using words and thoughts only she knows. I smell her ears, make her do one more trick, enjoy her smile and the intent look in her eyes. Mark gives her a butt rub. “Be strong, baby. You survived Parvo. You can do this!” She and her daddy have been through a lot together. They have a very special bond. We make her get up on her leash. She walks to the door, the one to the waiting room, the wrong one. She wants to go home. It breaks our heart. We have to pull her away and send her through the other door, the one to the operation room. She keeps looking back, asking “What’s going on? What are you doing to me?” I want to be with her while the doctor anaesthetizes her. It’s not possible. We hope to see her back soon and wish her good luck.

While the vet operates Kali, Mark and I take a walk around the block. We both apprehend she’s pretty sick, but believe it will all work out. We talk about Kali, her life and what she means to us. Taking her back home if the cancer is bad doesn’t sound like a good option anymore. Her belly will be stitched up. She can’t go in the water or walk around like that. Taking her on and off Irie will be painful and almost impossible. She will be in worse shape than she was before. We wished we lived in a house. It would be easier that way. We push the thought of having to leave her behind away. This can’t happen to our girl! Nobody is ready for that yet.

We are sitting in the waiting room, when the assistant calls us in. Dr. Delgado is standing in the observation room with bloody hands. He tells us quickly what is going on. “When I first opened her up, it looked promising. Her spleen is full of cancer, but I can remove that without any problem. Dogs can live without a spleen. I was hopeful. Then I checked further and her liver is totally covered with masses. It is in very bad shape. You can have a look if you want. My guess is that the cancer got in her lungs as well.” Another shock. More tears. Disbelief. The realization that nothing can be done. We don’t want to look at her liver. We believe him. He gives us a few minutes in private to decide what to do. We don’t have much time, since our girl is lying on the operation table. Mark and I hug each other. There is only one option. We have to put her down…

The two of us join the doctor in the operation room. Kali is laying on the table, stretched out, a towel over her body, an IV in her arm. Her eyes are open, her tongue clipped out of her mouth. This must be all a dream. A nightmare. We stand next to her pretty face, pet her and talk to her. She can’t hear or feel us. She’s already somewhere else. The vet gives her the final injection. It doesn’t take long. Words cannot describe how we feel. For the last four years the four of us have been together 24 hours a day. She’s a family member. We can’t lose her! The machine with her heart rate stops beeping. Our baby is gone. She is no more. She just lays there. Motionless. Dead.

The doctor leaves the room. Mark can not stay any longer. It is just me and Kali, my sweet girl. Poor baby. I pet her soft head. It is wet from our tears. I kiss her nose, smell her ears, tell her we are so sorry that this had to happen. Reluctantly, I leave the room and join the other two men. While looking at our peaceful dog, we ask more questions and obtain all the information we want. Dr. Delgado tells us we made the right decision. “Now I can say this,” he adds. Kali was in bad shape. Cancer symptoms in dogs show up at the very end. She wouldn’t have lived more than a few days anymore and her condition would have become very bad. She would have weakened quickly and we would have seen her deteriorate. We would have had to put her down somewhere else not too much later and go through it all then.

At 3pm, we arrived with our dog to find out what was wrong with her. At 5 pm, she passed away and we had to leave without her. Just like that. In two hours time we went from a family of four to a family of three. Reality hasn’t sunk in yet. The cab picks us up. We put the empty cage in the trunk. “El perro?” the driver asks. “Muerde.”
My eyes run again. After a silent ride, we get dropped off at the ferry dock. There, we have to wait for another hour and a half. In the bathroom, I notice my eyes are read. My face looks awful. I don’t care. I don’t care about anything anymore. We sit on a chair with our own thoughts. I stare in the distance and feel numb. Tears keep appearing and disappearing. I notice people looking at us. We talk about Kali and keep telling ourselves we made the right decision. It is hard to believe what just happened. It all went too quick. We want her with us. Right here! I see the empty cage. I hate that cage. What we would do to have our girl back.

The ferry ride to Culebra is a trip from hell. The wind is still blowing like crazy. It is pitch black outside. We head into the waves and get thrown all over the place. Our thoughts are with Kali. She wouldn’t have liked this trip at all. I’m cold and feel sea sick. We just want to get home. This has been a long day. Darwin has been all by himself for 9 hours. When we walk on shore, Marsha is waiting for us. “I heard what happened. I’m so sorry.” She gives us a big hug. I burst in tears again.

Back on the boat, Darwin greets us profusely. His wagging tail almost falls off. Then, he looks around. Something is missing. Mark and I feel terrible. He didn’t even get to say “goodbye” to his sister. Neither did we, really. Imagine I would have stayed home today… We sit down with him and let it all sink in. It feels quiet on Irie. No more Kali. No more slow thumbs on the floor. No more intent, understanding looks. No more high pitch barking in the calm sea. No more digging of rocks. No more panicking when somebody jumps in the water. No more whining when we have an argument. No more funny barks when we make love. Kali’s blanket is empty. We lost an important family member. Life is not the same anymore. The dynamics have changed. She was such a special dog. Very unique and irreplaceable. More than “just” a dog. She meant a lot to all three of us and left an impression on most people she met. Now she’s gone. We don’t seem to wake up from our nightmare.


Jennifer Newcomb Marine said...

Liesbet, this is beautifully written. And absolutely heartbreaking.... I believe I can imagine how you and Mark and Darwin feel because I what I went through with Zoe, years ago and I know it really, really hurts. I'm so sorry this had to happen and I am sending all of you many thoughts of love and healing.


Anonymous said...

My sincere condolences. ConchyJoe.

Anonymous said...

I'd heard about your story here in Culebra. So very sorry for your loss. My husband & I have 3 dogs & 2 cats & have lost furry family members & realize just how hard it can be. Hope the 3 of you are doing better.


kelly said...

Very sorry to hear of your loss. What a terrible turn of events, but I am glad you went to the vet's with her. It would have haunted you longer than losing her does. I hope you have gotten used to the different dynamics of the family now, as I am sure she would have wanted you to not be sad...

Liesbet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca Olson said...

Wow. I came across the listing to your boat, Irie, and found your blog. On the sidebar I saw Kali's description was past-tense. We have a dog ourselves who'll be joining us when we turn to a life of sailing :). I know this is an old post, but so sorry for the loss of your pups!!
Love your boat, too!! If it was 6 months later we'd be making you an offer :).

Liesbet said...

Thank you for your comment, Rebecca! We are still missing Kali and our other dog Darwin. They loved being on a cat, and so will your dog, probably! :-) And, who knows? In six months Irie might still be on the market; she is very happy in French Polynesia and we are still enjoying and maintaining her well.

Terri Webster Schrandt said...

Oh Liesbet, your emotional account of Kali's last day is heart-rending. There is nothing worse than feeling helpless when our fur-babies are sick. You did the right thing at the right time, she knew you loved her and wanted the best for her and you were in control of her passing (something with Oreo I will always regret). Thank you for sharing this story and I'm happy you have this in your memoirs. Beautifully written.