One of our two dogs, Portia, age 15, died Friday of pancreatic cancer. She can be seen here earlier in the day saying goodbye to Kasia.
About three or four weeks earlier Portia had suddenly started yelping in pain one evening, and I had taken her into the vet after hours. The vet diagnosed a pancreatic attack, gave her painkillers, and sent us home, but had me bring Portia back the next morning for tests. By that afternoon they had found a very large cancer in her pancreas and as tactfully as possible told us that the prognosis was not good. She explained that dogs will routinely conceal health problems from the rest of the pack as long as they are able, so there was really nothing to be done by that point. Nevertheless, we had held out some hope that with pain medication and a controlled diet she might enjoy some quality of life for at least a few months, but it was not to be. It quickly became obvious, particularly at night, that Portia was suffering terribly. With pain medication she would rally for an hour or two each day to bounce around in public something like her old self, but then would tire, curl up in a ball, and spend the rest of the day whimpering. I made the decision to have her put down sooner rather than later, and Mary reluctantly went along.
Telling Tigana was difficult, but at 8 years old this is already a kid who does not want things sugar coated. So Mary explained that we were going to have to help end Portia’s life because she was suffering, and resisted the temptation of saying that things like she was being “put to sleep “or as one of our friends did with a younger child, say that we had sent her to ‘live on the farm’. Tigana was tearful, but brave, and accepted that it was for the best.
Telling Kasia was a different matter, since we were not sure how much a two year old could understand. We were still debating the best approach when Tigana took the matter out of our hands. As Tigana and I picked Kasia up from Daycare, the following dialog was exchanged in the back seat:
Tigana: “You know Portia was sick?”
Kasia: “Portia sick?”
Tigana: “Very sick.”
Kasia: “Portia very sick?”
Tigana: “So they decided to kill her”
Kasia: “They killed Portia?”
Tigana: “She was sick, so they had to kill her.”
Kasia: “They killed Portia?!”
Tigana: “She was sick, so they killed her.”
Did I mention that Kasia currently has a bad cold and that she has just learned to say “sick” when she feels unwell and wants medicine? That she had in fact been saying “I sick” all that day because she wanted to stay home rather than go to daycare, but that we had taken her in anyway in order to deal with Portia?
Naturally, when I arrived home with Kasia, the first thing Mary asks her (in a depressed about Portia tone, at that) is, “How are you, Kasia? Are you still feeling sick?”
Kasia: “No.” *Cough* *Cough* “Not sick!”
Black humour notwithstanding, losing Portia has been hard, particularly on Mary. I find that many of our ingrained daily routines remind us of Portia’s absence. For example, Portia had the distinctly odd habit of eating anything metal (no vet was ever able to explain or address this obsession) so we had gotten into the habit of removing anything with metal from doggie reach. How often in a day we would bend down to retrieve a paper clip or pin or baby clothes with snaps or etc only became obvious to us now that we catch ourselves in mid motion and suddenly realize it is no longer necessary….
Since Pooka (our other canine) is a year older than Portia, and getting slower and grumpier every day, we are also having to face that he too has been hiding his decline from the rest of us. He is nearly completely blind, and increasingly deaf. But neither Mary nor I can deal with the thought of anything happening to him. Portia was our dog -- but Pooka is an old soul and, well, a pooka and no mere dog. Pooka has this profound wisdom about him, in contrast to Portia who as clearly just a dog, and not a particularly bright one. (During our Wake for Portia, Tigana remembered her by imitating a dog walking repeatedly into walls, which is a sadly accurate portrayal.) Pooka clearly understood that Portia was dying, and took to bringing her treats in her last days, though she had never been a good companion for him. He must be relieved not to have her constantly attempting to assert dominance over him in every action, but he is also equally clearly missing her.