“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Part II: Day 60: Slowing Down

A few people along the way have warned us that Zoe's decline could be swift.  We think that's what's happening now.  At Lake Finley she sometimes planted her paws and did her "hell no, I won't go" early on a walk, but it was 95 degrees and we were in a place she didn't know.  "The real test," I told my friends, "is how she is if/when the weather cools down.  If she's reluctant to walk far on the gentlemen's walk, we'll know that she's slowing down."

We noticed as soon as we got home that her breathing was getting more labored when she ran up a hill.  She is panting now for much of the day.  And although yesterday she ate seconds at breakfast and dinner, when she woke up today she went on a hunger strike.  And when Kerry drove her out to the join the gents for the morning constitutional, she said quite firmly that she would prefer not to.

And then the good news: when she came home from the walk, she ran to the door to my studio and asked to be let up.  It's a steep walk up many stairs, but she wanted to be up there on her post on the balcony watching the river flow by.  She still seeks solace in nature, and in stillness.  And whenever anyone walks up to her and she's awake, she wags her tail.

We think it's time to think about palliative care.  Doggy hospice.  I don't want to leave the house or do anything other than sit by her side on the grass when she's awake.  But even then, I don't want to overdo it.  Sometimes another's intense love is a burden, isn't it?  She's such a brave, resilient, strong-willed dog, and I don't want her to be afraid to go because she thinks it's her job to look after me, her person.  Kerry and I will have to make her as comfortable as we can and then let go.

It's been a year since I came back from India and noticed that she was limping.  A year of long walks along the river through summer grass and fall leaves and snow and ice and trillium and now more summer grass.  A year of morning meditations on the balcony, of romps through the backyard, lovely get-togethers with friends, and the writing of countless dogcentric mini-essays, journal entries, blog posts.
Yesterday Zoe and I sat together for a long time on the balcony at first light.  We saw a doe run to the river to drink water and cross over to the other side.  Today the groundhog babies did a kind of shuffle across the lawn, not concerned at all that we were above them looking down on their shiny brown heads.  And now as I write the wind rocks the maple tree at my window, keeping Zoe cool as she rests in the grass.

I look out the window and she looks back up at me, entirely herself, queenly and cuddly at once.  And so I'll end here because she's awake and I want to sit beside her for a few minutes on the cool grass and enjoy hearing what she has to say while I still can.


  1. This beautiful blog is becoming harder and harder to read. Painful, really. I grieve for Zoe's humans, and particularly you. The death of an animal companion, a family member and friend, is its own thing--completely unrelated to the death of a human and not. The love, care and companionship they give us far surpasses that of which most humans are capable. My heart hurts too... I'm so sorry.

  2. Thank you so much for this comment, Mrs B/Sweetie. I really appreciate your wisdom and kindness.

  3. Replies
    1. Dear Liz, Thank you so much for reading and for caring. Sending you and your family all good wishes for long happy summer days.

  4. Oh,Nat. I'm sad but I'm going to remind you of all the ways you have made Zoe's quality of life amazing, when she was well, when she was actively fighting cancer, and now when you (it's so hard to say) are letting nature take it's course. I know you will be just as active and conscientious at this point to make sure Zoe is comfortable, or as much as you can be. You have a good support group, and a plan for what to do at what point. You are doing everything right. I'm glad to enjoy your posts about how you are taking good care of that gal-dog, just as you always have each day of her life. xoxo sk

    1. Thank you Liz and Sara. Thank you, thank you.

  5. So sorry that Zoe seems to be declining. I know how hard it is to watch a furry friend approach her end. My heart breaks for you. But for now, she has you, and she has endless love and affection IN you. All you can do is love her even harder and watch for the moment when she needs you to help her over the last transition. Sometimes being the human is a terrible burden. All my love to you, Kerry, and beautiful, fuzzy Zoe.

  6. Such kind and wise words, Kate. Thank you.

  7. Natalia,
    I'm so sad to read about Zoe. But I must let you know that your blog has been such a help to me. My sweet bunny, Soufflé, began chemotherapy yesterday for a rapidly growing spindle-cell sarcoma on her left hind leg. It can't be amputated because of her age, and she can no longer hop around. I got the diagnosis while I was in China, and it was so hard to be away from her when all I really wanted to do was snuggle with my bunny. As difficult as it is, it's somewhat comforting to know that I have a friend out there who is dealing with a similar situation with her fuzzy person. When we take a fuzzy person (we don't say pets in my house...) into our lives, we just know that a goodbye is inevitable. It still doesn't make it any easier. I'm trying my best not to mourn the loss of Soufflé before she is even gone, and to enjoy every minute I have with her. You're helping me to do that (truly, you are). So, thanks to you and Zoe for inspiring us to smell the flowers, live in the moment, and enjoy each other’s company. Bunny snuggles to you both.

  8. Dear Jolie, I am so sorry to hear that Soufflé is ill. Why are our loved ones with tails getting cancer? I just want to thank you for this message, and for letting me know that Zoe is helping you be present with your beautiful bunny in this really important way. It means a lot to me. I'll be thinking of you guys.

  9. Ah Love,
    I am wrapping you in my arms. No matter how much you've had it's never enough and so so hard to ever say goodbye.

  10. I'm so sorry to read about Zoe's decline, Natalia. I love the tenderness in this post, the very straightforward and lovely way you write about time. Much love and peace to you and Zoe in these days... Tara

  11. Thank you so much Herta and Tara for writing these comforting words. Hugs . . .