Living without my faithful canine shadow

Sousa was named after "March King" John Philip Sousa because she was born with stars on her muzzle and a stripe down her face.

Life without my faithful canine shadow of 16 years is going to take some adjustment. While me and my shadow didn’t do a lot of strolling down the avenue, we did extensive walking together, hand in paw, down the road of life. So it’s with great regret I report Sousa, my English Shepherd partner in countless adventures, died July 21.

When we’d let her off the tie-out the night before, she did her usual racing around, grass rolling and happy barking, more of a puppy than the canine equivalent of a 112-year-old geezer. But five days straight of extreme temperatures zapped her meager health reserves and sapped her will to live. She shadowed me to the front porch swing at 9 PM, but didn’t go back inside.

Caught up in daily details, I didn’t miss her until it was time to head for bed. My daughter, Kate, and I turned on lights on both porches as beacons. In a few minutes, Sousa wandered part way up the front steps, panting and hanging her head into the hedge. Not good. Dehydration, I concluded based on my similar, past heat-induced symptoms.

Kate herded Sousa to the bathroom for a bathtub faucet drink. Normally, the promise of running water enticed drinking, but the dog became disoriented and got wedged behind the toilet. We filled a bowl with water and coaxed her to drink what we feebly hoped was a healthy enough amount. I carried her upstairs to my air-conditioned bedroom to the blanket where she normally sleeps. Loose restraining prevented her staggering around. We offered more water. It was mostly refused.

Kate sat in front of the air conditioner, Sousa on her lap, melting ice cubes in the dog’s mouth to spark desire for further fluid, but to no avail. The panting slowed to shallower breathing. While this seemed encouraging, I remained realistic and had the kids said good-bye rather than good-night, as I sensed Sousa would not be there come morning.

True to me and her loyal nature, Sousa delayed the final stage of dying until my usual rising time. I sat on the floor, back against bed, my husband’s hand reassuring my shoulders, and again offered water. I splashed a little on her gums and gently wet her tongue. She wanted none of it. We both knew she was beyond that, so I stopped. I simply held her, stroked her fur and talked to her.

I thanked her for her friendship. I told her how much her companionship had meant to me. I promised her the kids and I would be all right (she never seemed too concerned about my husband’s welfare, so I skipped him). Then I did the really hard thing: I relieved her of her post as family guardian and told her she was free to leave us whenever she was ready.

Sousa let go almost immediately. Her body relaxed, then stiffened, and she let out a strangled, unearthly last breath. I felt the electrical activity of her muscles dissipate as she transitioned from shadow to sunshine. We were both at peace, just in different places. I had quietly supported her entrance into and exit from this world. And she spent the time in between supporting me. One of us got a far better deal.

I cried a little, but was surprisingly okay. At sunrise, I broke the news to the kids and they picked a gravesite. My husband used post hole diggers, a pick axe and a sharp shovel to carve into the earth. I joined in the process. It seemed odd to shovel without scolding Sousa to get out of the way, and stranger yet to walk from Point A to Point B in the house without stepping over her. I need to set up a short sawhorse in the kitchen to trip over until we fully adjust, but will stop short of peeing on the hallway rug.

I still look for Sousa when I pull in the driveway or have a table scrap to share. Today, I chased the cats for sport and actually smiled when I stepped in one of her last lawn landmines out by the mailbox. A faithful dog’s foibles are fast forgiven.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sheldon Phillips
    Aug 04, 2011 @ 02:56:05

    Hi Kristy,
    I’m very sorry that you lost your friend.
    It’s an interesting way to start my day, crying over a sad story.
    It is also encouraging to see, that someone has love enough to let go of a friend, with a loving and peaceful farewell.
    Nothing is permanent, and the best any of us can hope for, is to leave this world, knowing we are loved, and not alone. It seems like a great gift of kindness, that you gave your faithful friend.
    Thank you for sharing this story.



  2. Tom Fitzpatrick
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 00:58:02

    I’m so sorry to hear about Sousa’s passing. Please accept my condolences. Thank you for sharing a beautiful tribute to a wonderful friend!


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