~Wednesday, December 2, 2015

My Heart

My dog died.

The Femme Fatale was always a supporting character on my blog, rarely making appearances because she was an ever-present constant in my life. I've had her since I was 19; I was never an adult without her.

She got cancer. The things that we thought were not cancer turned out to be cancer. Last November she had an operation on her elbow to remove a soft-tissue tumor. Then in January, she had another operation to remove a growing fatty tumor on her hind leg. It turned out that the elbow cancer was more dangerous that the hind-leg cancer, but it was the latter that killed her.

I tried to take care of her. When she had elbow surgery, she had to be in a leg cast that prevented her from going up and down stairs for a month. I took time off work while she recovered. We live in a second floor walk-up, so we carried her up and down those stairs until she eventually figured out that she could use her cast as a launching pad.

Six weeks later we were back at the surgeon's office. Her hind leg kept growing and growing. She had surgery in 2009 to remove a fatty mass, and I thought this was the same thing. Cut out the mass and we'll be good to go. But the pathology came back stage 1 cancer, and it was impossible to get clean margins on the tumor without disfiguring her hip. I did not want to disfigure my senior dog. She was 14 and beyond her life expectancy. We hoped and prayed that the fatty tumor would take its time to grow back.

While the Femme Fatale healed, she became a brand new dog, sprinting around my dad's backyard. She acted like she was 2, not 14 and a half. But this wonderful last hurrah only lasted for a few months. The tumor came back, and because there was a fresh blood supply from the surgery, it came back faster. She was gone in 6 months.

It was terrible and it was traumatic and it still makes me cry. I did things and I saw things that I was not prepared for as a non-medical professional. The sight of blood still feels like a gunshot to my own heart. But I did them because I loved this dog. She was my heart.

I hoped every day that I would come home from work and find her gone so that I wouldn't have to make the life-ending decision. But neither life nor death works that way. I made Abraham call the vet because I couldn't and we loaded her into the car and she stuck her head out the window on the way there.

It's not fair.

The things you love should have to be there forever; they shouldn't be allowed to leave you. I changed without her. My heart was irreparably broken. I couldn't process stessors the way I normally could. I didn't realize how much I had relied on her for my own emotional well-being. I couldn't lay on the floor and stroke her fur. I would dream about her standing by my nightstand and begging for snacks they way she had only weeks before.

The response I received from my other pet-loving friends was the only thing that helped. A friend of my mom's went to the animal shelter the same day and bought every single dog there a Frosty Paw in the Femme Fatale's name. My work sent flowers, something they didn't even do when my grandparents died. A friend made a donation to a husky rescue in the Femme Fatale's name and sent me a shadow box to display her collar. Another friend sent a card with her picture on it. Another friend had a blanket made with pictures of her. I'm very lucky to have such thoughtful people in my life.

I don't want to end this on a depressing note, so I'll speed up the timeline. Two months later we went to a Petsmart to look at the "ugly" dogs as I called them at the time. "They aren't pretty, so I know we aren't getting one," I had told Abe at the time. But the husky rescue had one girl who looked just enough like the Femme Fatale but also was just different enough. A red husky, taller and leaner, with one blue eye and one hazel eye. One eye to see heaven and one eye to see earth. She came home with us the same day.

We honored the Femme Fatale's life by saving another dog's life. The new dog was an owner surrender to a high-kill shelter in Tennessee. She was pulled by a lady who worked there until a rescue could make room for her. I'm grateful for that lady.

The hole in my heart for the Femme Fatale isn't filled. I don't think it will ever be. She is the first love of my life. I still miss her every day and think about her every day. I wonder if the two dogs would have liked each other. Probably not; the Femme Fatale was very much an only dog. But it feels good to laugh again.