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Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Very Empty House

For the first time in 22 years, there are no dogs in our house.

I turned 50 this past week. Thirty didn't bother me. Neither did forty. Fifty is strange. It sounds old. I don't feel old. In fact, I still feel like a 14 year old without the exuberance or energy or naivete or any of the other blissful ignorance that comes with youth. I just held onto the doubt of a 14 year old, that's all.

In that same week, we said goodbye to Kia. She was a boxer. She was 14 years old.

14 x 7 = a lot of dog years


We got our first dog when our son was born. Her name was Samu. She was a collie. That was 22 years ago. We were living in Illinois at the time so the cold weather suited her. Then we moved to South Carolina where the summers are longer and thicker and most definitely hotter. And she was wearing a shag coat.

Samu died in 2010. She wasn't a lovable dog and not bright. She always found the one spot in the house where you were walking and stood there. She had seizures and that was what did it. It was late one night when she had one and never seemed to come out of it. It was after midnight when I drove her to an animal hospital and the first time I was about to put an animal to sleep.

The vet explained the procedure and what to expect. Would you like some time afterwards? she asked. No, thank you, I said. Because I wasn't really attached to Samu and she was ready to go. The choice was an easy one.

So the vet prepped the needle and made the injection. Samu's chest expanded rapidly a few times. And then it dropped one last time and remained still.

I might need a few minutes, I managed to say.

In those closing moments, I flashed back to when she was a puppy and running in the backyard. Our son wasn't even walking then. He wasn't even crawling. I saw her playing in the snow and chasing me at work and following us on walks. All those memories were front and center as her still body lay in front of me. That was when our family started.

I sobbed. Pretty hard.

The next day, we buried her in the yard. We each said something about her and I sobbed again, not as hard, but pretty hard.

Six months ago, we lost Kooper. He was a boxer. Of the three dogs we've had, he was the third. He was 10 years old. He had seizures, too, but the last year of his life he gradually lost control of his back legs. It was a genetic disorder, the best we could guess. Over that period of time, we watched the strength drain from his back half. Slowly, he stopped running. Our walks got shorter. We bought him a chariot to support his emaciated legs but that only helped for a short time.

When his time came, it was very clear. He stopped eating and could barely raise his head. We adored Kooper. He was lovable. Always by our sides, always listening, always playful.

I sobbed, again. Pretty hard.

Kooper and Kia
So Kia was the last of our pack. We called her the old lady. She had the expression of a sad clown and the posture of a depressed donkey. Kooper loved her. He always wanted to know where she was. He was also dominated her, so that might explain why she wasn't keen on him. When Kooper died, she didn't seem to be upset. In fact, she finally had some peace in the house. There wasn't another dog shoving past her in the doorway or taking her food.

Kia just wanted to be left alone.



Even when she was younger, she didn't interact with the other dogs. She was off by herself sniffing the ground and generally avoiding the packs Kooper was running with. Now she had lost most of her hearing and some of her eyesight. She wanted to be in the same room with us, just not really interested in being loved on. She just wanted to see us, lay near us, that was it. She was a loner. This was her time to enjoy. We weren't going to get another dog until she passed.

It wasn't long after Kooper died that she developed a tumor. A few years ago, we had a tumor removed from her leg. This time it was on the side of her face. We elected not to put her through surgery. She was 14 years old. Boxers typically live 10 years. The tumor didn't appear to be causing discomfort. She didn't react when we touched it, she ate her food, went on walks and slept most of the day. It was a dog's life.

Unlike Samu and Kooper, Kia never reached that clear point of no return. She was still eating and pooping and walking, but the tumor had grown extensively. And despite eating four cups of food a day, she continued to lose weight. The vet assured us it was time.

Nothing moves her when the blanket is wrapped.
We had contacted a hospice vet. She came over to the house last Saturday. Kia was on her throne wrapped in a blanket. Nothing in the world could tempt her when she was wrapped up. The vet administered a sedative that made her sleepier than usual. After several minutes, she gave her the second shot. Slowly, her breathing became shallow. And then it stopped.

Once again, pretty hard.

We buried her in the backyard with more tears. It was more that just losing a pet at this point. It was the tangible passage of time. Her death marked the transition of our lives. Our kids are grown. I'm 50. And our house is empty. No more puppy teeth or accidents in the bedroom or chewed up lawn furniture or barking in the middle of the night. No more kids with ear infections or homework or summer camps or dog breath during late night cuddle sessions or wagging butts when we get home. It's all different now.

Why didn't I see this coming?

We'll let this passing settle into place, find our footing for this next phase in life. And soon we'll get another dog and start over. This time we don't need a puppy to grow up with the kids. We'll find a dog in the Boxer Rescue program that needs home. Until then, we'll wake up to quiet mornings.

In a very empty house.