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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Gift of Fire

Three years ago today, I adopted a greyhound, the realization of a dream, for I'd long wanted one of these wonderful animals to grace my home. And indeed, the retired racer who headlined under the name Keystone Fire, became my own personal couch potato named Fire. He was a special dog; even people who didn't like big dogs found themselves hugging him and confessing they wanted to take him home with them. I would just nod and smile; that's how Fire came home with me, too.

One week ago today, Fire and I took a trip to the vet for the last time. One week week short of our anniversary. Only one week.

Last Monday when I went to work, I did not kennel Fire, seeing that he spent most of his time lying with his legs outstretched, and I did not want him to be obliged to remain folded up in his kennel all day. I knew he would not be playing with the Shepherd all day, so I left him as he was. Upon returning home, his paw and lower leg had swollen greatly, so I spent the evening with him, watching a movie, and placing ice and cold packs on his leg. He was panting and just radiated heat, but I was in denial. I knew the time was close, but I was still looking ahead...let's get through the weekend, let's get into next week. Can we at least get to next Tuesday?

I didn't want to admit it was time. I saw life in him. I saw the same sweet gaze in his eyes, and when the ice packs clearly helped to alleviate his pain, I allowed hope to be renewed in me. Fire's respirations slowed and he closed his eyes to take a nap, never making a move to growl or snap or do anything to indicate I was causing him pain. He trusted me so much, looking to me to relieve the pain he did not understand.

At 2:30 am, I got up to give Fire his Tramadol, and had to wake him up; he had been sleeping well. That morning I got up and Fire made no move to get up and eat as he had on Monday morning. No matter; I brought him breakfast in bed, and sat next to him, watching him eat, having a sense we would not do this again. These were special moments. When I took the Shepherd out for her walk, we shortened it greatly...something told me to go home NOW, something told me that today was the day, and I could not stop the tears that continued to well up in my eyes. When the heart speaks, one must listen. Truth is a sword that cuts deeply.

I remained home that morning, working from home, having to leave once to inspect a nearby car. I called my Manager to explain what I was doing, and told him that I'd be in after Fire's 10:00 am meds, but I'd have to come home right away to be with him. I told my manager that I thought we'd be taking a trip to the vet that afternoon...for the last time... and I choked up on the phone. I knew the truth in what I said, but hoped it wasn't true. I still had hope I could have my buddy with me for a few more days. Just a few more days. That's all I asked. Just a few more days, even when I knew it was time.

I gave Fire his Tramadol a little early, not at the 8 hour interval but closer to 7 hours. He was in pain; the Rimadyl with breakfast wasn't doing much, but I hoped the opiate would do something for him. I felt so guilty for leaving. Fire obviously did not want to be alone. Whenever I had come in the door with my other dog, he'd struggle to his feet. If I went upstairs, he'd stand at the bottom, waiting, perhaps allowing a soft whine to escape. I comforted myself by saying that in a few days I'd be done and would remain by his side. Just a few days, God, please? Just a little more time....

As I drove in to work, I continued to weep, silently, begging God for more time, but knowing this was it. This was the day. So I arrived at the office, dropped off some equipment and issued a couple checks, and left, taking some tedious work with me...something to focus me, something that could be done without having to speak to anyone.

When I arrived home, Fire was in terrible pain, so it was immediately obvious that the drugs were no longer working. My worst fear was confirmed. It was time. Fire looked at me, and then began licking his leg, stopping only to pant on it, his agony obvious. He looked at me, asking me to do something, for as a dog, he could not understand what was happening. He knew only that he was in terrible pain and it was my job to do something about it, and I wasn't doing anything.

I knelt down beside him, asking him to "shake", which usually would prompt him to stretch his paw towards me while also extending his head towards me for a pat. He didn't have the energy to lift his paw, but he did ask to be scratched, so I took his head in my hands, looked into his devoted brown eyes, and asked it time? What do you think, it time? Is it time to go?

Fire pulled away and looked at his leg, licking it again, panting again. Then he looked back at me. That was the answer; it was time. I couldn't relieve his pain, and I suspected he was also going into kidney failure. Drugs could no longer help him. Ice wouldn't relieve his suffering.

He was looking to me to make it better...and so I did the only thing I knew to do, because the time had come. I picked up the phone and called the vet, telling them it was time to put my dog to sleep. And as I said the words, I choked back the tears, but my grief was obvious to the person who answered the phone. She told me to come in whenever we were ready, to take our time.

I sat down next to Fire as he panted. I sobbed, not believing that the end had come only 10 days after the cancer was confirmed on the X-ray. Only 10 days.

Finally, I positioned myself on the floor next to him, rosary in hand, and I offered the Sorrowful Mysteries while gazing up at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, one hand always in contact with Fire. I didn't know what I was praying for, exactly, other than strength to do what had to be done. Safety in getting there; safety in getting home. And whatever God thought was needed.

Death was never intended, for man or beast; and here I was facing death, knowing that God even cares about the most humble of creatures. And God was calling for Fire's brief life to end. He was only 6 years old, would not see either our 3 year anniversary or his 7th birthday in September.

The time had come; I could not wait all day as Fire suffered so terribly. So we went through our "poty" routine...first the Shepherd, then I prepared the house for our departure, giving her a very nice treat. Soemthing that would allow me to get out the door with my greyhound. It's hard to fool a Shepherd, but that day, the Angels must have been running a diversion. I was calm by then, still tearful, but moving deliberately and carefully so as not to upset the other dog, and Fire was eager to go outside. I really did intend to take him to go potty but when he got to my car, he stopped at the rear door and would go no further.

I think even he knew where we were going. I bent down and scooped him up, both arms underneath, and he was lighter than I expected, and didn't even struggle as I set him in. He had some difficulty getting his rear leg under him so he could stand in the back seat of my small car, but once he was there, he leaned against the seat back, panting.

Fire never laid down in the car, and that day was no exception. So I drove even more carefully than usual with this precious cargo, not wanting his last moments of sunlight to be worse than they already were.

When we arrived at the clinic, Fire got out and immediately went to a bush to make his mark, but wasn't interested in sniffing around any further. I gave him the opportunity, knowing this was his last time to spend time in the sun. But no...he actually wanted to go inside. I'd never had such an easy time getting him through the door.

All I had to say when I walked in was "This is Fire", and they nodded. They needed no more info this time. They knew why we were there, and even if they hadn't, one glance at the dog with his swollen leg and wasted frame, my tearstained cheeks and puffy eyes would have answered all their questions. We were lead to an examining room, and a dogbed was brought for Fire. But true to his typical behavior, he did not want to lie down.

The tech came in and first verified why we were there. She was direct, but gentle in her tone. There's no other way to ask that question and I appreciated her ability to do so quickly and compassionately. She went on to explaine that it would be easier on Fire if we gave him a sedative to help him relax, and to hopefully help him to lie down; I agreed. The vet later reinforced that with bone cancer, they always recommend the sedative because the pain stiffens them so much, and makes their last moments of life easier on both the pet and the owner. The tech spent some time talking to me, got some info as to how the cancer had progressed, and assured me that we were doing the right thing; it was time. If something else could be done for Fire, they would be offering it. But there was nothing else. Our options were exhausted.

The sedative took effect and I helped Fire lie down on the dogbed, hugged him fiercely for a moment, and then took my place at his head. The vet came back in and asked if I wanted some more time with him...was I ready? I told him I was...this wasn't going to get any easier, nor would Fire be any less deceased at the end of the day.

He was no longer reacting to me, just resting, was maybe already asleep. But I stroked his soft fur, his long neck, and my tears fell upon his head while the vet gave the injection. Another tech was present, kneeling behind Fire, petting him also. So it was that I was holding Fire's head in my hands as his life, and his suffering, left him. The shuddering from the final, agonal respirations reverberated up my arms, and I felt the last breath agaist my skin...and Fire relaxed for the last time. The vet verified there was no heartbeat and told me, "He's gone." I already knew.

He also told me he'd been through this many times with his own pets and knew how hard it was, offering his condolences. No one wasted time on useless platitudes, understanding that grief is so personal, and words meant nothing.

The Vet asked me if I wanted to keep the collar? Yes, I did, and so he removed it for me, handing it over. I held Fire's leash and his empty collar in my hands, watching as he was carried away. They told me I could stay there as long as necessary until I was ready to drive. No rush. I stood for a moment, staring at the floor where Fire had so recently laid, deeply feeling his loss. I could not remain there.

When I walked in the door, without Fire, I could not believe how empty the house felt. My other dog greeted me then passed me, looking for her "sibling". She looked to me, confused, then tried to check the garage again.

"He's not coming back." I set his collar and leash down, then went and sat on the couch.

I couldn't believe how painful this was; I couldn't believe that this quiet greyhound had had such a big personality, so much so that his presence even at rest just filled the house.

I had been so worried that I would not be able to make the decision. I had in a sense, felt that I was playing God by having to determine the hour of death. I didn't want that responsibility. I didn't want God to trust me with calling out for death of my beloved pet.

I was so focused on the future, I forgot that God was still in charge, and he was not asking me to make that call. He was only asking me to obey.

Only God knows the day and the hour. I was hoping to make it into this week, but God knew better, and He determined the day and the time. And on that day, He spoke to my heart, making me see what I did not want to see. Asking me to obey for it was time, and God was calling Fire "home". So in the end, the only decision I truly made was to recognize the Lord's dominion over creation, and act with the mercy to which I was called to act.

Fire is missed by many people, for, as I said, he was a special dog. I didn't realize until he was gone how much he really meant to me, how much a part of my life he had become. I didn't realize how "big" he was, for he didn't take up much space. But when he fell asleep for the last time, he took a piece of my heart with him into his own dreams. All I can do is remember him fondly, thank God for the gift he was to me, and offer him back...for as long as this hurts, and beyond, I offer Fire back to God because he belonged to Him before he ever entered my home.

Pets are a blessing; we don't adopt pets because we want our lives to be easy. We adopt them because they make our lives better, and show us a facet of God we would not otherwise understand.

There are lessons Fire taught me that may be revealed over time. For now, I am still crying my tears, holding my memories close, and praising God for His abundant love and mercy. Thank you for Fire; thank you for his life, and thank you for allowing me to care for him for a few years. Every life on this earth is a gift; Fire was no exception.


Michele said...

we lost our beloved cat to liver cancer in july:( she was 14. i know how it feels to lose a beloved pet:(
God bless you.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Will someone please pass the Kleenex?

swissmiss said...

Am glad you have such wonderful memories of Fire. That's a blessing during this very difficult time. Still praying for you, Adoro. Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this Adoro. I know Fire had the best life, and death, due to your compassion and care and love for him. For whatever my opinion is worth - you did it all exactly right. God bless you Sweetie.

~Angela Messenger

Terry Nelson said...

I feel so bad!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful and heartfelt post.

Thanks for sharing.


Mairin :o) said...

absolutely heartbreaking.

Anonymous said...

all G-d's creatures, great and small, possess something of the Creator.
in His affection for we in whom he has bestowed something of His very essence, He has shown us the depth of His love - He allows to us the care and companionship of his little ones ... the ones we call our pets. we provide for them for a time, and He provides for all the living forever.
let your tears wash the memories so they are clearer than clear, and so you may experience them over and over.

Melody K said...

Thanks for sharing, Adoro. You were a good mom to Fire.

Hidden One said...

Thank you for writing this post. I am praying for you.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely gift.

Unknown said...

I ache for you, Adoro.

Cathy said...

What a beautiful tribute.
Thank you.

Sanctus Belle said...

I am not a big animal lover - although I do love my dog. I can't believe your post actually made me tear up. I am sorry for your loss.

Jocelyne said...

I'm so sorry.

Pets are such a blessing in our lives, but losing them is so unbearably hard.

Praying for you.

Anonymous said...

My deepest sympathies on the loss of your beloved Fire. Such a special dog -- I pray that God will somehow find a place for all good dogs/cats like Fire in Heaven. May God also console you for the loss of a beloved and loving pet.

Anonymous said...


I've been through it, too. And at the moment I have a spry fourteen year-old cockapoo downstairs. She's been with us longer than our children, and I dread the inevitable day.

Perhaps you can find comfort in these words of St. Thomas More from A Man for All Seasons. I have.

"God made the Angels to show Him splendor, as He made the animals for their innocence and the plants for simplicity. But Man he made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of His mind."