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“It is an inescapable reality – to love anything or anyone is to risk loss. And a relationship with an animal carries a double-edged sword. While we enjoy the unconditional love of our animals, we know that odds are better than good that even if they enjoy a long and healthy life, we will outlive them. We accept this reality and the eventual tide of grief that accompanies it because in the moments between our first reaching out to an animal and when we finally let go, what we receive are riches beyond measure.” – Suzanne Clothier, “Bones would rain from the sky”
Thanks to our friend, Simon for sharing these words with us.
Maxwell entered my life in his Old Man years, at the age of thirteen. When I took on the role of his Mama, his health had begun to decline. We expected a puddle of pee on our bathroom floor if we were gone for more than a few hours and sleeping through the night became a rarity as his nails tapping across our bedroom floor at 4am alerted us that he needed to go out. He was finicky and restless. We battled over cleaning the mud off his paws after walks in the rain and he’d snarl and bite at me when I lifted him into the car or moved him in bed.
Dave adopted Maxwell from an animal shelter in Long Beach, CA when he was living there for a summer in college building car speakers. On a whim, he visited the shelter and came home with a two-year-old Rat Terrier in exchange for a whopping $20. As a 20-year-old college kid, Dave knew little about dogs – his bed was a folded blanket on the floor and Dave connected his leash directly to the collar. He learned as they carried on in life together.
Maxwell was supposed to come on this adventure with us, however the vet expressed serious concerns about him flying across the Atlantic and deemed him ineligible to fly, unless he was in the cabin with us. Not able to fit in an airline-approved kennel, we dejectedly began the search for a loving foster home, where Maxwell could live out his final days. At nearly 16 years old, we knew he didn’t have much time left and we struggled with the thought of leaving him behind in what would likely be his final months.
Unable to find a local home, Dave made arrangements to take Maxwell to his parents’ house in North Carolina (Dave was approved to have an Emotional Support Animal, due to his anxiety and panic attacks, which is how Sora will travel with us and how Maxwell could travel in the cabin with Dave).
With my 10-hour work days, I was not home for the better part of 12 hours Monday through Thursday, and therefore helping around the house was nearly impossible. One of my chores included taking Maxwell for a walk around the block before bedtime, with the hope that he would empty his bladder and bowels so his humans could rest through the night.
I dreaded these walks. It wasn’t that I dreaded taking Maxwell for a walk, rather it was that by the time I’d remember that he hadn’t yet had his walk, I was exhausted from the long day and beyond ready for bed. The last thing I wanted to do was gather our gear to go outside at 10 at night. It was the last thing Maxwell wanted to do.
As our trip neared and my days with Maxwell were numbered, I began to look at these walks as my bonding time with him. We had a bit of a tempestuous relationship, Maxwell and I. I allowed his old age norms to invite annoyance and frustration into me, which I’d then direct back towards him.
Never feeling right about taking Maxwell on a plane, I began to talk with him during our evening walks. I’d loop in St. Francis of Assisi, though I’m not a religious person, I have affinity for anyone who dedicates their life to animals. I reached out to the Universe and the Pachamama. I explained our pending trip and our difficult dilemma. I pleaded with my invisible audience to allow this dog to move on to his next life before we left, so we could be with him in his final days. I begged for a sign that would guide us toward the right decision.
Two months before our looming date, Maxwell began to cough, resulting in a collapse that left him unconscious for a few moments and at times without a heartbeat. Dave and I awaited his passing at any moment. For four weeks, these episodes carried on as a twice weekly occurrence. I felt my request had been heard.
Then the coughing stopped and Maxwell resumed his normalcy for a few days one month before our departure. I felt ignored by my guides and desperate, implored more urgently, almost with anger.
Watching our Old Man closely, we began to notice more subtle signs. His hind legs lagged slightly behind his front, and his balance wavered when he stood in place. He became disinterested in food other than Brewer’s Yeast tablets and tortilla chips and he lost 15% of his body weight in one month.
I’d like to believe that St. Francis, the Universe, and the Pachamama honored my pleas in the end. Perhaps I can attribute it to kismet, or even Maxwell’s understanding of the snafu in which we found ourselves, but it was evident that his time with us was coming to a close. He hovered at a state of near-death-but-not-quite-yet-there. For several weeks, we waited for a sign, something to tell us the time was right to send him on his way to the Rainbow Bridge. As his weight loss revealed his bones and his love for sprinting back inside from the cold ceased, we knew we had to make the call.
On the morning of 16 April 2015, we said farewell to our friend.
It’s those behaviors that annoyed most me that I look for now. Though we have three other loving pets around, there’s a void in the house without Maxwell. When I wake in middle of the night, I listen for the tell-tale sign of Maxwell’s tap dancing across our wood floor, only to hear silence. As I hang my bike in the basement after returning from several hours away from home, I remind myself to bring up a towel to wipe the bathroom floor, remembering there’s nothing there. When I enter the house after a morning run with Dave and Sora, I look to the kitchen where we’d gate Maxwell, expecting to hear the clang of his ID tags as he shakes off his sleep to greet us, but I’m met with an empty room.
There is no love like the love of a pet. Humans will never love one another in the same way a pet loves its human or we love our pets. Despite our muddy paw battles and my frustration with his small bladder, I felt tremendous love for this dog and I am incredibly grateful for the life lessons he gifted to me in the three years I had the pleasure of serving as his Mama.