Ch. Sindar Lillie McKenzie
"But to see her was to love her; love but her, and love forever...." -Robert Burns, "Ae Fond Kiss"
"You'll know when it's time," the vet said soothingly. "Something will tell you."
The look in her eyes told me it was Lillie's time. All the life and spark had gone out of them, and her days were just about pain and getting older. I had no doubts: It was her time. The problem is, it wasn't my time.
I was still fighting. I still wanted to fix it. I thought that I just hadn't found the right combination of things yet that would help her. I wasn't ready to lose her, and I wasn't ready to give up the battle.
I remember my friend Irene once saying to me, sadly, that things come in God's time, not our time. "Screw God's time," I said to her then, only half laughing. But I was young and still believed in wrestling with things I couldn't change.
Now, 20 years later, I had a mad impulse to gather Lillie in my arms and run sobbing into the emergency vet, crying "Help, help! My dog is old!"
All that money we spend on modern medicine, they still don't know how to turn back the clock?
Lillie came home to me 12 years ago, a leggy 12-week-old puppy who was apparently born spoiled. She couldn't believe I was going to make her sleep in the little pen next to the bed, when she wanted to be up on the bed with me, my chow mix Colleen, and the cats. She positively refused to go out and potty when it was raining, and actually got me to hold an umbrella over her while she finally and reluctantly did her duty in the yard during a storm. She would demand a water bowl be brought to her when she was thirsty, even when there was nothing stopping her from getting up and getting it herself. She would infuriate me with her stubborness even while I was fighting back the laughter at her imperiousness. She didn't like taking a back seat to anyone, although she adored and deferred to Colleen always. She was surprisingly crotchedy with other dogs, but gentle and loving with my cats.
Although Lillie did become a show champion, she wasn't what we call a great show dog. The first time I showed her, I had her stacked up perfectly in the ring. As the judge approached, Lillie slowly sank to her belly in the grass. A friend who took her in the ring for me once said it was something like dragging a grand piano around behind you. Her breeder offered to show her for me, thinking that perhaps inept handling had kept Lillie from finishing her championship as quickly as her sisters, some of whom Lillie should have beaten. But Lillie's reluctance to shine and sparkle in the show ring defeated even her breeder's expertise. Still, we did finally coax enough decent performances out of her that she finished, and she was able to retire as a champion to the sofa in my living room.
As to lure coursing, she approached that with a bit more enthusiasm than showing, but appeared not to want to leave my side. More experienced dog people gave me tips on getting "over-attached" dogs to leave mom long enough to chase the lure. I would take her out, and when the "Tally-ho!" was called, I'd slip her and run a few steps alongside, to get her started. She'd tear off, but after a few lengths she'd glance over her shoulder to see where I'd gotten to. She'd stop, looking back at me, puzzled as to why I hadn't kept up. (I don't think she ever quite figured out that I actually can't run 30 miles an hour.)
I never bred her, primarily because she was a bit too sharp with the other dogs to have what I considered correct deerhound temperament. As she (and I) got older, I began to regret that choice, and wish I had bred her to a dog with a very mellow attitude towards life and other dogs. She was not only very beautiful but very healthy, and she aged gracefully and well. Even in old age she was still playful and very active; a short film of her running on the beach at 10 and a half, an age when many deerhounds are dead, is a popular feature on my website (below).
Colleen died in December of 2001, and it hit Lillie very hard. It was several months before she could be left alone without near-constant crying, and she had become even more attached to me than she had been before. She also had become very fixed in her routine, and didn't tolerate change well. We used to joke that every morning she handed out a printed schedule for the day, and woe to us if we failed to follow it precisely.
So, Lillie was creaking along getting older but doing really well until a couple of months ago, shortly after her twelfth birthday. She was jumping down off the bed and caught her foot in the bedspread. She fell to the floor but her left rear leg stayed behind, twisted. I took her to the vet who said it appeared to be strained or sprained, and we treated it with rest, ice, acupuncture, and some homeopathic remedies prescribed by her vet. The next day, though, Lillie became weak and depressed, with some difficulty breathing. Since she had no fever I assumed it was from pain. I had to lift her off the bed, and carry her outside to go to the bathroom. Twice she simply sank to the ground when I set her down. What kind of life was that?
I called the vet and she said she would come that evening. I was fairly sure we'd be putting her to sleep, and was lying on the bed crying into Lillie's fur, and saying goodbye, when she picked up her head and looked at me. "Goodbye?" I could see her thinking. "I'm not going ANYWHERE." She got up off the bed and by the time the vet arrived she was, while still sick, clearly not planning on dying that day.
She got better, but still needed a boost from behind to get up. I threw out my own back lifting her, ending up in physical therapy learning the correct way to heave a 97-pound dog off the floor. Fortunately her front worked fine, so she could help pull herself up, too – until she sprained her left shoulder.
It was hot and swollen and her vet had the same basic prescription: Ice, rest, acupuncture, homeopathic remedies. However, she also encouraged me to think about anti-inflammatory drugs, something I resisted due to concern about side effects. However, Lillie's pain was very bad, and while acupuncture and homeopathy helped briefly, we weren't able to relieve the pain for anything beyond a few hours at a time. So we ran a series of tests to determine her kidney and liver function, and when those came back in normal ranges, we put her on the drug Rimadyl. Although I still worried about side effects, at this point I didn't really care, as long as it gave Lillie some relief. And it did.
She started to get up on her own. She could go on walks again. She slept better. When after a few weeks she started to throw up on an empty stomach, we began to feed her three meals a day. When that wasn't enough, I added a couple of Pepcid tablets to her daily regimen, and for quite a while that took care of the vomiting problem. We switched her to another veterinary NSAID, Deramaxx, that was said to be a bit easier on the stomach, but she threw up on that as well. So I went back to the Pepcid and we got a few more days before the vomiting came back.
Through this all Lillie hadn't missed a meal, but I realized a week or so ago that she had stopped getting up on her own and her walks were virtually nothing but quick potty excursions. She rarely even stopped to sniff at things anymore. But she still lit up when I spoke to her or kissed her, and she was very affectionate and responsive to me. She was still very attached to her daily routine, and ate her meals with gusto.
But this last bout of vomiting was different. I had to stop the pain medication, and she was in agony, moving her position every few minutes, not sleeping. Her paws and ears and nose were icy cold. She stopped eating. Her heartbeat was slow and weak and kept missing beats. Her breathing was difficult. I'd look at her and she'd just be staring off into the distance. She still reacted to me, but barely. There was nothing in her eyes now, just pain. And that's when I knew it was time.
My vet came over and Lillie slipped away. It was as beautiful and perfect as a euthanasia can be; I held her in my arms and looked into her eyes, which slowly closed as her breathing slowed, then stopped. We buried her in the meadow, right next to Colleen, just where Lillie would want to spend eternity.
I know it was Lillie's time. I know I did the right thing, not a moment too late or too soon. My back is healing. My sleep is uninterrupted. But I'm crying at my computer and still putting out her bowl when I make dinner for the dogs. I catch myself reading about herbs and supplements that might help her on the Internet, conforming my schedule to her need to be assisted up and out,and worrying that she needs something.
Twenty-four hours a day I had been aware of Lillie. If she tossed and turned in her sleep, I woke up. If she sighed, I woke up. If she moved in the next room, I would get up from my desk and go in and check on her. I had orthopedic dog beds in every room of the house, so she could lie down anywhere. I had moved the furniture, given up my social life, canceled travel plans, and invested a small fortune in veterinary care. And now I was bereft, not just of Lillie but of my long fight to give her quality of life, to preserve that spark of joy and mischief in her eyes.
Lillie lived a long time for a giant breed dog. I had 12 years with her. But when it comes to time, with dogs there is never enough.
Lillie, at age 10, running and playing with her niece, Rosie, age 8: