“Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.” Arthur Schopenhauer
I have long loved this quote, especially the first part. Believing that each day is its own little life followed by a little youth is an uplifting concept. Yesterday is done. Today you are reborn. Yet today I can’t help but focus on that last part as well…every going to rest and sleep a little death.
I’m going to be upfront with you about this essay. The dog does die in the end. I have many friends who want nothing to do with a story in which the dog ultimately dies. I’m giving you all an out right here and now by not making this a mystery. This tale is about a dog named Eloise and she is gone now.
But I hope you’ll stick with me anyway. Sometimes the end is a beautiful thing and I think, I hope, in this case it was. And I really want you to know Eloise. She deserves to be known.
I first saw the scruffy little cattle dog looking undeniably miserable in a photo posted by Tulsa Animal Welfare. Eloise, the name they gave her upon intake, was lying on the floor staring ahead in tired resignation. Her coat was rough and matted, full of big burs. I’m sure it had to be uncomfortable, but by all appearances she was beyond noticing or caring.
She was shared briefly on social media, but because of her emaciated condition and advanced age, the guess was 13 or 14 years, the shelter staff decided to just make her as comfortable as possible while she stayed for her mandatory stray hold. At the end of the three day period, they would likely euthanize her–a kind and humane option for an obviously elderly, gravely ill dog.
But something about that dog reached straight through my phone’s screen and grabbed my heart saying, “This one. Take this one.”
Jim and I are not strangers to taking in elderly dogs to allow them to live their lives out in comfort and love. It’s something we are grateful we are able to do and it’s always so rewarding. Don’t be fooled for a moment, while taking in hospice-status foster dogs might be considered a selfless act, it is, in my opinion, a very selfish one. These dear animals give us so much in return for the use of a soft bed and regular meals. Our hearts expand with every dog and we learn so much about life.
It’s a wonderful thing to have this experience. We get to see a tired old dog sink down into a worry-free, relaxed sleep. We get to know these dogs, whether for a matter days, a few months, or a couple of years. We get to see the shine return to their coats and eyes. We get to connect with them and be a part of their story.
It’s the best high I know.
And so when my heart said I should take Eloise, my body hopped right in my Jeep and headed to the shelter. It may sound odd, but I was excited at the prospect of sharing this dog’s journey.
The veterinarian, veterinary technician, and shelter manager talked with me about Eloise and their concerns surrounding her health. They had carefully picked the majority of the sharp burs from her fur. They had made her as comfortable as possible in the relative calm of the clinic instead of putting her in the main kennel of the busy shelter. We could all clearly see that Eloise probably didn’t have much time left and that euthanasia in the coming days might be the kindest option for her. We all agreed that she should not and would not suffer.
But prognosis aside, all I could think was that today she could be clean. She could spend a little time in the unseasonably warm sunlight out at my home in the country. She could rest on a cushy pillow tonight. She could have whatever appealed to her for dinner. And she could enjoy some good belly rubs.
With one little glance up into my eyes, I was sure the old dog was willing to give me a try as well. So with a quick signature on a form, Eloise became mine. We headed out into the beautiful day and made a quick stop in the grass where Eloise gratefully showed me she knew where to do her business. Then I settled her on the dog bed that lives in the back of my Jeep and I was off on little life number one with my new/old cow dog.
It’s generally this point in my shelter adventures when I stop and think, “Oh crap. I should probably tell Jim what I’ve done.” In reality, I should probably tell Jim what I am thinking of doing BEFORE I actually sign the paperwork and leave the shelter with a dog in my arms. But he’s a great guy with a huge heart. His response to our new guest was to immediately curl up with her on her dog bed to give her some much-needed attention.
Yeah, he’s one of the very good guys.
We did take her to our veterinarian to see what support we could offer her from a medical standpoint. Her blood work was the stuff vet school case studies are made of…I can only describe it as “hot mess.” My vet, who is also my dear friend, sighed when I asked what it all meant.
“It could be cancer, it could be infection, it could be a number of things.” Without x rays, ultrasounds, and further testing, we would not have a diagnosis. But all of that would be stressful and a diagnosis wouldn’t change the prognosis. For Eloise, the best course of treatment was already underway.
And so we started enjoying little lives with Eloise. I gave her a thorough bath that took three shampooings to get the rinse water to run clear. I gently combed out all of the old undercoat until her fur was smooth. We made sure to get her outside for small strolls and potty breaks on a regular basis. We massaged her thin frame and give her belly rubs. We offered her a smorgasbord of food choices and catered to her fickle appetite.
If you have ever cared for a critically ill dog, you know that finding something they want to eat can be tricky and you have to be creative. At this stage of the game, healthy diet be damned. Your mission is simply to find food that makes them perk up and eat a bit.
For Eloise, she initially loved scrambled eggs and chicken. Then it was corn dogs and bites of bagels. Then it was a little cheeseburger that put a sparkle in her eyes.
Eloise did not require a lot to be happy during her last days. We got to share six little lives with our dear girl and then she passed quietly and gently in her sleep. It took me a moment of watching for a breath to realize she was gone. And that was the best end to her last little life that I could imagine.
So this is not a tale of sorrow for a dog that could not be saved. That was never our expectation. This a tale of gratitude for a dog that got to pass in peace. I believe Eloise was loved in her past life. She was a good girl and I suspect in her younger days, a feisty, fun cow dog. I don’t know how she ended up stray in such desperate condition…there are too many storylines to imagine…but I do know that her last six lives achieved exactly what I hoped for her the moment my eyes first connected with hers.
She was safe, she was comfortable, she had cheeseburger breath, she was loved, and she got a last name. Eloise Gallimore-Thomason, romp in peace my friend. Thank you for sharing your last precious little lives with us.