Mykee, a very special keeshond whom Dr. Tom Liebl had nicknamed “the miracle dog” because of everything she had been through, died in my arms, her eyes weary but wide open, at noon on Friday 9 March 2012. She was 14 years, 9 months and 2 days old.
Mykee had survived extensive surgery (for cancer) and chemo treatments not just once but twice, so I was certain she would also survive the severe edema which started to bloat her hind legs four months ago. I had been warned about the many possible side effects of edema, but I was not really ready to see her losing her once plush silver and black fur in great big clumps. She too seemed perplexed and saddened by the sight of her own bare skin, shivering with cold and embarrassment every time she went outdoors to do her business. Nonetheless, Dr. Tom Liebl, who had been caring for her ever since she was a puppy, reassured me Mykee was not undergoing any pain or discomfort, that her “quality of life” was still good. This went on for a couple of months.
But then, on Wednesday, Mykee suddenly stopped eating. When she showed no interest in any of the treats that she normally barked and danced for, ignoring even the crunchy Chinese fortune cookies which she gets only on special occasions, I knew it was the beginning of the end. Two days later, when she whimpered and gave me the usual signal that she needed to go outside, I did not respond quickly enough, and she left a horrifying trail of blood from the house all the way to the backyard. Afterwards, she refused to come back into the house, perhaps out of guilt about what had just happened, or maybe she simply wanted to savor the sunshine one last time in the yard she had romped in for nearly fifteen years.
She was too weak to protest when I wrapped and scooped her up in her favorite blanket, rushing her to Clinton Parkway Animal Hospital, where Dr. Liebl examined her briefly, and said quietly, “She’s tired.”
It was Dr. Liebl’s way of telling me to let go, that it was time to let go. Perhaps I had been in deep denial all along, refusing to believe that Mykee had been losing weight, when she had in fact dropped ten pounds in just a couple of weeks. And so, reluctantly, I cradled Mykee in my arms for the last time. She was looking at me with those wondrous eyes of hers, eyes no longer luminous because she was now weary beyond comprehension, when Dr. Liebl solemnly administered the merciful relief that she needed.
And now, twelve days later, I continue to find myself fixating on Mykee’s final moments. Did she see her whole life flashing by within seconds, the way it’s rumored to happen for us human beings? Do the snapshots in her mind begin with memories of her parents in the puppy farm in Beloit, KS where she was born…followed by images of her being transported to the pet shop in Topeka where I first held her in my arms and fell in love with her spectacular keeshond eyes…then her coming home with me to Lawrence to meet Imelda, a 10-year-old keeshond who had been diagnosed with cancer, and for whom I had acquired Mykee, thinking she might give the older dog a new lease on life; that Imelda might be inspired to teach the young pup “the rules of the house.”
But, this was not to be. Imelda was terminally ill and in no mood to frolic with a puppy. Friends said it was cruel of me to torment the old dog with the new object of my affection (in retrospect, making me no different from someone like Newt Gingrich, who traded in his cancer-stricken first wife for a healthier and younger model, then dumped the second wife for yet another younger model).
And so, while Imelda was still alive, I arranged to board Mykee with a kindly breeder in North Lawrence, who agreed to keep and train Mykee in his house like he would his own dog. I visited the rambunctious puppy twice a day for the next four weeks, not bringing her home again until after Imelda had died.
The kindly breeder in North Lawrence had worked wonders with Mykee, training her not only to be ladylike and hygienic, but also not to chew on anything indoors except designated toys, and not to chase or bark at squirrels and rabbits outdoors because they were God’s creatures who were also entitled to play there.
What I didn’t know about the kindly breeder was, that he did not allow any other dogs inside his house the whole time Mykee was there, only cats, four of them, so Mykee had been socialized primarily with cats. Forever thereafter, Mykee would look at all other dogs indifferently, even disdainfully, because she didn’t think she was a servile dog; she thought she was an aristocratic cat. She ran skittishly like a cat, crouched and jumped like a cat, licked and groomed herself like a cat. She may have been as loyal as a dog, but she was also as independent as a cat. This was really quite delightful. I had the best of both worlds, a lovable keeshond who was not only Mykee, but also Mykitty.
I wonder if Mykee’s snapshot memories continue with the time she broke her tooth chewing on a bone, and I had to drive her to Columbia, MO, where there was a special dentist who performed root canals on dogs….of our many other lengthy car trips for summer vacations in Toronto, Montreal, Mount Rushmore, Santa Fe, Cleveland, Dallas, St. Louis, Madison, Omaha, Eureka Springs. Closer to home, she loved our frequent outings to the KU campus and Dad Perry Park, and Saturday mornings at the Farmer’s Market in downtown Lawrence. Everywhere we went, people admired her and wanted to pet her, but she was a shy girl, and always looked to me to protect her from the kindness of strangers.
What did Mykee see at noon on Friday 9 March 2012 as I cradled her in my arms? Her eyes were open when Dr. Liebl administered the injection, and they remained open even after he cheked to make sure that she had stopped breathing, that her little heart had stopped beating. Dr. Liebl tried to shut Mykee’s eyes, but they remained stubbornly open. She continued to look at me. The good doctor said I could stay in the room with Mykee, be alone with her for as long as I needed to be, but I declined and rushed away. Her eyes were open, and I did not want her to witness my grief.
A week later, I received the following letter from Dr. Liebl:
“Paul, I know I will never find the words that can bring comfort to a heart that has lost a great friend, but I want you to know how sad I am for you. Mykee was a truly great dog, a faithful companion and, from a medical standpoint, a survivor like no other. The love, care and diligence you extended to her will never be rivaled. So many months/years passed that would never have been possible without your efforts. And she always let the world know how much she appreciated our efforts by always being the most gentle and ‘willing’ patient I have ever seen. I will never forget her or her greatness, and will cherish my time with her. Sincerely, Tom.”
I was numb, had been on automatic pilot for over a week. But when I read this letter from Dr.Liebl, I finally broke down, and the tears came.