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.
From Barb and Dave Downing:
We know what you are going through, because we felt the same way when we had to put Princess down. She was 13 1/2. Near the end, she was not able to get to her feet. We saw how hard she tried to come to us. When Dave took her to Dr. Kraft, he said it was time.
When Dave came home alone, I knew it was bad news. We went back to Dr. Kraft’s office, and Princess was on the table waiting for us. I think she knew she was ready to go. Her soft brown eyes seemed to say “I love you” and “It is ok.”
Princess brought so much joy and love to us. We are so grateful to have had her for as long as we did.
We are sending you the version of “The Rainbow Bridge” that came with her ashes. After reading it, I was finally able to let her go, and remember what a special member of our family she was. We felt better knowing she was with other pets in a good place and not alone.
Her ashes are on a table in the dining room, and I say goodnight to her every night before I go to bed. I read “The Rainbow Bridge” often. It really helps.
Barb & Dave Downing.
I am so sorry about Mykee and I know how deeply this hurts. I hope writing about it helps. Today is the one-year anniversary of the day last year when I had to put Moppy down. She couldn’t stand up any more, and it was hard to get her to eat anything, but deciding and going through with it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I still miss her and think about her, even though I got a new dog a few weeks later. I got that dog a little too soon and had a hard time bonding, but now he is a great friend and brings lots of joy. Dogs are so darn special; we are lucky to get to have them in our lives.
Paul, I am so, so sorry for your loss. Your tribute is lovely and heartbreaking. I wish I had better words to express my sadness at Mykee’s passing.
From Bob Elliott:
I was saddened to hear that you’ve lost Mykee. I hope you are consoled by the knowledge that your great devotion to him was understood and appreciated by Mykee and others. Irie has just stopped doing stairs after a serious bout with Vestibular Syndrome. We know her time is coming. We’ll look to your example as we, too, go through this process.
When I inquired about Mykee, I wrote you the following:
You must be devastated either way….I am so very sorry. I know how much she means to you and what good company she has been all these years. I also know how much you care about those you really care for, and that cuts deeply into one’s feelings. I am thinking of you and wish that I could be some/any help. Being away does not make it very easy to share feelings, but be sure that I think the world of you and love you very much. anita
A second note from Dick Hardin:
P–Here is my own dog memory about Hadrian, our border collie:
The irony of “dog god” holds a secret revelation
Because there was one, assigned a task
Later given the messenger god. He it was,
They say, who herded the souls of the dead
To the Underworld. He walked stiffly and carried a staff,
A herdsman’s staff, as if one of us
Might stray off the path home.
Where would we go if not the Underworld?
Sometimes at night my black and white herder
Would retire to my snug and snooze
Until twelve or so when I rose to douse the lights.
He stirred and somehow eased in front of me,
He walked a steady pace in the gloom
Leading me upstairs, where, as if losing his task-sense,
He settled on his assigned mat to guard the flock.
From John Wiehl:
Dear Paul, I just checked in to your blog and saw that you lost your dog about a month ago. I’m sorry I didn’t know sooner–I know you’re a great lover of your pets and it must be a terrible loss. I hope you’re finding life well as Easter approaches… John
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