(So sick – Two days before I said goodbye)
I write this from Starkville, Mississippi – home of Mississippi State University and the MSU Veterinary School. I have been out of touch for the last couple of weeks because Olive’s medical condition took a turn for the worse. Yesterday, May 24, 2016, I euthanized her due to profound, unidentified infection and inflammation, leading to septicemia. I am heartbroken.
Two weeks ago, while in Baton Rouge, Olive refused to eat, and she was wobbly when she walked. We spent six days at LSU at its veterinary school, but they could not identify the source of her malaise. She started spiking fevers and continued to refuse food. Sobbing, I packed up the RV, hitched up the car, and drove over five hours at 75 miles per hour from Baton Rouge to Starkville. We arrived on a Sunday night, where Olive was admitted to the ICU. I breathed a sigh of relief, took a shower, and was full of hope for a complete recovery. Nine days later, she was gone.
I have always been a woman of science rather than faith. If anything, I put my faith in science. Having worked with medical professionals for over a decade, I have a basic understanding of medical issues, and I was convinced there would be a curative treatment for whatever infection had taken hold of Olive. I was certain that we need only find the culprit to administer the cure. Despite abdominal ultrasound, MRI, x-rays, fine needle aspirations of the spleen, liver, and bone marrow, four types of antibiotics, spinal tap, and countless blood tests for bacteria, fungus, protozoa and viruses, we could not save her.
And I so wanted to save her, because she saved me. In 2012, after living my adult life with only cats as pets, I wanted a lifestyle that supported having a dog. I had been a trial lawyer for most of my working life. I wanted to come home at a decent hour. I wanted to go for walks and get outdoors. Looking back now, I realize that adopting Olive was the genesis of my major life change in 2015.
I will never forget meeting her for the first time at her foster parents’ home. She ran up to me, barking but tail wagging, and jumped in my lap as I sat down on the patio chair. Her foster mom was in shock; Olive never jumped in laps, ever. The next day, I got a car seat so she could see out the window and not fly around in the car when we turned corners. It took her four jumps, without any direction from me, from the sidewalk to the floorboard to the driver’s seat to the center console to her seat. She laid down, rested her head on the edge of carrier, and stared up at me lovingly. That became her routine. The most assertive she ever got was when I petted her while driving. If I stopped petting and rested my hand on the side of the carrier, she nuzzled her head under my hand, urging me to continue.
On our first night sleeping together, Olive immediately laid on a pillow. I did not want my pillows to be covered in dog hair or smell like dog, so I did not allow it. Over the years, every once in a while she would try for a pillow, seeing if I had changed my mind. After Olive slept over at my friend Denise’s on the night of the over-stimulation-for-a-dog summer party at my house, Denise said, “It was the cutest thing – she slept on the pillows on the bed!” Sneaky little thing.
One month after we met, I had emergency neurosurgery on my neck, and Olive was a great source of comfort and companionship during the six-week recovery. We laid on the sofa together, binge-watching “Alias” and going in and out of consciousness. She hated it when I went back to work, hanging her head low and walking soooo slowly when I called her to come to the area cordoned off by a baby gate. I am infinitely thankful that she and I were together almost constantly for the last 14 months, after I quit my job and hit the open road. She wanted nothing more in the world than to be with me, and I felt exactly the same way about her.
There are so many things about her I’m afraid I will forget, so I’m going to write them down here. In the beginning, when she sat on my lap on her hind legs, facing me, she would fall backwards in a game of trust, waiting for me to catch her. Sitting around a campfire one night, she did it repeatedly, to the amusement of my friends. Two months later, she stopped. I must have passed her test.
She was incredibly smart. All the commands and tricks she knew were learned in less than one day. She had an amazing sense of balance; she could stand perfectly still on her hind legs forever for a treat, which she did on my command, “Circus Doggie.” After a walk, especially in rainy Seattle, she laid down in the hallway and rolled over, exposing her legs and belly and paws so I could wipe them. In the last few months, even though I could tell it was painful for her and did not command her to do it, she continued. She just wanted to please me.
Every little noise, especially sudden ones, scared her, but she rested comfortably during thunderstorms and fireworks. When she was excited she jumped on her hind legs and made this happy growling noise, nipping at your pant legs. She loved the rough-feeling carpet at my law office, lying on her back and scratching back-and-forth, her body contorting into alternating mirror S shapes, grunting merrily. She loved eating cat poop, her little Kitty Rocas as I called them; if she found one on a walk she would stand there chewing slowly, so self-satisfied, knowing I would be too disgusted to pry it out of her mouth. On the few occasions in the park when she ran with other dogs or chased a squirrel, she reminded me of Pepe le Pew, bouncing up-and-down on her short little legs.
Each morning she repeatedly ran to the edge of the bed, then back to me, pouncing on my arm and shoulder and happy growling for me to get up. If she trusted you, her favorite thing in the world was to lie her back, expose her belly, and get tummy rubs. It took her a long time to trust; I said that Olive followed The Rule of 40. After she met you 40 times, you were her best friend. Over time, a handful of friends became her people too. When she heard their voices she whined in happy anticipation to greet them. On our walks around the neighborhood, no less than 10 neighbors doled out head scratches and tummy rubs and treats to her. She knew the route so well and was so good at waiting at curbs, I walked her without a leash, getting two tickets from Animal Control in the process! I didn’t mind, because our neighborhood walks made her confident. She would get so bouncy and perky at times, I nicknamed her “Princess Prancy Pants.”
Olive taught me a lot about resilience and trust. Despite all the awful things that happened to her before we found each other, she trusted me. She let me clip her nails, bathe and groom her, and give her medicine. It was only at the very end, when picking her up to take her outside the rig, she nipped at me to protect herself. I knew then how sick she was and how much pain she was in.
I don’t know how or why it started, but sometimes in bed at night I would sing a little song to Miss Olive – Lerner & Lowe’s “On The Street Where You Live,” from “My Fair Lady.” After a few renditions over time, she wagged her tail when I sang.
I have often walked
Down the street before,
But the pavement always
Stayed beneath my feet before.
All at once am I
Several stories high,
Knowing I’m on the street where you live.
Are there lilac trees
In the heart of town?
Can you hear a lark in any other part of town?
Does enchantment pour
Out of every door?
No, it’s just on the street where you live.
And oh, the towering feeling
Just to know somehow you are near
The overpowering feeling
That any second you may suddenly appear.
People stop and stare
They don’t bother me,
For there’s no where else on earth
That I would rather be.
Let the time go by,
I won’t care if I
Can be here on the street where you live.
I sang the song to her yesterday as she lay wrapped in a blanket on a sofa in the visitation room. She mustered a couple of small tail wags, even though she could barely lift her head and her respirations were swift and shallow. As the sedative entered her bloodstream I told her it was time to go for a ride in the car and go home. She looked up to me, relieved. Her pupils then grew as wide as the margins of her eyes, she shuddered once and exhaled, and she was gone.
No more pain, Baby Girl. I love you.