I'd like to introduce you to Rhys. He is Dane #4 of our Daneish family. He was born in 2007 and we adopted him from the shelter when he was nine months old. He was about thirty pounds underweight; covered in festering, seeping wounds from a skin condition; and malnourished to the point of bone deformity.
My intention in bringing him home was to rehabilitate him and find the right home when he was ready. His intention was to stay.
Seven years later he is sleeping on the sofa, his 150 lb. tangle of legs and tail forming a tight O. Or maybe a Q.
Today is he coughing more than usual and is extremely tired. We learned several months ago he has congestive heart failure. Conan (Dane #3 who passed in 2014) also had congestive heart failure (dilated cardiomyopathy). He has good days and sofa days and all the days between. Sadly, experience doesn't make this any easier, but we do have the benefit of knowledge and experience this time.
I found this article on congestive heart failure in dogs to be informative. Knowing how the failure occurs and why brings a little peace to me. It helps to settle the part of my brain that wants a logical, scientific explanation for everything.
Heart failure is an interesting beast because it is so unpredictable from day-to-day. Will he breathe easily today? Will he want to adventure out of the house? Will he want and need extra lovin'? Will he get through the day without coughing? We wait and see. Other than the usual stuff about truly appreciating and cherishing those you love while they are here, that is the biggest lesson for me. Wait. Watch. Listen. Learn. The way things unfold is the way they need to be, and that's okay.
There is something about life coming to an end that brings clarity and focus. I've experienced this with each of our animal family members and see it frequently with clients. The pace of life slows - it reminds me of honey. The moments blob together in a lazy, sticky way; each with a delicious sweetness about it because it may be the last time. The last walk. The last nail trimming. The last prescription refill. The last good night.
I remember my last morning with Conan. It felt like his last morning. The night before felt like his last good night.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.