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This was our goodbye to Ebony. How very hard it is to say "enough" and to accept that the life of a beloved pet, no matter how precious it is to us, has become burdensome to them and can't be allowed to continue.
In the springtime, when new life was blossoming all around, we were able to push death away from our friend and companion. At the beginning of autumn, with the leaves falling and the air beginning to chill, the postponed ending came.
Sometimes we say of a human person that we've never heard a harsh word said about them. So it was with Ebony. She was the happiest of dogs, easy to please, loving and welcoming, always grinning and never pushy or demanding.
Until her illness, Eb liked to walk and run as often as possible. Tearing up and down the garden path after a tennis ball never seemed to tire her, and she'd often retrieve a forgotten ball and drop it at someone's feet, perhaps when they were doing something that really couldn't be left waiting. To show that walking time was overdue, she'd sit by her lead and make little "look here" motions with her head and eyes.
Her favourite play space was the parkland that surrounds our local golf course. Here she could run up and down hills, splash along ditches and--her ultimate joy--sit right down to her shoulders in a muddy puddle. She'd come home, eyes bright and tongue lolling, with the beatiful feathery fur of her tail and sides caked with drying clay.
When not running about, though, Ebony had the lovely quality of being companionable without the need for chatter. She'd lie quietly for hours, glad of an occasional pat or rub, but asking for no attention at all.
One morning Ebony was indefinably "wrong". A hurried trip to the vet disclosed a cancererous growth, unnoticed for months, which had just begun to impinge on an important blood vessel. Had we not noticed, or had we given her a day to feel better, she'd have died quickly. Surgery removed the tumour, but a tiny blood clot that formed during the procedure found its way to her brain and she was paralysed. For four days she lay immobile, receiving fluid, nourishment and pain-killing drugs through a drip tube. When we rubbed her limbs and head she showed awareness and just a glimmer of pleasure, but it seemed that she was helpless and without hope of recovery.
On day five we decided that her suffering had to end, but she thought otherwise. Half an hour before she was to be given that final overdose of anaesthetic, she began to drink.
We brought her home and, encouraged by Roald Dahl's account of his wife's recovery from stroke, we set to work. For weeks Trina patiently cared for her, feeding her with a spoon, giving her water from a syringe, always trying to get her to take a little by herself. She removed and replaced soaked bedding, as well as cleaning, without complaint, the daily messes that happened. The rest of the family joined in with massage, lots of talk, and a little help with feeding and watering.
Slowly but surely Ebony improved. She made huge efforts to get up or move around. Since the stricken side of her body was far weaker than the other, most of her efforts resulted in her slowly turning in a circle, but more and more often she'd manage to get her head and forelegs upright--or nearly so--until one night, coming from the bathroom, Trina found her upright, leaning on a wall, panting heavily and grinning with triumph.
She began to move around the house, always supporting her weak side against a wall and approaching food and water around a corner and to the side. Her determination knew no limits. Gradually she learned to walk without a supporting wall and to negotiate steps and corners. It seemed that she always had to fix her attention on a goal, though; if she just "went for a walk" she'd always finish up walking in circles.
On a memorable day in January, we went to the beach at Seaford, and Ebony discovered the biggest puddle she'd seen in her life; the sea! Following Trina into the water, she began to swim. How she loved it! She was, admittedly, swimming in circles, but wide circles, the water giving support to her weak parts. Later that day we noticed with amusement that her fur was frosted with salt.
house, sliding a little on polished parts of the floor, but generally behaving like a normal dog, happy, healthy and eager to please.
For some months Eb continued well and happy, mastering more lost abilities, but slowly her improvement subsided. She became terribly anxious when Trina was not at home, watching the door and needing to be coaxed to eat. There were days when she seemed unable--or at least unmotivated--to take herself outside. Trina was again sometimes carrying her out for toileting, and there were occasional accidents. She started to get herself "lost," being unable to turn around and leave a space she'd just entered. On these days she'd look bewildered, and the happy grin was missing. Each time this happened we assumed that she was about to slip quietly away, but the next day would see her well again.
Then, on the first of April, things took a permanently downward turn. Her belly was bloated. Medical opinion was that she was merely overweight, and we were persuaded that this could be true. Her apparent confusion didn't abate overnight; instead it grew worse. She looked sad. On the third, she was very thirsty and drank a lot, but the water wouldn't stay down. During the night, having been taken outside, she became "lost" and blundered into the fish pond. She was dried off and comforted, but it was obvious that her perception of things around her was dim. She was tired and wanted nothing but to rest. That has been granted her, but a space is left in our lives.
Rest in peace.
Looking back over those six months, there are questions and regrets. Without intervention, the tumour would have taken her swiftly. We would have been shocked and hurt, and we would have thought ourselves to be unobservant and uncaring. Was it fair, though, that the last months of her life were such a struggle; a struggle in which she was heavily involved, certainly, but for which she had such a fleeting reward?
For Ebony, a choice was available, and the choice had to be made by her family. It saddens me that no such choice can be made by me or for me when my life becomes wearisome. If, like me and 73% of Victorians, you wish there'd be a change in the law, and if you live in Victoria, Australia, you might like to sign the petition at Dying with Dignity.
Questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you. My email address is here.