Slowly, as consciousness crept over me, I heard the rough raspy voice of Steven Tyler and a twangy guitar solo. I had never heard this duet from the lead singer of Aerosmith and guitar legend Santana, but it was the first thing I heard as I awoke.
Just feel better…
I felt lost and afraid. I felt the surrealism of waking up in that hotel room that winter morning; the song had a sadness and an uncertainty in Tyler’s lyrics that I myself was feeling.
As I lay there pondering what my next move should be, the song ended and Gwen Stefani of No Doubt came on the radio: Sweet Escape. I couldn’t escape my reality and the decisions I had to make, but this song felt more upbeat and cheery than the one that had preceded it.
Croche and I were a team. Everyone could see it. People continuously commented on how we seemed to work perfectly together, a match made in Heaven. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide dog than her.
For eight years we were pretty much inseparable.
It was only that winter that things started to go wrong.
For years it had been my own health that got in the way, but Croche began to walk funny, having paw problems. I was taking a counselling course over the winter and she only accompanied me there a few times, soon unable to walk and do her job.
Now here I was, in a hotel room, having decided to stay overnight while Croche was monitored at a veterinary hospital nearby. I hadn’t wanted to leave her there, in the care of total strangers overnight, but the vet assured me she was resting comfortably, only after being given pain medication to ease the suffering she was clearly in.
It wasn’t good. I think I already knew that, on some level, but the vet confirmed the worst; Croche had cancer and she was in pain. My regular vet had not wanted to say the words and instead referred me to this specialist. Dog chemo, these human cancer treatments were available, but at a high price.
This was the end and my mom tried, gently and kindly, to help me to see it.
I felt in a haze of disbelief, at how this was ending for my favourite furry companion.
The vet talked of tests they could do to pinpoint the cancer and its severity, just doing her job, yet the pressure she piled on felt mountainous. Should we do more? Could we do more? Croche was suffering and probably had been for a while. I felt like I had let her down somehow.
They were giving her medication to help with the pain and they convinced me to let them keep her overnight, but now it was the light of a new day, the previous one having been full of self-doubt and contemplation. Now we were taking her home, to keep her comfortable and to say goodbye.
She lasted about a month, on medication to keep her as pain-free as possible. She slowly grew worse as the weeks went on.
My bedroom became the living room couch, where I could be only a short arm’s reach away from her on her doggy bed on the floor. They had shaved a patch on her back during her stay at the animal hospital, a clear reminder of the harsh reality of the situation.
The decision had been looming, whether to have her put down or just keep waiting it out. It grew harder and harder to take care of her. She needed help walking, her back end slowly becoming paralyzed. Taking her down the steps to the bathroom became impossible for me to handle alone.
My sister’s foot surgery made her immobile and unable to assist, so her boyfriend or my mother were left with the job. Croche’s harness, now without its usual purpose, became a way of holding her up to get her outside.
I suppose I got off easy, that Good Friday morning in early April. I’d been wrestling with the obvious for days and I knew in my heart what I had to do, but I was spared the heart-wrenching experience when, after relieving her that morning, Mom helped Croche to settle back down on her bed next to my couch.
Croche lay there, exhausted from the simple act, she had a seizure and was forever still and silent.
I would never again here her barking or feel her ears perk up at a knock or the ring of a doorbell.
It seemed strangely meaningful that on this Good Friday she had let go, unable to reach her eleventh birthday.
I bent down and laid my head against her rigid body, stroking her soft fur. I hoped she passed away knowing I was right there beside her and that I would never forget what she brought to my life.
This Easter I remember her, like I always do, with fond memories and a smile. I still miss her soft fur and her bark. I know her devotion to me was strong and we were a team. She was my pal. She died that Easter and I had to go on without her companionship. I felt lost without her next to me, like a part of me was missing. This feeling would eventually fade from my every thought, but Easter brings all that up once more, the feelings I couldn’t escape, that morning in that hotel room.