My Dying Dog Teaches Me How To Live Every Day

Author Kelly Byrne Lucy dog doorwayI have a tenuous relationship with reality when it comes to my dog, Lucy – AKA The Goon. I’ve never fully hopped on board with the idea, commonly held by most normal and sane animal lovers, that one day she will cross the infamous Rainbow Bridge never to return to me.

‘Ain’t gonna happen’ was how it went in my head for many years. She’s magical. She’ll be here forever. She’s that dog. Because she’s not a dog, she’s my daughter.

This is what I needed to believe for the last fifteen years in order to function. Even a whiff of the idea that she wouldn’t be with me until my end put me a bit over the edge and weepy.

But the bitter reality is that it is going to happen. And sooner than later, I’m afraid. Our wee Babushka is getting more frail and brittle by the day.

It’s not in any way fun to watch, but I’m trying to concentrate on the good. The here and now. The things I’m grateful for.

Believe me, if there was someone I could write a strongly worded letter to in order to change her fate I would. But this is what I have in front of me. The Great. The Goofy. The Goon.

Author Kelly Byrne dog with monkey on back
The Goon has a monkey on her back.

And here are a few things, not in any particular order, she’s taught me about living while she makes her slow, steady departure from us.

Perfect Patience

Elderly dogs don’t rush. Because they can’t. The ache in the bones runs too deep. So I’ve had to learn an otherworldly kind of patience with her daily routine now. I do my best to wait in peace for that ten or twenty minutes while she stands on the crest of our little hill and stares off into the void before considering going potty then never actually getting around to doing it or much of anything at all.

When I get frustrated with her after about an hour and a half of void staring, I take a breath and remind myself that this is her way of soaking in the world now. Every second she’s out there doing absolutely nothing, she’s actually doing something.

She’s breathing life. She’s absorbing her surroundings. She’s standing still to appreciate the place she’s standing in in that moment (and the place she continues to stand in for another ten minutes without moving a muscle).

In other words, she’s simply living. Simply breathing. Simply being. Simply. There’s a lot to take away from this in our crazy-hectic over-scheduled never-have-a-moment-to-breathe lives.

The Goon says learning patience with others and ourselves is pretty key to living simply and being happy. And it bleeds over into all areas of our lives, including and especially writing. Patience, grasshoppa. It will come.

Learning how to simply be? Well, that’s priceless.

Thank you, Goon, for being such a great teacher.

Author Kelly Byrne the happy goonCrazy Curiosity

When she was younger, she was never a big sniffer. Sure, she’d enjoy the occasional pile on the sidewalk some irresponsible owner neglected to pick up if she was lucky enough to find one, but she was never a serial sniffer…until she turned ten.

Each year since then her problem has become progressively more pronounced, so that now she’s in the rock bottom stage of her addiction. When we venture out on our walks, there is not one blade of grass that goes unsniffed. Not one pee-stained corner of a trash bin or curb that will elude her. She will get them all sniffed and sniffed up good!

The Goon has always been a curious little monkey. But now it’s like her curiosity is her super-power. She wants to explore every nook and cranny. Inspect every blade of grass for a fascinating new scent. Every possible smell-scape of the landscape.

And every open door on our route has an ‘Open House’ sign just for The Goon. At least that’s the way she sees it. If it’s there, it’s there for her to explore and appreciate.

When’s the last time you were truly curious about something? Wanted to learn more, see more, know more (smell more) about it.

The Goon says never lose your childish curiosity. Always be sniffing, always be searching out the new and fabulous sites and smells in your own world. And in the worlds you create as a writer.

Thank you, Goon, for being such a great teacher.

Author Kelly Byrne dog The Goon Look
You can just hear the peanuts rattling around in there, can’t you?

Preternatural Perseverance

Hell hath no tenacity like The Goon when you’re sitting in her spot on the couch. She will stand for minutes, many of them, staring you down. Nobody moves a muscle. It’s intense.

She won’t blink. She barely breathes. Or she breathes too much and pants all over you in an effort to stink you out. But mostly she just stands a statue, hoping her Jedi mind tricks will work on you.

Most of the time they do. But sometimes Mommy stands her ground in the spot. The Goon holds right on too.

Yes, she may circle the coffee table and root herself on the other side, but she’ll always come back to the stare. It’s kind of creepy actually. She’s the most focused and single-minded creature I’ve ever seen when she wants something. And usually that something is her couch throne.

The Goon says when you’re going after whatever it is you want in this life, never give up. Even if you have stinky breath. Even if you’re a creepy, non-blinking, zombie-like creature with dead eyes who stares at your Mommy like you want to eat her head.

Never give up on your dreams to dominate your own couch. Write those books. Pursue that career with vigor. Go get whatever life you want and don’t let anyone, even Mean Mommy, stand in your way.

Thank you, Goon, for being such a great teacher.

Author Kelly Byrne Lucy dog headshot
This is not the dead-eyed zombie stare. This is the cute Goonie one.

I once read a blog post from a woman who had just lost her furry best friend. She talked about how she wanted to remember him, young and happy, without all the weird warts and missing fur and aching body he suffered from at the end.

I couldn’t pinpoint why exactly, but I felt weird about what she’d said. I understand the sentiment to a certain degree, wanting to hold on to memories of her baby in his youthful stage, but it really didn’t sit well with me.

While I certainly don’t revel in the odd and incredible prevalence of warts and skin tags and just plain what-the-eff-IS-that’s that have set up camp all over The Goon’s poor fragile body in the last few years, I want to remember her just as she is right now, in these days, these moments we have together, warts and all.

She’s everything she’s always been and more. More cantankerous sometimes too, but who wouldn’t be at 105 (give or take)?

Goon in the morning
She may be a senior but she’s still stunning in the sunrise.

She’s a wise old lady teaching me how to live my life every day. I’m a better person because of her. And whenever she decides to take her leave from us, I’ll be okay (no, no I definitely won’t, but yes, I will eventually) because she’ll always be there with me in spirit, running those crazy, cracked-out circles of her youth, and staring me down for her spot on the couch.

I’m forever grateful for everything she’s given me in our short time together here. You are my sweet, goofy, cockeyed, cantankerous angel, Gooner Bug.

Thank you for being my best friend.

Author Kelly Byrne's dog Lucy(Damn it. I told myself I wasn’t going to cry writing this. Made it all the way to that last line. Oh well.)

If you enjoyed this post and you’d like to show me some love, tell me about your critter, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Feel free to share this post with your friends too using the buttons down yonder. ↓

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Kelly Byrne
An award-winning writer in many a genre, I currently herd words into novels and short stories about wildly flawed, but lovable characters. I strive to uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary, for those who believe in the possibility of the impossible, and those who always believe in love. My fiction embraces the idea that extraordinary things can and do happen in the real world. These whisperings of supernatural elements give my work a strong emotional edge, lending surprise and wonder to every story. I live in Los Angeles with my desperately handsome boyfriend where I’m working on my next novel.

10 Comments

  1. Oh, Kel, what a thing to have to come to terms with, and always so much earlier than we expect. It’s too bad that dogs can’t compare life stories with each other, because all Lucy’s dog friends would love to have you as their mom. She could add braggadocio to her list of titles.

    Our Maisy is on the downswing herself. She turned 11 or 12 this past February…we’re not really sure…you’ve heard her story before so you know why. Her breed has a life expectancy of about 15 years, but we’re prepared that hers may be less because of how she lived the first 7-8 years of hers.

    We never got to see her as a puppy, and I’m grateful, on some level, because her puppy life wasn’t what it should have been. But the four years we’ve had her so far have been amazing. While we didn’t get to see her grow up, we’ve got to witness her transformation from a broken, terrified animal to a loving, serene dog. Talk about life lessons!

    My point is, I’m hoping that by knowing how much we changed her life (and how much she changed ours) it will make it a little easier to let her go when the time comes. Aw, who am I kidding–it’s going to suck, no matter what. 🙁

    1. It’s totally going to suck, Kel, but all those memories you’ve (we’ve all) built along the way will be the salve tempering the pain of the wound long after they’re gone. At first, I don’t think anything is going to help, honestly. But that’s just the way grief works. We move through it and it moves with us, morphing and changing and becoming other as we go along.

      We’ll always miss them. That’s just the fact. But what you did for Maisy and what I did for The Goon saved their lives. No question. They know this and they’re grateful as hell for it. And we’re grateful just to have them in our lives. What a wonderful job they do of loving us. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world, that unconditional love.

      I know Maisy’s story, but I’d love for you to share it with your readers some day. It’s wonderful. And hopeful. And you’re awesome and amazing for what you did to help her. She’s a lucky girl to have you guys and you’re blessed to have her. For as long as you do.

      This is the place I’m in now with The Goon. Just feeling blessed. Every moment. Even when shit gets frustrating and scary. We are blessed. Hugs to you and Maisy, Kel.

  2. Kelly,

    I saw your blog this morning and wanted to avoid reading it wholeheartedly. Not because I don’t think you’re incredible writer, but the complete opposite. I knew your words were going to touch my heart in a way it isn’t ready to be touched.

    You and I have always shared the same feelings towards our pup. Harley will forever be my best friend and the thought of ever losing him makes my heart sink and my eyes do this weird watery thing that is very irritating.

    Every time I hear someone ask me “How old is Harley now?” and when I answer “He is 9 years old”, they so callously say back to me “Oh Wow! He doesn’t have a lot of time left”. I cannot tell you how many people I have turned to and said ‘Oh is your child 10, wow you must be scared they are going to die soon’ – let’s just say those people don’t stay in my life very long.

    Your put into words everything I feel every single day when I look at Harley and see how happy he is, but I see how hard it gets for him to get up on the bed or how scared I get when he runs around that he may slip and hurt himself.

    He brings joy to everyone he meets. And I agree with you that if there were anything in the world I could do to keep my best friend with me forever I would without a second thought. To forever watch his tail wag and hear him howl when I ask him “Do you love me?” and then run over and kiss my face.

    It’s never easy facing the reality that one day your best friend won’t be there to greet you in the morning or when you get home from work, but one thing that someone shared with me a long time ago and I hope I will truly remember this when the time comes – “It’s always hard to adopt a family member that you know in your mind will never have a long life, but the joy they bring to you for the years they are with you are worth more than anything money could ever buy you”. This is very true. Harley can put a smile on my face no matter what I am feeling and I will always be grateful for any time we get to spend together.

    Love you Kelly and it will never be easy, but just know that our pups love us for being so kind and loving to them. For always treating them with compassion and warmth and never hurting them as so many people do to their ‘pets’.

    1. Talk about leaking water out the eyes. You totally made me do that, Melissa. First, thank you for reading, for being brave enough to face something you maybe didn’t think you were strong enough to face. That’s amazing. Second, I know what you mean about people’s callousness. It’s frustrating to say the least. I just say something snarky to them in my head and move on. People can be complete idiots sometimes without even realizing it.

      I’m really glad my post touched you and resonated with things you’re going through now. I’m not glad you’re going through them, but I think it’s important to talk about them, even when they’re hard and they hurt. It helps to know other people are going through the same things. That you found a shoulder to cry on if you need it.

      Harley is a beautiful boy (sad I never got to have our photo shoot) and I hope you get to spend many many more years being best buddies. I wish the same thing for The Goon and me, but I don’t think it’s in the cards for us. So I just try to enjoy and cherish every moment we have now. It’s the now that counts. Something else I’ve learned from her.

      And I wholeheartedly agree with what that person said. The joy they bring is worth everything, even the gut-wrenching pain of their loss. I would never trade the years I’ve had with her for anything.

      I had a friend who once said he would never get another dog because losing his was too painful. I understand that, I really do, but you’ve got to live. You’ve got to love again. If there’s anything that our companions teach us it’s that.

      Life is for loving. Love you, Melissa. Give Harley and hug and kiss for me. 🙂

  3. When my dog was dying of aggressive mammary cancer, I absolutely refused to let her go. The doc had told me chemo and surgery did not have very good outlook in this case. Plus, I couldn’t afford it anyhow. So, I tried all I could to extend her life, to save her, expecting nothing less than a miracle. I researched all the alternative methods that people had success with treating cancer in doggies, and did every single one of them that I could afford. Just as I thought it was working things abruptly got worse. Alas, the cancer was too aggressive. She only lasted 6 short weeks from diagnosis.

    My very last memory of her was trying to force her to eat pain medication, she refused and bit my finger. Blood squirted on the wall from my finger. I had to come up with something quick, as I could tell she was in pain. I left the house to buy some bandages and diaper so I can apply the cancer fighting medicine topically. When I got back home, she was gone…. I tried my best to wake her up. I let her suffer trying to stop or at least delay the inevitable. I suppose it’s something I had to learn to do, to let go.

    I’m no writer or use anything remotely resembling correct grammar. You don’t know me well, and I’m not sure how this will help, but I thought I’d share this with you, Kelly and other folks coping with a dying pet.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It breaks my heart for you that you went through that. I’m so sorry. For your loss and for everything you endured.

      I understand what you’re saying completely. We do whatever we can to keep them around with us because we’re not ready to let go. I know I’m not. But I also know that if she developed a disease other than simple creaky bones and old age, I would have to face a decision and I would need it to be for her, not for me.

      Thank you for reminding me of that. As you would never want your baby to be in pain, neither would I and I would need to take steps to make sure she wasn’t. I keep a close eye on her for those kinds of things and so far we’re doing okay.

      Thank you, again, for being brave and sharing your story. it’s important to remember to keep their best interests at heart and not our own.

  4. My Sasha turned nine years old this July and every year, she sleeps more and more and has a tougher time getting down the stairs. I take her for walks just so I can see the energy that doesn’t make itself known so much anymore. I so sympathize with on this. And gosh those photos! Perfection. I hope you’re submitting to pet magazines.

    1. Thanks so much, Rach. I haven’t submitted to any magazines yet, but I may. I was a pet photog for a minute so I’ve definitely got a few. 😉

      I think the best we can do is really appreciate the time we have left with our little monkeys and show them as much love as possible. Lots of snuggling. Thanks for reading and sharing about Sasha. I hope she’s with you for a very very long time.

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