Well, I've finally figured out why I never got the "empty-nest" syndrome when my kids moved out. I always had a house full of pets! When the kids left (well, they left, came back, left again, and with 5 of them, that's a lot of coming and going), I still had 4 cats, a dog, and a bird to take care of. My house was never really empty.
Shortly before moving into this house, though, we gave the bird (a Nanday Conure named Echo, who would always start squawking when you got on the phone) to someone better able to take care of him. Then, I lost my first cat (a gray long-hair domestic named Spanky) shortly after I moved into this house six years ago. He either ran away or was caught by a coyote (we didn't find him in the streets or anything).
This year has been one of the toughest, though. I lost PuddyRat, my most favorite and cherished cat, earlier in the year (followed on the heels of my mother's death). I'd had him for close to 15 years and he was most definitely MY cat.
Then, a few weeks ago, we made the decision to let our very vocal tuxedo cat go after a bite he got became infected. He was a good cat, but not terribly cuddly, so no one was really close to him. Still, it was another in a long line of recent losses.
Yesterday, however, we had to make the decision to let our dog, Precious, go. Precious was our Boxer Baby, and about as sweet a dog as one could ask for. She was always good around my grandchildren from the time they were infants, through toddler stage, to young children. She was a wonderful guard dog, always letting us know when someone was approaching the house or at the door. She was even more alert, barking constantly, when either of us was in the house alone and taking a shower, or if we were both home, but otherwise, um, engaged.
When she was still well, she used to like to zip around the yard as fast as she could. We'd stand in the center and clap our hands and she'd run around in circles around us. She had floppy ears and when she wanted to play, she'd get down on her "elbows" with her butt up in the air and that little docked tail wig-wig-wigging back and forth. She couldn't wag her tail as there simply wasn't enough there, so we called it wigging.
This month, Precious would have turned 10, which is moderately old for a Boxer, but not so old for a dog. As she got older, she became only a little less rambunctious. This was both a good thing and a bad thing. While she was no longer consumed with puppy-itis (that lasted about four years), she was still able to chase the squirelly squirrels and dig holes with exuberence.
However, while we realized she was getting on (she could no longer travel long distances in the car), we didn't realize how bad until we took her with us to a race. Pat was running a half marathon and I was standing on the sidelines. We parked our car and walked to the race start. It was only then that we realized she'd been dragging one of her back paws as the "knuckle" was raw and bleeding. This was the beginning of what I consider to be a fairly rapid decline in our dog's health. I mean, we knew she was getting worse, but I don't think either of us realized (much less admitted), just how bad she was.
In the last few weeks, she's gotten to the point where the nerve damage in her back was so bad that she was walking on her knuckles without even realizing it. She walked sideways because she had no control in where her back legs were going. We had throw rugs spread out in all the areas of the house with bare floor because she couldn't get any traction and her legs would splay out behind her. When her back legs weren't going opposite directions, she would trip over them and fall down. We would carry her up and down the stairs, but carrying 60 pounds of solid dog up and down stairs was a little much for even our aging backs. We got to the point where we would help her up the stairs by wrapping our arms around her middle (she didn't like the strap we had), and crawling up on all fours ourselves.
It was excruciating to watch her decline, but she was Pat's dog and I had to let him make the decision to put her out of her misery. My heart ached whenever I'd watch her walk or get up or down out of a chair. When it became evident that her front legs were also starting to exhibit some of the same symptoms, he finally decided it was time to say good-bye.
So, Saturday morning, she got to eat a whole steak all by herself. Pat cooked it for her. I lay on the floor with her for an hour just holding and cuddling her, and kissing her soft ears. Just before we left for the vet, I let her lick a large spoon with peanutbutter on it as I ate my toast. She sure did like peanutbutter!
When we arrived at the vet's, they took her weight, then took her into the lab (without us) to insert the catheter. Meanwhile, we were escorted into a small waiting room. The room comes complete with a stuffed couch and chair. Mats are placed on the floor along with blankets. I lay on the floor with her once again and held her. She was very excited as she was unclear about what was going on. She couldn't understand what we were so upset about and who was this man holding something in his palm. As we said our good-byes, the vet surreptitiously inserted the needle into the catheter. Seconds later, she was gone.
Pat and I both sobbed. Precious had been such a large part of our lives for the last 10 years. She was one of our surrogate children and one of the most favored. We didn't do anything without considering the ramifications to the her. We hesitated to go anywhere unless someone we trusted was able to watch her. Pat stayed home with her this last August while I did Ironman Canada because she was doing so poorly. I don't regret that decision. After a short time with her now lifeless, but still warm body, we left. We opted for a private cremation, so now we wait for their call saying her ashes are ready to be picked up.
When we came home, I immediately started clearing her things out. It was something I felt like I needed to do while I was still slightly numb. I also did it in the hopes it would help my husband, so he wouldn't have to deal with it. He is more devastated by her departure than even I. In the same way that PuddyRat was MY cat, Precious was HIS dog. We refered to her as "Daddy's Girl." She was his buddy, his pal, his best friend. She was always there for hime, always glad to see him, she never complained (even when she wasn't feeling well), and she never criticized.
I emptied her food bowl and cleaned it, then gave it and the left over bag to my step-son for his dog. I picked up some of the extra throw rugs and threw them into the laundry room for washing later (some I threw out). I collected her medicines and treats and removed them from the cupboard. As she became increasingly crippled, Pat had built stairs for her so she could still climb up onto our bed (yes, she ocassionally slept with us). I moved those out of the way. I picked up her basket and moved it outside.
Now I wonder if I was mistaken to do all that so quickly. Suddenly, my house feels so damned empty. I only have one cat now (called "Puppy" of all things, but that is a different story). I guess I've finally come face to face with that "empty nest" syndrome I've heard people talk about, but never really understood. I didn't understand because my house, my home was never really empty. I always had stuff going on. If one child wasn't living with me, another one was. When I finally didn't have any children living with me, I had parents living with or near me.
Always, I had a house FULL of activity. Now, I have next to nothing and I don't quite know what to do about it. We've chosen, for the time being, not to get another dog. While we are devastated by the loss of our pets, there is also a certain sense of freedom and relief that comes with it (along with a small dose of guilt for feeling free and relieved). Now if we want to take off to Vegas or Phoenix or San Diego or Mexico for a weekend, the only thing holding us back is money and time off from work. We don't need to worry about who will watch over all the animals. After all, cat's are pretty self-sufficient for about a week so long as they have food, water, and a litter box, so that is not a worry.
I suppose once Monday comes around and we get back into our regular routine of going to work and the general vagaries of life, we will feel the losses a little less acutely. For now, though, the pain is sharp and I suspect we will have at least a dull ache for some time to come. The fact that it's winter and the weather is quite dull, gray, wet, and dreary probably doesn't help us much, either. Stupid to blame the weather, but I can't help but think if we had sunshine it might somehow be easier. Then, again, maybe not. I don't and won't really know, now will I. What I do know is that it hurts and the silence is overwhelming.
And wow...if you read all that depressing drivel, I'm impressed. I wrote all this down for me and no one else. I've been so negligent about my blog, I find it unlikely anyone still pays any attention to it. I guess I really should finish my race report. At the very least, my coach will be expecting it.
Anyway, I expect I'll be back to my usual cheerful and chipper self soon enough. Rock on.