Tag Archive | loving old dogs

Stellar’s Birthday

January 28, 2015. In loving memory. Happy Birthday, Best Boy.

Today, Stellar would have been fourteen years old. He almost made it! It’s been a contemplative day and I’ve missed him a bit more than in recent weeks. But I’m okay, and celebrating what a wonderful life he had, we all had together. In mindfulness, we talk about the importance of choosing where to place our attention. From the moment Stellar arrived in my life, he was always a joyful and restorative focus for my attention. Hours at a time passed when I was occupied with other things, work or people or other obligations, but even then he was always present in the background like a bass rhythm, my anchor, my rock.

Stellar at about two months old, the last time I had three dogs. Raven teaches him to dig, and grumpy Uncle Brick supervises. (There’s no sound in this video.)

When he had been with us about eight months, serious Mr. Brick was diagnosed with cancer and declined quickly. In the last week of his life, I’d sit inside with him doing Reiki. The energy flow between us was palpable to me, and also to little Stellar outside; at a certain point in my session with Mr. Brick, when the energy hit a particular frequency, each time at the same level, Stellar would come tap at the window. That’s how strong our connection was. I don’t think he ever thought of himself as separate from me.

Thoughts arise almost every day about getting another dog, and I know I will eventually. But each time those thoughts come up, after I follow the fantasy (which varies widely) for awhile, I settle into the memory of my big beautiful boy, the best dog ever on the whole planet, and realize that I’m still not ready, yet. There is too much of him still with me, the body memory of his giant presence, the clarity of his gaze into my eyes, the total belonging of us together. I miss all my past dogs, memories of each of them colored to a large or small degree with some regrets; but I miss Stellar with a pure, clear love untainted by doubt or rue, one connection unsullied by human errors, misperceptions, judgements. He was one true thing I did right in life. I’ll be grateful forever for the solace and joy of this little bhodisattva who graced almost fourteen years of my time on this planet.

Mr. Brick and Stellar, spring 2008. He was two months old.
Three months old. Forgive the indulgence. I’m trying to post pictures I haven’t shared here before.
Back when we used to get big snow, 2010. He was two.
At Dameron Marsh, Virginia, 2011. He was three.
At Hughlett Point, Virginia, 2013. He was five.
Stellar and Raven singing in another precious day, 2014. He was six.
January 2015. He was seven.
May 2015, driving the Mothership without a license.
Silly boy, 2016. He was eight.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_4010.jpeg
Topaz and Stellar, 2016. She was just one.
November 2016
Autumn at the canyon rim, 2017. He was nine.
Another pretty good snow, 2019. He was eleven.
May 2020. He was twelve. We were both mourning the death of Raven.
November 2021, a year before he died.
May 2021. He was thirteen. Rest in peace, dear boy. You’ll live in the hearts of those who loved you as long as we live.

Sweet Dreams

Today I’m grateful for sweet dreams of Stellar. I’ve had a few. They make him feel not quite so gone. This morning’s was the sweetest so far. We lived in suburbs much like where I grew up, houses with backyards connecting, streets that meandered in neighborhoods. Stellar was gimpy but okay and we went for a walk to a little park nearby. Across the street and up the hill a guy came out of his house with a greyhound on a leash. Stellar took off running to see the new dog, and I followed, assuring the guy that it was okay. I was delighted to see him moving so well. He got there and greeted the greyhound and then wagged and pranced around as another dog came out. As the neighbor and I stood talking, Stellar got excited about something and ran over to a tall tree.

For a moment there was both Stellar on the ground and a bald eagle leaping into the tree. The eagle was gimpy too, so he had to hop up the birch tree from branch to branch. Higher up there was a hawk, and the two of them danced around from limb to limb for a few minutes cordially assessing one another. Then Stellar hopped up farther to the hawk’s nest. I worried there might be chicks in the nest and he might eat them, but he poked his white head into the nest and sniffed, then stepped away.

A few minutes later a little hawk chick stuck its grey spiky head out. Then it fledged, and another chick fledged–they were bigger by then–and Stellar approached the larger chick and put his beak on the chick’s neck. I worried he might grab it and shake it, but he simply touched it gently with his bill and looked down at me. He had that same look in his eagle eyes as he does above. We stood below and marveled at the four raptors in the tree.

It was time to head home, so I stood beneath the tree and patted my outstretched arm. “Come on down, baby, time to go home.” Eagle Stellar hopped down branch to branch and landed softly on my arm, and we turned to leave. He was still happy and rambunctious after his adventure in the tree, and of course he couldn’t fly because of his gimpy wing, so I cradled him in my arms as we crossed through back yards on our way home. “Gooood boy,” I crooned, “I’m so proud of you…”

Then the damn alarm went off, jolting me out of the dream. But I woke with a smile, and the sweet sensation that Stellar is out there in his bardo trying on potential new identities, thinking he might like to come back as an eagle in his next life.

Home Cooking with Stellar

It was a frenzied morning, in a good way, and a relief to finally sit down with coffee and the cinnamon bun that Honey Badger brought me yesterday. I’m grateful for the ongoing support of my community, friends who have known Stellar all of his life, too, and care about him and about me. Their offers to pick up and drop off things in town for me have enabled me to devote my energy to this remarkable process of hospice caring for my best friend.

Garden Buddy brought over muffins and tortellini minestrone this morning; she and her guys were on their way to run errands, including a couple of mine. I let the soup thaw in the fridge for tomorrow. I needed to do something with the last eggplants before they disappeared in the back of the produce drawer and had to end up compost. I’ve been planning this dish for weeks, and trying to get it made for days. I’m grateful I had energy today to make this time-consuming but utterly worth it recipe.

I’m grateful for farm fresh eggs from the Bad Dog Ranch, as well as homemade marinara and eggplants from my own garden.

We missed Amy, but I sure enjoyed a leisurely couple of hours meandering between the joy of cooking with a martini in the kitchen, and paying attention to Stellar in the living room. He watched me the whole time, and persuaded me to turn off the TV and turn on some soft instrumental jazz; then he tried out his howl just to see if I’d come, which I naturally did. I’m grateful for a relaxing evening home cooking with Stellar.

The three-step coating process supposedly guaranteed a crispy fried eggplant…
… and indeed they were perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. I had to try one. The rest I layered in the casserole dish with marinara and fresh mozzarella, then baked for forty minutes.
Stellar agitated for more food the whole time I was cooking, and finally consented to patience when I explained that he’d get his own bowl of dinner when it was finished.
I mixed his with a bit of kibble just to stretch it, and he loved it.
He also loved dessert, even though it was only a spoonful.
I’m grateful for my fingers in the feathers of his neck fur, and the feel of his warm velvety ear.

Everyone’s death is as uniquely their own as their lives are. He’s slowly going. I’m in no rush. The more I surrender to what is, settle into the moments that we have left, the less anxious I am about it. I’m grateful for these sweet evenings we’ve been sharing for months, now winding down; grateful for one more evening with him, knowing they’re running out.

Practice

Stellar and his sister Moonshine at about ten days old, held in the loving arms of my dear friend Chris, their ‘birth’ mother.
Stellar at four, helping in the office.

It was a rough day. Stellar woke crying in the night, and I spent the rest of it in and out of sleep on the floor beside him. He wanted to go out in the morning but couldn’t walk. I spoke with his vet to get clear instructions about palliative dosages for his pills, and the cold reality of the ways mammals die colored the rest of the day. He got himself up late afternoon and went outside, begging for a walk. We tried, but his back legs just dragged in the sling, and he kept heading to the right, going in circles if he didn’t encounter an obstacle like a sagebrush or my leg. I could barely move him along, and found myself crossly impatient.

I’m grateful for the introspective skills I learned in mindfulness training, so I could observe my reaction with gentle curiosity. We were never far from the fenced yarden, yet the prospect of his falling down and not being able to get him back inside made me anxious; that and some other inconveniences, and being so tired… it was a rough day. But now he’s sleeping, and I’m sleepy, and off to bed. I’m grateful for friends who care and understand, and offered help with some errands this week. I’m grateful for perspective, support, the forgiveness of unconditional love, and another day tomorrow to practice.

Stellar and Raven romping in the high country on a hike with Rosie nine autumns ago.

Bit of Time

Wherever did he get the idea to climb up and hug me, anyway? Stellar at two weeks old, the day I first met him.
Found it! Here is the picture I’ve been looking for. This day was the last time I held him off the ground; he weighed around 35 pounds, and was three months old. Doesn’t look like he was too too heavy, but I don’t have another image after this of carrying him.
Just to compensate for the picture I shared yesterday, here is an image from the big snow of 2010, when Stellar was pure muscle and control, at two years old.

I’m grateful for another easy day with Stellar. We have diminished his meds and supplements as of last night to purely palliative, and implemented belly-band use full time as of this afternoon. He was so busy trying to keep himself clean that he was starting to lick sores on the inside of his perpetually damp leg, and a bedsore was starting on his left hip. It was past time to escalate from pee pads. The belly-band keeps his legs and hips dry; without the need to lick obsessively he seems much calmer, which is also easier on me.

Today there was less mobility than yesterday, though I did manage to get him outside to his garden bed for a couple of hours midday, in the unseasonable warmth. I’m grateful for that bit of time outside in sunshine, and for his restful sleep most of the day. I’m grateful for another day to pay attention to Stellar past and present, remembering and cherishing his brief, sentient life. I’m grateful for support from a Buddhist friend for the course I’ve chosen for his transition, and grateful to be able to experience this as a natural transition rather than resisting, and turning it into a source of more suffering for me; and I’m grateful for the presence of mind to savor the lessons I’m learning during this extensive, existential, letting go.

One More Day with Stellar

Stellar at five, in my lap, again! I’ve been trying to find this one particular shot of the last time I was able to hold him in my arms. It continues to elude me in various hard drives and backups, but I have a fresh lead to follow tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for the joyful journey down memory lane.
Meanwhile in real time, he couldn’t get up this morning without assistance. I helped him outside with a sling, but his left back leg just wouldn’t cooperate. A few steps and we turned around. I fed him breakfast in bed. A couple more times he struggled to get up so I helped him out for a short stagger; then he slept all day.
Around four, he wanted out, and by golly that leg worked again–just barely.
He only fell once on the short Sunset Loop, and then I wrapped him in a belly band for the next few hours. He wanted out again after dark, so I took it off, soaked, and threw it in the washer. He’d be mortified if he knew I was sharing this picture.

I’m grateful for the products available to manage his incontinence. I’m grateful he had a pretty easy day with little agitation, grateful today wasn’t the day. Each day, each challenge, offers another opportunity to practice patience, compassion, and unconditional love. I’m grateful that I have this precious time, these hours each day, to lie beside him on the floor and remember with him the travels we’ve shared back and forth across the country, our joyous life together here for almost fourteen years. I’m grateful for the perspective that allows me to settle more deeply each day into this process of surrender, of letting go: grateful that when it’s over, I really will be able to say I brought my best self to this passage of our lives.

Stellar in his youthful prime, flying uphill.

Patience

Stellar giving me a kiss in 2010 at Auntie’s house. I’m grateful for all these old pictures of Stellar. I can’t find the exact one I’m looking for tonight, but I’m enjoying the search. I’m grateful for digital archives!

Arrg! Dogs keep on teaching me that “Patience only begins when you run out of it.” My best boy ever did two bad things today, after a lifetime of never doing either. I did lose my patience, briefly. The first time, when I caught him with his face in the bag of new dog food, I just chuckled, nudged him away, and clipped it shut. We had had a great day outside, more putting the garden to bed, pulling up, cutting back, raking, while he napped comfortably wherever he chose to.

He hadn’t eaten too much–I remembered Knobbydog, who was shut in a shed for a couple of hours one time, to keep him separate from some fightful ranch pitbulls: he ate an entire 40 pound bag of kibble, was shaped like a barrel and sick for days–no, Stellar had only eaten a cup or two, I think. But still, it’s a new food, and an abrupt transition can cause…er…digestive distress.

I’m grateful for Rosemary maple glazed roasted chicken

Not much more than an hour later, I set down my wooden bowl with a chicken thigh, turned my back for seconds to adjust his bed pads, and caught him snarfing the whole thigh in one gulp–NO!! I yelled, lunged, pried open his mouth and stuck my hand down his throat. Gone. Fuck! Fucking fuck! I yelled, Bad dog! Yep, I lost my temper. I ran out of patience. The thoughts that flashed through my mind! I wasn’t upset about losing the chicken thigh (unlike Raven’s breadloaf incident), I was worried: chicken bone, gut puncture, horrible painful death…. But as soon as I realized he’d swallowed the thigh whole, no crunched bone, I let go of that worry. And a ghost of Dr. Vincent’s voice reassuring me that a bone couldn’t pass undigested through their guts. There was nothing I could do anyway.

Then, it was over. A flash in the pan. I was in the kitchen washing my hands, and he had gone to sit shamefacedly on his bed. I cut off the other chicken thigh, took my bowl back to the table, sat and quietly enjoyed my dinner; gave him last bite as usual, and some good pats, and it was over. This is so new to me, to experience a sudden strong emotion, like the combination of fear and rage this evening, and then be able to let it go. And have it really, truly be gone.

He is so hungry all the time since this new medication regime. At least I’m not having anymore trouble getting pills into him! But he wants to eat all the time. He’s never been a highly food-motivated dog, that was his sister Raven (and the Knobbyheaded Dog). Now he’s a food-seeking missile. I don’t mind feeding him more, I just don’t want him to eat too much!

I know… what could go wrong at this point? Fretting about what might happen is a waste of energy that I simply don’t have these days. Surrender. He is such a gooood boy. What will tomorrow bring? More patience, I’m sure of that. I’m grateful for patience.

Stellar on my lap a decade ago at cousin Melinda’s house. He was almost four.

Stellar’s Last Days: Stretching

I’m grateful for another mild day to permit Boyz Lunch, grateful Stellar is still here to delight John, grateful to see how happy these two are to see each other.

I feel like a new mother. I spend an hour lying on the floor with him, soothing him to sleep, and then I roll over, get up, and go in the kitchen to do dishes, or wrap another set of pills for him, or take my own night pills, and I turn around and he’s there behind me, panting, hungry, wanting, needing. His appetite is insatiable these days. His energy is greater than mine. His confusion is increasing. His mobility looks good when people come around, and they say He’s doing great! But they see him at his best, alert with steroids, and the excitement of their attention. When it’s just the two of us, he stumbles a lot more; when we walk through the woods, his back legs frequently tangle and stretch out behind him, and he hops on his front legs for a few steps, dragging his back legs on the tops of his feet.

He remains the most beautiful creature I have ever known, and I’m grateful for all that he has taught me and continues to teach me about unconditional love. At the same time that I’m exhausted, that it’s a kind of torture to watch his up and down decline, I’m grateful for each day that he wakes alert and eager for a walk, that his eyes follow me around the house, that I get to spend time in the evening lying beside him massaging his muscles, holding his pressure points, feeling his pulses, hearing his breath, looking into those trusting brown eyes, loving this soul that has never let me down.

Though I have whinged a bit recently about the extra work entailed in caring for his infirmities, I’m grateful each day for the accommodations and adaptations I’m able to make, in order to make his last days more comfortable, and to be more at ease with him, and a little less precious about meself. I’m grateful for stretching my capacities for acceptance and compassion. I’m grateful for this ongoing surrender in service to another sentient being, a being as worthy of my regard as any other.

I’m also grateful today for wrapping up the canning season with the last batch of salsa, at last! Grateful, too, that a few tomatoes remain ripe and ready for sandwiches and cooking, and a few more green tomatoes ripen in a basket and on hanging vines, to carry me another month or so with fresh fruits. I’m grateful for a bountiful harvest this year that will provide nutritious homegrown food through winter, as well as a few gifts for friends and family. I’m grateful to live in this little mud hut in the woods, with a good dog, a sweet cat, a quiet tortoise, a garden, friends, and solitude. Above all I give thanks.

Little Rocky

I’m grateful I rescued this little fella a dozen or so years ago from an untenable situation; grateful Pamela suggested a new person for him; grateful Deborah wanted him. I’m grateful he’s been in my life since then, and feels comfortable and safe at my home, and gets along with all the animals here. I’m grateful he enjoyed his week here, and grateful his mama came home safely to pick him up this evening. I’m grateful for his exceptional example of the skill of relaxation.

Old Dogs

I’m grateful that the two old men dogs were both eager and able to walk to the canyon this morning. It was a beautiful cool time, with sun beaming below encroaching rainclouds. And then eventually it rained off and on for a few hours. I am grateful for ongoing hand therapy, and grocery shopping, and new glasses lenses even if they’re not perfect. I made someone feel bad this afternoon, and I feel bad about that, and I’m grateful that the recognition arose in me once again that it feels even better sometimes to be kind than to be right. Now I can work on that tendency.

I’m grateful for the baking accoutrements I’ve acquired over the years, and also for the skills I’ve acquired through learning and practice. Both in baking, and in how I treat myself and other people. But it does take practice. It might only take two or three crusts to master this lattice roller, but it seems to take lesson after lesson, year after year, to learn to bite my tongue and be kind when I feel annoyed or put upon.

I’m grateful for apples in the freezer from last year’s harvest, pre-mixed with sugar and cinnamon, ready to go in the crust; and grateful that I’ve learned to mix pastry in the cuisinart instead of with the old-fangled pastry cutter or my hands. Pie is so much easier!

I’m really grateful that animals are so easy to love and experience compassion for, no cultivation needed; it just comes naturally to me. Grateful for all the time in my life that I’ve been able to spend with animals, wild and tame; grateful for how whole and open my heart feels with them. I’m grateful for the insight that softens my heart daily: We’re all gonna die. I’m grateful for old dogs.