A few months back I went and picked up my new Foster Dog, Red. She was from North Carolina, a senior of 8, a hound mix, and in-spite of a hard life the most loving dog ever. My dog got along well with her instantly but there seemed to be something different about how my dog, Penny, interacted with Red.
Red, like most of my fosters, had a hardy appetite and a love of snacks, lots of snacks. She loved affections and most of all, she was astonished by the comforts of a bed and a blanket just for her. I was in love with her almost instantly. I was sure there was going to be what is called a “Failed Adoption,” because I was going to keep her.
Penny was both careful and even comforting to Red, I would later learn why. On Red’s 2nd night with us, she had a bad dream. I heard her crying in her sleep so I got out of my bed and petted her gently until she fell asleep. Penny also set with us, watching Red attentively. I wanted Red to know that she was safe. The days that followed were fun, she fit into our family with ease and everyone who meets her loved her.
After a little over a week, there was no doubt that one of Red’s favorite things to do was going for a walk along a wooded path (we did this every day). Our last walk was a long one, an hour or so and both of the dogs were in heaven. It was a peaceful walk with no one around but us. I set on the ground with them and sang each of them a song. My dog’s song is, “You Light Up My Life,” and Red seemed to really like, “You are my Sunshine.” Tails wagging and doggie smiles abounding we went home for a snack before I had to go out to teach my Bible Study Class.
When I arrived home Penny greeted me but there was no Red. When I went upstairs, I found Red in her bed making coughing sounds. I contacted Rural Dog Rescues instantly, we thought it was something simple like Kennel Cough. The next day she got progressively worse and I took her to the Animal Hospital around 5:00 pm. I was sure she was going to be okay until I had to get someone to get her out of the car for me. You see, she was able to get in with my help but she could no longer get out. I felt panicked, sick, and scared all at once.
Rural Dog Rescue, was great! They sent someone to sit with me and to help with decisions. The Vet took Red. When the Doctor returned she explained that Red was in an Oxygen tank and had fluid on her lungs and around her heart as well as advanced cancer – She was dying! When the doctor said that she believed the best thing to do for Red was to humanely let her go. I remembered every hospice patient that I had encountered doing my fieldwork (I am Clergy) and I remembered my mother who was on Oxygen and I wondered could if I could do this again.
While I am trained and do well in the area of death and dying, I was sacred once again to feel the pain and heartache that comes with sitting with someone or something you care about until they are with God. I remembered doing this with my first pet of 16 1/2 years when I was 26 years old.
I stopped worry about myself long enough to hear the doctor ask, “Would you like to sit with Red as I put her to sleep.” Without hesitation, I almost shouted, “Yes!” When they bought Red to me and the gentlemen who came to sit with me. I chocked back tears and grabbed a tissue to wipe the ones that had already fallen. Like I did with my mother, I removed the oxygen from Red’s face. I did not want her to be afraid. I rested her head in my hands. I sing to her through the tears I could no longer control, “You are my Sunshine my only Sunshine you make me happy when skies are gray, you’ll never no Red how much I love you…” The doctor announced that she was gone. Time stood still for just amount, as it did with my mother. I call it the space between here and there. When I finished praying I knew Red was there.
For a little more than a week, Red had a home where she was loved, wanted, cared for, and protected. I did that for her. It was as if she knew she was dying but had to stop long enough to recognize that she was experiencing a wonderful life, perhaps for the first time.
Red has introduced me to the gifts that accompany the final goodbye, what I like to call The Collateral Beauty of death. Whenever I think of her, which is often and I look at the paw-print that was sent to me from the hospital, I am reminded that before goodbye comes- love, happiness, and joy often comes first.
I am going to sign up to Foster a dog that needs Hospice Care. I am going to do this in honor of Red and in honor of my mother who died at home in Hospice Care. Yes, I have shed tears over my precious foster pup but every tear has been accompanied by the joy of knowing I had something to do with the happiness that Red experienced. Even if only for a short while.