This summer has been one of beauty, stillness and peace, but also one of heartbreak. As we humans slowly began to overcome our illnesses, our beloved Aleksandra became increasingly ill.
She began lying down for 15 or 20 minutes in the middle of our walks in February. “It’s her arthritic knees,” I told myself.
It continued in March. She was still her wonderful self, but sometimes, she just didn’t have the energy, it seemed. She hasn’t really wanted a good walk since April … certainly her spirit has been willing, but her body is tired. Our last longer walk was at the beginning of May to a field she had never seen before. I’m pretty sure her curiosity kept her moving.
Her bark changed in March. At first I thought she was learning to be more gentle when barking at the walkers in our lane, because they were so familiar. Then, I thought it sounded like laryngitis. In May, I realised she should have recovered by then, if that were the case. That’s when I called the vet and told them her bark had changed.
The vets did their tests and referred our girl to an internal medicine specialist. We first saw them in June. A CT scan found two masses: one at her adrenal gland in her abdomen and one at her carotid artery, in her neck. That one was tied in with her vascular system, so they couldn’t even safely biopsy it. They did a special urine test looking for stress hormones and that confirmed that one or both masses was cancerous in nature.
We came up with a plan of treatment, but the reality is that it’s palliative care. Surgery may or may not help, but as only the adrenal mass is operable, she would still have the one at the carotid artery. There are no guarantees of quality of life. And no point putting her through it, as a result.
She’s my girl and my heart has been torn to shreds. As has my sweetheart’s. He held me in the kitchen one day as I silently keened my grief. I couldn’t breathe.
After that, we spent our summer enjoying our days with her. We became a little more insular, if people still living in Covid isolation for the most part could become more insular.
We tried to walk her every day, to keep her muscles from atrophying further. Sometimes we would make it just under half a mile to the end of the lane and back. But if she wanted to go the other direction, which has a small incline, she never made it further than about 100 feet. The hill was too much for her and she would stop, not to move anywhere but back to her own gate. And sometimes, we would make it the 20 feet across the lane and that would be enough. We never knew when we set out which it was going to be.
So, the long, warm, summer days passed. Aleksandra spent every day outside, demanding to be allowed out starting at 9:30 in the morning and not coming back in until twilight, unless it rained. I had bought her an outdoor bed to sleep on in March, so she would be more comfortable and not always on damp ground. We moved it around for her as the days lengthened, and then gave in and bought a second.
My sweetheart and I have had the ‘talk’, the big one, and we’re leaving it up to her. She’s still alert and interested in what’s going on around her, at least when the pain meds don’t have her sleeping. She eats all her food. She still barrels down the drive to the gate about once a day. She loves being outside, but is as content to be in with us. And she still climbs our very steep and difficult stairs to sleep with us, every night, using leg muscles that must scream with pain as she does. Talk about dogged determination.
We’ll know when she’s ready, but it isn’t yet. We’re five days away from Canadian Thanksgiving and she is here, for which I am thankful. We were afraid she wouldn’t be with us for more than a few more weeks back at the end of June. Her presence is a blessing every day that she is with us.
As the summer progressed through August, we began talking to her about the puppy that would be joining us in September. We’ve always hoped she would help us raise a pup, and when we realised where things were going back in June, decided to find one. I got in touch with Aleksandra’s breeder in the States, who put us in touch with a vet in Serbia, who recommended to us a breeder of Sarplaninac in North Macedonia, just northwest of the ancient city of Pella, where Alexander the Great’s parents, Philip of Macedon and his wife Olympia are said to have raised Sarplaninac, the dog some believe to be the original Molossers.
The story of the pup’s arrival will be my next post. It’s been an interesting few weeks!
They say that Acceptance is the final stage of grief. We didn’t go through the other stages. No anger. No bargaining. No denial. Sadness, but no depression. In order to look after our girl, we had to accept that this is happening. Nothing we could do, could stop this. We didn’t swallow our grief, nor did we wallow in it. Both are counterproductive in the end and frankly, not what our girl needs from us. We accepted our grief and the reality of the nature of her illness, so that we could move forward with her doing whatever she needs and making sure she knows she is loved. She deserves no less than that.
I’ve been writing, by the way. Aleksandra’s breeder set me off when I shared with her some of Aleksandra’s adventures over the years. “You should write her story,” Ally said. “You’ve given her quite a life!”
So I have been. Writing her story. More about that, later.