The Friday News Digest is my favorite post to write each week, but you'll have to excuse me this time for not being up to it. You'll also have to excuse my personal indulgence. This is a blog about building places that are worth loving, but tonight I am sitting here and the day-to-day struggle of making a better world is far from my mind.
For my 13-year old Samoyed, Misha, this will almost certainly be his final hours among us. Last winter he began to struggle with some of the day-to-day things, his boundless enthusiasm giving way to his mounting years. While he perked up in the summer and through the fall, it was clear he was losing a step and that he did not have much time left with us. Last week, in the most bitter cold we've had yet this year, he started to deteriorate rapidly. A visit with our veterinarian confirmed that we needed to take the time we had left to say our goodbyes. It is never enough time.
Anyone who has had a beloved pet that has grown old and passed on will empathize, but I still have to provide a disclaimer of sorts for non-pet owners. I have two beautiful little girls that are happy, healthy and full of love. My wife, my immediate family and my close friends are all likewise in good health and spirits. Mourning the passing of a pet is a luxury that a fortunate life has provided me. I'm thankful that it has.
Misha was our second Samoyed. After we got our first, Sebaka (who died in 2002), we quickly realized that "pack animals" are exactly that. Misha was essentially our gift to Sebaka, creating a "pack" that in nearly every regard was mutually supportive. Unfortunately, we did not understand at the time the difference between a good breeder and a bad one, and after a few months of growing (he had huge paws as a puppy) we discovered that he had bad hips. We chose to nurture him along (as oppose to some other draconian remedies put forth) and found that, while sometimes a step slower, he enjoyed life no less.
He and Sebaka were great pals, but Misha's personality routinely made him the butt of all of the jokes. Sebaka would find the porcupine, Misha would jump on it - that sort of thing. When Sebaka died, we all took it hard, but none as hard as Misha. He literally could not sleep, crying and whining and working himself into fits whenever he spent a moment separated from his pack (which was just my wife and I, at that point - made it tough to go to school).
And so we once again expanded the pack with Koshka, another female who is still with us. When we expanded the "pack" further with the two girls (in the dogs' eyes, we are part of their pack too), there was no question how that would end up. Despite the pulling of hair and ears when they were toddlers, the two dogs have an obvious deep affection for the girls. Difficult as it is now, the feeling is mutual.
Misha has been the constant. He's logged literally thousands of miles in the car with me, waiting patiently while I sat through meeting after meeting. He has been there with me to share a smile in the successes and there with a soulful cuddle in the failures. So many of the meaningful moments of my life include him as a participant or supporter.
And some of the happiest times, too. While I may not look enthused in this picture (this was right after a killer portage), my wife and I taking Misha to the Boundary Waters was one of our favorite trips before the kids were born. He carried his own pack, helped lighten our load, definitely lightened the mood and was a willing "pillow" for more than one nap.
As a dog owner, the most you can hope for is a long, happy and healthy life for your pet. That wish was granted with our Misha, but it does not make these last moments any easier. As I've been writing this, I've had to get up and put each of the girls back to bed, comforting them and trying to answer their questions. Chloe told me that "God must want Misha back" and Stella that she wants to "find a wishing tree so she can wish that whenever someone gets old they can just start over young again." What right have I to feel sorrow amidst such beauty?
But I'm human, and so I'm selfish, and I feel sorrow for my own loss of a dear friend. He sits next to me right now, laboring to breathe and unable to stand without help. If he does not pass in the night, then we will visit the clinic tomorrow to ease his suffering. It's a trip I've been dreading.
In the meantime, I'm going to sit here with him. Like he has done for me these past thirteen years, I want him to know that he's not alone.
Update: After saying our goodbyes, we brought Misha to the clinic at 11:30. He passed peacefully and we were able to be there with him until the end. Thank you for all the kind messages, emails and tweets of support that have been sent my way. You are all special people and have given me even more to be thankful for. Let's take a weekend to count our blessings and give thanks for old friends, then meet back here Monday to resume our mission.