So many happy events enjoyed over the holidays to remember but our family's sadness was making that uniquely difficult decision yesterday to give our dog Kaya permanent relief from her increasing pain and rapidly decreasing quality of life.
Last night the doorbell rang for the first time in a long long time without Kaya's barking. Today I put her food and water dishes in the dishwasher knowing for the first time that Kaya was not looking inquisitively for them. We took our first trip to the airport to drop off a visiting nephew without Kaya in the car. I woke up at least a dozen times last night for the first time not hearing her breathing (or softly snoring) on her bed which has been next to ours. I could go on and on and on and on just for "firsts" that happened today, and as my week begins tomorrow morning, I am sure I will continue to notice many more "firsts" about life without Kaya always pattering along behind me as my 'shadow', my constant companion.
My husband and I cried buckets, even knowing we were doing the right thing for the right reasons at the right time. I know my boys have done so too, as have many of the friends who helped to raise her, love her, and care for her in Ann Arbor.
We drove Kaya to our farm for one final visit before the drive to her vet for a very peaceful euthanasia. She loved our farm, and it gave us enormous pleasure to watch her, even with a lame back leg and hips, dance and twirl to the best of her ability whenever we said "Who wants to go to the farm?" For a time we even considered naming our farm "Dancing Dog Farm" but instead, my husband has named his home beer brewing operation "Dancing Dog Brewery" in Kaya's honor.
It is impossible for me to choose my favorite picture of Kaya. In the 3 years that I have had a digital camera, I found nearly 700 photos of her. So instead of choosing a favorite, I'll post up one of the last ones I took of her in late December walking out to our barn. Kaya's first love was water but her 'late in life love' was our new barn. She loved every bit of its construction, nosing around every nook and cranny both inside and outside, lying on the barn floor soaking up the sun on the south side, and sitting upright in the open door on the north side watching all the activity in the garlic fields and keeping guard of the driveway so she could announce any arrivals (including deer).
Kaya was my first dog, and we only had her in our home full-time for the last 3-4 years, her "elder years". She taught me that it is never too late in life to try something new, take on a big challenge, and even to fall in love all over again. It is not an exaggeration to say that I became completely "smitten" with her and all dogs, too.
Even as her health and ability to run and walk slowly deteriorated over these past years, Kaya kept her zest for life and sparkle in her eyes. As the skin horse said to the rabbit in the book The Velveteen Rabbit, "Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." What a lucky dog Kaya was to have such a full life and a life in which she was loved, loved, and loved some more. She was Real!
I hope Kaya is now in her version of 'dog heaven', which I would guess would be running full-speed down the hill at our family's Wisconsin cottage and across the dock to throw herself into Blue Lake to fetch a stick over and over and over again. However, I know I'll be seeing her in the shadows of our barn for years to come.
I also hope that having Kaya come to live with us has helped me with the journey of becoming Real, too, step by step. I don't think I will mind being 'very shabby'.
"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"
Diana Dyer, MS, RD