Monday, August 26, 2013

Farewell to a Furry Friend

There was no doubt that it was time, but I hated every moment.

About a month and a half ago, our puppy dog, Leeza suffered a stroke or a heart attack or something of the sort which rendered her extremely weakened for about four days.  She had suffered some minor set backs--times of confusion and weakness, but had bounced back very quickly.  This time, something obviously different had occurred.  I knew she probably wouldn't live very much longer.

She was 12 and a half years old and was a rather large dog.  Knowing large dogs live shorter lives, such a turn wasn't unexpected--but it was unwanted.  Yet, I was committed to seeing Leeza enjoyed the remaining days, weeks, or months.

She had been on a rather strict regimen of food consumption to keep her weight down.  She had her allotted amount of food, one snack, and no table scraps.  All of that went out the window after she suffered her episode.  I told my wife, kids, and relatives, "Spoiling is the order of the day.  Leeza gets whatever she wants."

We even switched dog foods because it seemed like she was having difficulty eating hard food.  She relished the 4 Health Brand, wolfing down the "Beef Stew" and "Chicken and Rice" varieties.  She went nuts when I'd give her a piece of turkey bacon.  She thought she was in heaven getting to lick all the plates and bowls like she did when she was a puppy.

But then the downhill slide accelerated.  About a week and a half ago, I noticed her having a much harder time standing up and then keeping her footing.  Several times, she slipped on the hardwood floor in our home and fell down.  This was not normal.  She started eating less and even refusing food.  Again, not normal.

Then, the swelling started.  Her abdomen began ballooning, and I knew this was not good.  A vet friend said it was probably congestive heart failure or liver failure.  This was just one of the issues.  She also had a tumor just under the skin on her side.  I knew the inevitable was just around the corner.

Last Friday, she finally reached the point where she could no longer stand on her own.  She needed help just to get on her feet.  And then when she was helped to her feet, she only had the strength to stand for 20 or 30 seconds.  I had to pick her up and carry her outside so that she could do her business.  Her breathing became shallower.

Yet, she retained her personality.  My wife and I began spending much more time with her, just laying by her side and petting her.  Whenever we would stop, if only briefly, she would paw at our hands, insisting on more love.  This made my decision harder.  I wished she would just slip into a coma or be taken by a massive heart attack or stroke.  I wanted her to go naturally, but she finally reached the point where something needed to be done.

Saturday afternoon, I carried her out to the car for her last journey on earth.  My family packed our car together, and we drove to the vet's office--a vet who was also a congregation member.

I carried her to the room, and we all petted her and loved on her.  My congregation member was tremendous in his bedside manner--talking us through the process and what would happen.  He gave us ample time with Leeza to say our goodbys.  He cautioned the kids and told her what might happened as the drugs took effect and the possible reflexes that Leeza's body might have.

And then the shots were administered.  Tears were shed by all.  I don't care what anyone says.  It's not "just a dog."

Sunday at church, our Gospel band led worship.  For special music, we had chosen to sing "Stroll Over Heaven with You."   The vet who put Leeza down and his brother both sing in the band, and they dedicated that song to my family and I.  "Oftentimes we tend to think about this song as walking with a loved one or someone special once we get to heaven.  There's nothing to say that we can't think about walking with our furry special one's when we sing this song."

I know there are some theologians who dispute whether or not animals have souls.  They also may dispute whether or not animals are "in heaven"-so-to-speak.  I know that in the final judgment, a new heaven and a new earth will be created.  The tree of life will return as creation is returned to its original intent.  That original creation, before its corruption, was a place where man and animals coincided in perfect harmony.  I expect nothing different at its restoration.

When I cross over into that time of waiting until creation is restored, I expect to be greeted by my Savior and all those who have gone before.  And I'm pretty doggone sure that my Leeza will hear my voice and come running across whatever turf is there; moving at break-neck speed, squealing her excited squeal--the same one I heard so many times when coming home, taking her on a trip, or picking her up from being boarded.

Rest in peace my big, hairy "love sponge."


Anonymous said...

Oh Our God...I figure He's both of our God so why bend to the vernacular of the day and sound conceited with an OMG! What a beautiful and painful story. Of course, she will be with you in the afterlife! Just because the Bible may not deal specifically with the idea of pets in Heaven doesn't mean that God won't let you and your family spend eternity with her (or her with you, however anyone wants to see it!).
I mean, I'm a firm believer in the absolute, tangible presence of God in our lives...that there is just a "feeling" of pure and absolute "rightness" every so often when He really reaches down and either holds and loves on us or He turns his 'Class of 0" high school ring around and pops us on the back of the head and tells us to straighten up. I think that's in, like Leviticus 134 or something like that!
Your puppy (we'll always remember them as youthful, energetic puppies, right?!) played a very special role in your family when your family was just beginning, if you're anything like us. Your care for her, and yes, your decision to end her pain was proof that you, a sinful and broken man, like the rest of us, loved that creature. And, my good Reverend Haug......I believe that that love could only come from God.
Some will laugh at this...some will call it hokey...but until they've all seen what I've seen (bringing a 4 year old boy to the OR to harvest his organs, coding a 23 year old woman who just got married in the chapel at MDAnderson, and performing CPR on a stranger in his front yard and having him calling you a month later to say "Thank You" only to be too humbled and emotional to talk to him on the phone) they will sadly not understand. Sometimes we can really FEEL God. You really felt His presence in this time of grief, I'd bet!
No matter your age, losing a loved pet is always hard. Heck, I'm trying not to cry just hearing about it...don't want Janis to wonder what's wrong with me! I know you're a pastor who's supposed to have all the answers, but let a simple guy like me tell you hurts because she was absolute, pure love for your family and its ok to hurt. But don't let your hearts be troubled! God doesn't reveal ALL his secrets to us......and I think you'll be in for a big, furry surprise at the end of your journey, brother. Mike

Kevin Haug said...