Mount Shasta, March 15, 2004: For many years, Tulip our border collie has believed that she is my secretary, and yesterday she came back to work, resting on her blanket, beneath the counter beside my file cabinets.
Later in the day, she heard that we were going to the store, and she perked up and came with us. That’s her job, too; it’s our pack going hunting. She got stuck halfway onto the back seat, and needed some help. After our return, she worked as my secretary until the sun went down.
In the fading light, we walked up the sidewalk, but she was stopped by the two steps at the deck. As I had done earlier in the day, I picked her up below the chest to help her up. In my hands she went into a seizure.
Legs twitching and teeth snapping, her head lifted impossibly high toward her back. I eased her onto the wooden deck as Adrienne watched in horror. Helpless we watched as she twitched and shuddered and snapped. Over and over and over.
Then, it seemed to pass. She lay on her side, legs out, eyes blank and staring, chest heaving with gasping breath. She was not blinking at all.
It was seven on Sunday evening. I sent Adrienne to call the vet. They were closed and another vet on call. I could hear Adrienne speaking with him as I watched Tulip. The on-call vet made no out-calls, he said; I wondered, in what way was he on call?
Slowly, as Adrienne returned, Tulip seemed to recover her eye movement. The vet had said symptoms would likely pass within an hour, or two. Tulip made a small attempt to rise, then fell back. The sky was dark, and the wind rose, blowing in the high trees. All her life, Tulip has been afraid of the sound of the wind. Perhaps this moment was why.
I fetched our coats, and a blanket for Adrienne, and blankets for Tulip. A train passed through our town. We waited on the deck with Tulip until nine o’clock. Her breathing slowed to normal. She could see us now, focusing on my face when I spoke. Although her legs twitched, she did not — could not — get up. The hour grew later and the wind colder. We heard what sounded like the cougar, not far away. The cougar comes down from the mountain in the winter, passing through the neighbor’s yard, leaving only tracks.
The vet’s prophesied two hours had come and gone, but she could not walk, so I wrapped her in the big blanket, and carried her inside to her bed in the kitchen.
Her back legs were paralyzed.
She’ll not be walking again. The back legs move, but she can’t get them under her. Through the night, again and again she attempted to rise, but she could not stand up. She would rest, and rest, then try again. She twitched, she shivered, she rested. Then she tried again. Lying on her right side, throughout the night she pushed against the floor, trying, and turning in slow cartwheels upon the floor. The shivering is not from cold, it’s the failing body. Adrienne stroked the fur of her face. It seemed to sooth her.
We went to our beds. I read and began to doze. I heard Adrienne calling me. She’d heard Tulip crying, she said. We sat on mats in the kitchen. Adrienne’s exhaustion caught up with her; she had to sleep. I stayed.
I lasted until one o’clock. Again and again Tulip attempted to rise. She cried with the attempt. I gave her water, and stroked her face. Adrienne took over at one o’clock, and I slept till five, then took another shift.
If I stroked her face, she lay still, shivering quietly. If I stopped, she’d nuzzle my hand: more! I guess it made a difference for her.
As daylight grew in the windows, Tulip became quieter. Her time was so close. We called vets, wrestled with answering services, then reached a Dr. Grace Roberts, from the town of Weed to the north. Dr. Roberts said, “Of course.” I said, “God bless you.”
I cried, because clearly it was time, but it was just the moment that I didn’t want.
As we waited, a train passed through our town. Then as promised, the vet arrived at eight-thirty. Tulip was already slipping away. Tulip received a strong sedative, twitched some, grew quieter over a few minutes. Her eyes were no longer sharp.
Into her chest, directly into her heart was injected a deadly medicine. She made a Yip! and rose to snap at her own heart, then fell back. Her eyes glazed, her mouth fell open, and with my hand in the fur upon her chest, I felt her heart beat once, then stop.
Tiny twitching, here, there, there.
Through our tears, we’d spoken our goodbyes, so she could hear our voices, feel our hands on her body. Our pal of eleven years was gone. Our pack was empty.
I wrapped her in a blanket, and carried her body down to the vet’s car. Tulip’s head lolled back on my shoulder, her far-seeing eye gazing forever beyond my head. I could smell her smell, wild like a wolf, once again and always, just as she was.