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Pets in the City. The Loss of a Friend

By Jeni Published: March 9, 2010

To ZsaZsa:  If Love Could Keep You Alive,

You Would Have Lived Forever

With Love, Jeni - March8, 2010

March 2009.    Today I fell in love with a beautiful girl.  Her name was ZsaZsa.

My first visit with my best friends Amy and John to the farm with the horses was memorable.  At one end of the parking lot by the barn, there sat this BIG dog, in a kennel.  She was a BIG Rottweiler that had a strong upper body and jaws that looked very strong, like a steel trap.  I walked over to the kennel and she stuck her nose against the kennel door and sniffed me.

All of my preconceived notions about Rottweilers vanished.  This was one sweet dog!  The deepest eyes and so beautiful she was.  Some dogs won’t make eye contact because it can be challenging.  ZsaZsa looked at me like she was looking into my soul.  She’s the kind of dog that will lay her head on you, looking into your eyes until you, the human, look away.  You just can’t hide much from a look like that. 

Spring into Summer…   We became friends, my beautiful girl and me.  My own dogs Cady and Zack were her friends too.  She would see us coming down the driveway to the barn, and she would get excited to see us park and walk to the kennel.  Or, if she were already out, she would greet me at my car door. This big dog, with a stub of a tail, wiggling her butt because she was so excited to see us just exuded joy.   She would come running and play with gusto. ZsaZsa, Cady, Zack and Jesse the other dog who lives at the farm would take off running like fools.  Into the creek, into the pond, up across the hills, under foot in the pasture, happy and playing.  This scene was repeated many, many times over the following months.

Summer into Fall…   ZsaZsa is about 10 years old, and as the summer moved along into fall, she started to slightly slow down.  A little arthritis in her back hips, a little limp in the front… she was content at times to lay in the warm sunshine and chew on a bone and watch the others running up the hill.

Her warm eyes and joyful greeting never slowed down.  If I would give her a special treat, like a bone, and she would carefully take it to her kennel and keep it for later to savor.  I think she wanted to hide it from the others so she could spend time socializing.  If I sat, she sat next to me.  She leaned against me, and would hold her arm up so I could hold her paw.  We would sit in the sun… I would hold her sore leg up and give her relief.  I think she liked that better than chewing on bones.

Fall Turned to Winter,   and with the cold weather, Chris, the farm manager brought her in from the kennel and made her a warm bed in a barn stall.  She would nestle into the hay and sleep the night away, inside and safe with the horses and barn noises nearby.  With the sunnier weather in early winter my best friend and I would go for a walk.  ZsaZsa would walk along, but more slowly.  She would reach her limit and at the top of the hill and she would sit and wait for us to turn around and come back, then walk back with us back down to the barn.

At Christmastime   it was getting colder and snowier and blowier.  I put a collar on her to take a festive holiday photo, and I bought her a sweater because even in the hay, it was awfully cold outside.  She wore her sweater every single day after that. Never once did she try to pull it off.  It touched my heart.

Shortly after Christmas, her limp started to become more noticeable.  She looked ok, just more of a limp.  More of a slow down.  Over the next few weeks, she really slowed, coming out of her stall to greet us when we visited, and after a while, she would go back in and lay down in the hay.  Cady, Zack and I would go in and sit on a bale of hay and talk to her.  She would lie there looking at us, and never move.  She loved the attention, and before we would leave, I would cover her with a blanket.  She would snuggle down and stay under the blanket covering her. She was a special girl.  Grateful in a way.  I always had the feeling she appreciated the warmth of the blanket.

One week when it was in the middle of the snowy time, her blanket got wet, and I brought it home to launder it.  A couple of days later, on a Friday night when it was really snowing hard, I realized I hadn’t taken her blanket back.  It was so, so cold that night.  I couldn’t get her off my mind.  So I suited up in winter wear, packed up my dogs and blankets and went to the barn to check on ZsaZsa for myself.  She was nestled in the hay, but she was trembling from the extreme cold.  I sat down on the stall floor with her and she laid her head against my leg and looked into my eyes.  She looked so glad.  So grateful, or something, just to have company.  I sat against the wall of the stall, Cady and Zack found a spot to lie down, and ZsaZsa was against my leg.  I stroked her head…she was a little cold.  I brought her a sweatshirt this time, too.  I just pulled it on over her head, right on top of the sweater.  Then, I put an old yellow, down filled lap blanket over her, then a very thin lightweight blanket and finally a larger, heavier lap blanket.  I tucked her in, took off one glove and slid it under the blanket and petted her.  We all sat there until she stopped trembling, got sleepy and warmed up under the blanket layers.  I patted her on her head, gave her another tuck around and left her to sleep.

I started noticing a swelling in her wrist, the same leg as the limp.  I told the Chris, and we were thinking it was an arthritis flare up.  He increased her medication and ZsaZsa pressed onward through her days.  Still bright eyed, still eating and doing the usual dog stuff.  Able to go outdoors and enjoy the sun… and then back to her safe place in the stall.

Over the next couple of weeks, the joint really began to swell, and a trip to the vet occurred.  We were thinking that the vet would take the fluid out and maybe inject a steroid to provide some relief.  After the trip to the vet, I learned with a very heavy heart that the vet took an x-ray, and her wrist only has a couple of “toothpick” sized bones left.  My beautiful girl had an aggressive bone cancer.  The vet said there were few options, as a left wrist/paw amputation would possibly rid the wrist of the swelling and pain, but she would need to learn to walk on 3 legs.  Not an unusual feat for a younger dog, but an aging dog with very bad back hip arthritis made this option not a reasonable choice.  The farm manager brought her home, as it was too painful and too sudden to think of any darker options on the spot.

January 2010…The snow still falls… the ground is frozen… to find a final resting place for my girl seems too much to overcome right now.  Chris waits.  The days move by, and every day I pray that she doesn’t break her toothpick-sized, disease-ridden bones which would cause unimaginable pain… willing her to hang in there until the vet’s last visit.  I can’t stand to think the whole thought about this right now.  When I get close to thinking it, my eyes fill with tears and I push the sadness away because right now, she is still here.

February 2010… It’s a difficult thing… this power over life and death.  ZsaZsa’s heart and her mind and her eyes and her soul are healthy.  Her body is unable to keep up… and as I write this, the vet is making arrangements to come out and take over the responsibility that will be so hard to endure.

My beautiful girl, my sweet girl…

March 6, 2010… Chris told me that the vet would be coming on Monday.  I spent much time at the farm this weekend.  ZsaZsa was spending the night inside the office now on a blanket with a pillow.  It was much warmer and easier on her poor painful body. I was doing a chore outdoors, and I put a cot in the sunshine. She couldn’t walk all the way, and Chris picked her up and placed her on the cot.  I talked to her while I worked. She rested in the sunshine, watching the dogs play.

March 7, 2010… I went into the office and lay down on the floor with my girl.  I stroked her and petted her and sang to her  (please click this link to hear the song I sang to her all the time) when I couldn’t think of other wordseople from the barn drifted in, knelt down, kissed her head and said goodbye. Amy and I sat with her a long time, and Cady and Zack found a place nearby and settled down.  I left her sleeping.

March 8, 2010…  The farm manager called me this morning and told me the vet would be there about noon.  I got to the farm about 11:30.  ZsaZsa had managed to get up from her warm bed in the office and limp to the stall.  I think she enjoyed hearing the sounds of the day.  The horses nickering, the feed cart, the horses being turned out, visits from the farm manager.  The sounds and smells of her home of many years.

I walked into the stall and lay down on the floor in the hay.  She was under a blanket, and had her head on a pillow.  She looked into my eyes.  I could see the love. And I could see the weariness.  I put my arm around her and stroked her head.  She was quiet and good, and while I was lying there next to her, she held her sore arm out to me so I could hold her hand and her swollen joint to give her relief.

I had tears on my cheeks, and she licked my cheek and drank a tear.  She laid her head back on the pillow.  We were there like this until the vet arrived.  When I heard the vet’s voice, I started to cry.  It was so real now… to know that the loss of a friend was happening before my eyes.

I have wondered from time to time how much animals really know and understand about what is going on in their world.  Today I saw it first hand.  At the barn, there was a hierarchy. The horses are big and the dogs stay out from underfoot.  The dogs are big and the cats stay away from the dogs.  The cats are big and the mice scurry away.

As I was lying on the floor with my beautiful girl, one of the barn cats came to the door of the stall.  This is a big, fluffy black cat named Jules.    Instead of trying to stay out from underfoot, Jules came in by my hand.  I petted him.  Then he took a step and stretched out toward ZsaZsa.  ZsaZsa felt his presence and slid her head on the pillow to look into Jules’ eyes.  Jules leaned forward and they touched noses.  My girl relaxed and rested her head on the pillow.  I stroked her head.  And then     a second barn cat came in named Kibbles.  Kibbles came in the stall completely and hopped up on my leg.  She walked down my leg and went up onto a bale of hay right next to ZsaZsa.  Then Kibbles gently put her front paws down onto ZsaZsa and slowly lowered herself onto ZsaZsa’s body.  She rested herself gently on ZsaZsa’s side and settled.  And as I watched, ZsaZsa turned her head and Kibbles leaned forward and they touched noses.  ZsaZsa then rested her head back on the pillow. Kibbles stayed there, her once nemesis and now friend resting.  She started to purr.  When I heard her purring, I looked over and she was purring and “making biscuits” on ZsaZsa’s side.  Like a gentle, loving touch.  It was so beautiful that I don’t do it justice trying to explain it.  The purring and peace between the animals touched my heart. After Kibbles, Jesse,   the other barn dog came in, quietly for a change, and did worried figure 8’s around ZsaZsa, ending the pacing by sniffing at her and touching her nose and then leaving the stall.

I won’t go through the veterinary details, but after a sedative had been administered, I lay on the floor and cried into her neck.  The barn manager was sitting on her other side, cradling her head.

My eyes were tear-filled; I brought a poem to read but it was too hard to cry and read at the same time.  The vet kindly read aloud while we petted my girl...

Bilbo's Song in Rivendel

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood and every spring
there is adifferent green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

I talked to ZsaZsa as if she could understand… I told her that I prayed that God would watch over her.  I told her that by afternoon she would be running again in the fields with her sister Ava.  I told her to please remember my voice and that I would see her again at the rainbow bridge.  I sang to her quietly, then I kissed her head and said goodbye.  I was touching her ears and kissing her face… I told her she was a good girl and that I loved her.  She was looking into my eyes as she drew her last breath.  The only comfort that came from today was that this last breath was not taken alone as she went on her final trip and new adventure.  She was at home.

ZsaZsa was buried today in the fields where she would run.  She was laid to rest with her sweater and her blankets covering her and keeping her warm.  ZsaZsa and her spirit will remain a part of the farm and in my heart now and forever.  When I think of her, I will think of her running through the fields with joy and abandon, turning back to look into my eyes and then race off.  And I feel certain that she will remember me.

In Memory of a Beautiful Friend.  My beautiful ZsaZsa. March 8. 2010

You'll be in my heart.  Forever and always... Just look over your shoulder....

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