Rascal hasn't been feeling well for about a year now. In fact, I knew the end was near and felt compelled to write the following five days before he passed away. Since he was "co-founder", namesake, and #1 supporter of Rascal Graphics, I felt I should share my thoughts.
I must confess that I’m often less than gentle with my pets. I’m not referring to the accidental incidents. Like I’ll trip over Rascal because he moves so slow, and I have questionable depth perception. Or I might not be able to stop in time, and I step on the cat’s tail because she feels the urgent need to do the “hind-lick maneuver” as we are walking toward the house. Maybe I really need to pee, and anything that gets between me and the bathroom is fair game. (This happens daily.)
I’m actually confessing to a general irritability or snappiness on my part. Yelling “well, get out of the way!” when an animal spins like a propeller from my legs as our paths tangle in the kitchen. Hurling the cat after she kneads bread on my chest. It doesn't happen as much as it used to, but I still feel bad about it afterwards.
Rascal, my 16-year-old Rat Terrier, has been the recipient of most of my outbursts over the years. I honestly gave preferential treatment to my shih-tsu, Lucy. Rascal always had the four boys and their dad to give him loving, but I didn’t do much more than feed him.
As the boys moved away from home, he became more attached to me. It didn’t thrill me to have him so desperate to keep me in his sight. I would almost be happy to shut the door to my bedroom at night so he couldn’t come in. And then I would be mad as he started scratching and banging at the door... Add to that the stress of my husband feeling the same way. I would have to resist the urge to whip open the door and drop kick him (I know… It was that bad, though.)
This new compulsion to be with me was probably the same time that his health started declining… His hearing and eyesight were getting worse; he wasn’t feeling well, and he had almost overnight gained about a third of his body weight. I finally realized he really was desperate to be with me, and that being near me actually made him feel better, less anxious. Who? Me? Aw…
The feeling that came with that realization has grown from “poor baby” to full-blown Nurse Fergie. Rascal has to take pills twice a day now, and I rarely forget. (He gets his medicine more regularly than I do!) But beyond that – and more importantly – I feel a gentle, giving, nurturing spirit come over me as I care for him throughout the day.
So yes… this is yet another story about why pets are good for us. But what a learning experience for me! I am giving parts of myself to my dog that give back to me. I am spending time and money to make Rascal comfortable in his last year or two. I’m also telling the vet not to let it get to where my family has to have an intervention with me about Rascal – just in case I lose perspective. I’ve lived through the death of both parents and brother and a sister. Afterwards I dwelled on what I wish I would have done differently.
So I want to get better at handling the last days… the dying. I want to be the best me during that time the next time a loved one is facing death. So I’ll put my death lessons to use with Rascal. After all, he helped me raise four boys. He’s due.