I don't know how long I have left with my dog. When I adopted her from the city pound in East Harlem, they guessed she was about two and a half. Not knowing her real birthday, I decided to make it Valentine's Day; it seemed like a good day to celebrate the birth of my constant companion and best buddy. I named her Simone de Beauvoir after my favorite philosopher. She's the first dog I rescued, and the one that inspired me to start Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue, an all-volunteer rescue that has saved over 1,400 Badass dogs from idiot humans.
On the Valentine's Day that might have been her 10th birthday, Simone woke up at 630am having a seizure. I was fast asleep. When I first felt her kicking I thought she was having a nightmare, but then I woke up and realized it was much worse. She was convulsing in violent spasms, shaking, drooling. I had never seen a seizure in my life. I didn't know what to do. I picked her up and took her to her dog bed and it went on for several minutes. Her body was out of control, shaking all over and her bladder and bowels released. After it was over, I gave her a bath and after about an hour of wandering around, she settled down and went to sleep.
I talked with my vet as soon as the office opened; she said to keep an eye on her. Later that day, everything seemed fine. Then a few hours later, after dinner, another seizure. We went to the emergency vet. They wanted to keep her overnight but between the $1200 estimated price tag and the fact that being in a hospital would be stressful for her, I decided to bring her home. I gave her the anticonvulsant drugs and then half an hour later, another scary six-minute seizure. You have no idea how long six minutes can seem.
Thankfully that was the last seizure she had, but the meds had bad side effects -- she was falling over constantly and could barely stand or walk. I took her to the neurologist and they switched her meds. An MRI might have told us what was causing the seizures, but that would have meant going under anesthesia -- which would have been dangerous, because Simone also has a heart condition.
For the past few years, Simone has been doing well on her heart medication. But last spring, she started pushing her food away. This dog is a beagle; she lives for food. I knew something was very wrong. It turned out that her kidneys were failing. Her heart failure was putting stress on all of her organs and being on multiple medications for her heart had taken its toll. Both the cardiologist and the kidney specialist told me two years was about the longest I could expect her to live.
But after the seizures, when the vet was trying to determine whether an MRI was safe, we found out Simone's heart had enlarged further -- and that she was on track to die within months, not years. Rather than risk putting her under for the MRI, I realized I was going to have to accept that I will never know what caused the seizures or what might be wrong with her brain.
I now have to think about the day that her heart failure has progressed to the point where she can't breathe. The vet told me some people spend thousands on ICU treatment to keep their dogs going for a few more days. I don't have that kind of money -- I don't even have that kind of available credit. I don't have insurance (really wish I had gotten it when she was young and healthy). And while I don't want to let her go, I also don't want to put her through hospitalizations just to keep her alive for a little bit longer when she is suffering and has no chance of getting better, only worse. I am trying to make the most of the time together knowing how little there is left and how hard it will be for me to make the choice to end suffering when her quality of life is gone.
Obviously I had known she wouldn't last forever, but before this I thought we had a few more years together. It was a rough few months, coming to terms with her imminent mortality.
I have heard that dogs live in the present. I have never lived in the present. When I was a kid I fantasized obsessively about the future, desperate to grow up and get out and live the life I dreamed of. Even in my 20s- - which should have been the time I enjoyed my life the most, lived most in the present -- I was too busy fretting about what I was missing, living in the future while still managing to feel prematurely old. Now, as I face fast approaching middle age, I find myself looking at pictures from only a few years ago -- longing for that time and that person that I was. The future is now and now I seem to be living in the past. It's as if the present came and went in a flash and I didn't even notice it.
One recent morning, Simone woke up unusually early needing to go out. I lifted her out of bed, put on her little fleece coat and leash, and carried her down the stairs. When we got outside a light snow was falling. It was early and the street was empty. As we walked along, her little paws left tracks on the unplowed sidewalks. Just enough snow had fallen to make white again the giant piles of snow and trash that had turned brown over the past few weeks. The trees lining my block looked beautiful with just a dusting of white and the gas lamps were still lit from the night before. For a moment this average Brooklyn street looked a little bit like a fairy land. I consciously felt myself living in the moment, walking with Simone down our quiet street, knowing that it would be one of those moments that stays etched in my memory.