Last year, we lost someone very special to us. My German Shepherd mix, Loki.
I adopted him from an animal shelter way out in the desert, because I was an Army wife at the time, and that is where we happened to live. Loki had been abandoned in a dumpster in the middle of the cruel desert Summer along with his siblings. Thankfully, someone heard the puppies crying, and took them to the shelter, which was fairly dismal but at least offered them the emergency medical care they needed.
When I met him, he was all of six weeks old, and just this tiny little furball who nearly fit in one hand. I was only there to look around and had no plans to actually take home a dog that day. Famous last words, right?
The shelter worker let me take him to the small room where you can visit more freely, and allow the dog to walk around a bit, and as she led me there, she told me of how he’d been found in that dumpster, and how one of his siblings had not made it. She wished me a happy visit then, and closed the door to the room. Naturally, that is when I had my somewhat corny moment with him. I lifted him up so I could look into his eyes, and I said “No one is ever going to throw you away again.”
So, I paid the fees, and I took him home.
Loki was absolutely something ELSE. He was brilliant, mischievious, and had kind of a diabolical streak to him. If I told every story, this blog would become a novel to rival “War and Peace” in length. Instead, I’ll offer some examples of his Lokiness.
When he was no more than twelve weeks old, he figured out how to turn on the vacuum cleaner. I would be in another room (in the desert, remember) and suddenly hear the vacuum. It was always plugged in, because you know..carpeting and dogs. Obviously, it startled me, and the first one or two times, I even tiptoed around the house holding a knife just in case some sort of psychopath had snuck into my house just to turn on the appliances. I never saw anyone.
Finally, weeks later, I caught him! From the corner of my eye, I saw him waddle over to the vacuum. He actually looked around a moment, as though making sure the coast was clear, then gleefully, he pounced on the back of it, where the large button was to turn it on. The second it turned on, he seemed to grin, then he ran like Hell down the hallway.
That little shit!
I was amazed and slightly appalled all at the same time. He actually DID that. Oh, My. God.
We had a ten year old Shih-Tzu at that time, Kiefer. Loki loved him but also enjoyed carrying him around by his sweater when the weather was cold enough that Kiefer would be wearing one. Kiefer hated this, and would kick his legs impotently and protest with snarls. Loki was not deterred.
I was working on the computer one day, and he actually opened a drawer, rummaged around a moment, then took a matchbook in his mouth, glanced at me, shoved the drawer shut with his paw, and walked away.
Yes, I confiscated the matches, but part of me wished I’d simply watched to see what he was planning to do with them.
I should add that the animal shelter told me Loki would not grow to be larger than 45 pounds or so. My Loki weighed 103.
That meant he could reach things. All kinds of things.
He was extremely intelligent..scary smart, really.
Anyway, the Army wife/desert thing didn’t work out for me in the end, and we moved back to Los Angeles area when Loki was about two. Here, he had a huge yard and the weather was kinder. Directly behind our house is a fire station, and they all loved him. They would pet him through the fence, and offer him treats. Somehow though, I suspected they thought of him as ‘that poor dog in the yard” because of course they weren’t inside with us to see our daily interactions with Loki. They only saw him when he was outside for his play time and may have innocently suspected he was ‘just another dog left in a yard’..not that we left him out there long. Anyway, I got that impression sometimes, and would inwardly bristle, because I love that boy more than the Moon and naturally was horrified to think anyone wouldn’t realize that.
This is the home Loki lived in for the remainder of his life, which was nearly twelve years all told. He always loved food, and his schedule was important to him. If I was even five minutes late feeding him, I could expect a lot of “Woooor”-ing and general pawing/smacking in the direction of my face as a reminder. But one day, he stopped eating. I took him to see his vet when even his favorite things couldn’t tempt him and he just didn’t seem himself..a total of maybe two days. She x-rayed his abdomen, and returned to the exam room in tears. She took my hands, and said “I’m so sorry, Honey. He’s bleeding internally. Take him to the emergency animal hospital right now.”
My heart sunk. I knew he was ill, but nothing in any of his numerous and recent medical exams and tests had given us the slightest clue that anything serious was going on. He’d seemed just fine only a few days before. I nodded and I cried, and she brought him to me. I refused to cry in front of Loki. He was a dog who missed nothing, and I would not let him see me sad or weak. His favorite tech helped me take him to my car, and he kissed her face with a look in his eyes I’d never seen before. He was saying goodbye to her and giving her his love. He knew what I didn’t quite know yet.
I drove as fast as I could to the emergency hospital, but told Loki that I needed him here with me, so he needed to be okay. We were going to see another doctor, and figure out what was going on, and I just needed him to be okay. I was pleading and bargaining. With him, with God. I got him to the hospital.
If you’ve ever taken your dog to an emergency hospital, you know the first thing they want to talk about is money. They’re expensive and they want you to prove you can pay before they touch your dog. So, they took him in back and brought me paperwork..estimates..I don’t even know. Alone in the room, I was allowed to cry, and I did. I shoved the paperwork at the vet and said something along the line of ” Don’t talk to me about any of this! Just get back there and help him! Money is nothing to me and I’ll give you my kidneys if I have to just GO HELP MY DOG!”
And even in the face of such emotional craziness, she was gracious. She nodded, and just ran into the back.
I didn’t see her again for an hour or more. I spent that time alone in the exam room, and texting my boyfriend so he would know what was happening. He was at work, but dropped everything to come and be there.
He had not yet arrived when the doctor came back into the room and confirmed the earlier diagnosis. Loki was bleeding internally, either from his liver or pancreas. Without an MRI they couldn’t be sure, and they do not have an MRI machine. Added to that, he was becoming less stable as time wore on, and we needed to make a decision. She said she could operate and could probably stop the bleeding, and my heart leapt…until she added that the chances of him surviving the surgery were slim, and even if he pulled through that, she could only give him another few months because it was likely an aggressive Cancer causing all of this. “They would not be good months.” she said.
So, I knew what had to be done, but it was beyond my abiliity to actually understand it was happening.
Robert arrived as I was looking through a catalog to choose his urn. He walked in crying. The vet was with me. Loki was in the back still. I stood up when he walked in, and all the fear, pain and grief I’d been struggling to hold in all day just came gushing out. I clung to him, and I wept. I cried so hard I could barely breathe.
Once I could pull myself together enough, I told the vet to sedate Loki as much as she could. I told her if I saw fear or pain in his eyes it would kill me. She agreed to sedate him, but said he would still be awake as she felt it was not very kind to sedate them too deeply as in her opinion, it could suppress his breathing, thus actually causing more panic, not less. I agreed, and made myself stop crying, and told Robert to stop also. “He can’t see us crying” I said.
After a time, Loki was brought in, and I smiled at him. I told him hello, and hugged him, before climbing onto the table and taking him in my arms. He kissed me before I did, and he kissed Robert many times. Robert cradled his head in his hands, and I wrapped my arms around my Loki just as I did when he slept in my bed sometimes.
I whispered in his ear. I told him “Until my heart stops beating, I will love you.” I just kept repeating “I love you so much, Loki..so much”.
And I felt it. The moment the life left his body, I felt it. It is something I could not describe.
I stayed with him a long time before I finally felt ready to leave. Walking away from him was somehow even harder than the rest had been. I felt I was somehow abandoning him even though he was gone.
I had cried and sobbed, but the wailing and screaming I saved for my drive home. I had my own car, and was alone, so I let all of the shock and pain..the anger and resentment (It wasn’t his time! He was fine two days ago! He wasn’t very old!) I just let it all out. I screamed and shrieked and wept some more. I had to pull over for a while.
I don’t speak of him too often because I tend to cry. Today, I was outside with my dogs, and one of the firefighters mentioned Loki. When we lost him, I’d left them a card and a photo of him, telling them of our loss but also thanking them for always being such good friends to my beautiful boy.
“You remember my Loki?” I asked. “How could anyone forget him? Besides, we still keep his photo in the station.” with a kind of sheepish look, he added “Some of the guys sometimes leave a biscuit by it for him..they remember giving him cookies all those years.”
I wanted to tell him how much that meant to me, but instead tears ran down my face. He knew.
A dog’s life..it means so much to us, and we can never fully know how they touch the lives of others, can we?
I told Robert about this conversation today, and cried when I did, because..that’s what I do. He said “It makes me almost think I don’t want more dogs..because it’s so hard.”
I stared at him in utter disbelief a moment, then shook my head resolutely. “No. This is WHY we have more.” He didn’t seem to understand, so I elaborated, which I also tend to do..”I would not trade a moment of my life with Loki to avoid this pain. He is WORTH this pain. They all are. This is the price we pay for all they give to us, and is precisely why we have to save as many as we can.”
I went on, telling him that animals in the shelters..their lives often don’t mean much to anyone and they are literally thrown away like garbage. We know better though. We, who have loved them and who have suffered the pain of their loss..we know.
And that is why we have more dogs.
Every time I bring home a dog, I know he or she will one day break my heart.
But I know they are worth it.
That is what a dog’s life means to those of us who love them.
My Loki’s life meant a great deal to all who knew him.
I chose for him a plain, black marble urn. It was plain for a few months, and then..something happened.
I’ll let you decide what you see in it for yourself, for I already know what it is and what it means.