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reflections on some lineages of the human condition

To Fellow Members of the Leonberger Club of America: My Loki is Gone

To Fellow Members of the Leonberger Club of America: My Loki is Gone

This is the email I sent to the LeoList (an email list for members of the Leonberger Club of America) announcing Loki’s death.

A great heart has stopped forever – our Loki boy’s…

Our huge-hearted, people-loving Loki boy  died yesterday (Tuesday) morning at the emergency animal clinic, leaving us in grief and tears.

We’ve known for more than a year that he had laryngeal paralysis, but he was actually doing relatively well, even without a tie-back operation. We got a slow-feed bowl and fed him several small meals throughout the day, and kept his walks short and in the cool part of the day – which is usually not difficult to do here in the cool Pacific Northwest. It also helped that his personality was very calm.

We had been having a wretched hot spell for the past few days, which peaked on Monday. On hot days Loki would always prefer to spread out on the cool slate in the entryway of our house and just lay there until the evenings got cooler. So that’s what he did Sunday and Monday, and it seemed quite normal. And when Loki, who ordinarily would eat anything at any time, and would practically point to the clock if a meal was 5 minutes late – didn’t eat much on Sunday or Monday, we all thought it was just the blasted heat (no AC). Monday night when it finally had cooled off enough for me to let him lie on his favorite patch of grass outside, he just plopped down and panted, but I figured it was still the heat (it had been in the mid 90s during the day, and all of us here in the PNW think it’s roasting when the thermometer hits 76).

But this time he just seemed different. At one time he got up to do his business, and I was shocked that it was bad-smelling diarrhea. Loki had always had the healthiest digestive system in the world, with nary an instance of diarrhea in his nine and a half years.  But again, could it be the heat? In any case, I spent a precious half-hour with him, talking to him gently, telling him I loved him, and then something told me to tell my sons to do the same. Our older son (who lives with us) came outside and also spent time talking and loving him (saying good-bye actually), and then I called my younger son to come over, and together we decided to call the emergency animal clinic to see if they thought we should bring him in right away. They did.

The timing was critical, not only for Loki, but because both of my sons would be leaving for different out-of-town trips Tuesday or Wednesday, and with my husband only able to walk unsteadily with a walker, I would have no one to help me get Loki in and out of the car if he would have any trouble. He did manage to get in and out of the car by himself, and even seemed happy to be “going for a ride” at midnight.

When the vet saw Loki, he noticed his abdomen was somewhat swollen (we were pretty sure it wasn’t bloat because he didn’t have any of the other signs, and he did easily drink and swallow both food and water when I brought it out to where he was on the grass. But in any case, the vet wanted to do x-rays, and so we three waited there for the results – which indicated no bloat, but some unexplained fluid in the abdomen. Here is where my heart sank, because I just lost a very close cousin last year (ironically, an oncology nurse who worked in a cancer research hospital) to pancreatic cancer that NOBODY noticed until it was stage four). So the doctor said he would recommend that we leave Loki where he could be hooked up to IVs and monitored, and then the next afternoon the radiologist would do an ultrasound, since the x-rays didn’t show enough detail to make a diagnosis.

We went home, and the doctor called around 6 am with the news that Loki seemed better after the IVs. (We had decided not to visit him while his diagnosis was so uncertain in order to keep him from getting excited at seeing us so that he wouldn’t get in breathing difficulty). At 10:12 a second call came from the vet: “Loki isn’t doing well…”

I knew.  The way the vet tried to break the news to me was to say that Loki’s heart had stopped and they were having trouble … Would I want them to try intubating? The boys and I had talked about “heroic measures” before we even took him to the clinic, and had already decided, given our uncertainty about just how many medical problems he might have, (we are having a necropsy done) we wouldn’t go down that route. Probably our decision was influenced by the fact that a dozen years ago, my boys watched me care for their beloved grandparents, who both died of progressive, degenerative conditions. Some kinds of slow dying just can’t be fixed. I then asked the vet (thinking Loki was still alive) if he was conscious. She paused and then said, “I think he’s already gone.”

Yesterday was like a bad dream, with many moments of denial.”There is his water bowl. He’ll be coming home and the first thing he will do is take a long drink.” Getting ready to go to bed was impossible. Except for the very few times that I’ve been traveling and not home at night, I have slept next to Loki every single night since the day we got him in January 2004 as an eight-week old puppy. I am trying, every day, to make some small dent in putting out of sight the most heart-stabbing reminders of Loki. My son, before he left yesterday to shoot a fireworks show in Pullman, took down the metal “Leonberger Crossing” sign we’ve had on our chain link fence for years. I gave Loki’s dog food away to our nice next-door neighbor who has two dogs that Loki loved to visit. But there’s so much more, all over the house. When we were moving furniture to make mobility easier for my husband after he got out of the hospital, we found an old Kong ball, and Loki was beside himself with joy, instantly recognizing it and bringing it to me, over and over, to fill with a treat. This was just DAYS ago, and seeing that red ball on the table last night brought it all back.

And one of the most painful parts of all this is that I realize that I will never have another Leonberger again in my life – as much as I think they are the most wonderful breed of dog in the world.  My life trajectory will be toward smaller, probably even yardless places, and my sons are no longer high school and college students able to give a big dog living in the city the daily long walks he would need.

It hurts so much. Each of us has stories to tell about how Loki was so special: my husband, who “did lunch” every day with Loki when I was away at work, my older son, who loved to take Loki on long walks through our 700-acre city park with the paths through the old growth trees, my younger son, who, with his wife (whom Loki approved with “this is THE ONE”  enthusiasm) both loved to take Loki to wade in Puget Sound… And I will never know another dog with such a great heart. I will love you forever, my beloved Loki-boy!

Loki as a seven-month old puppy (Waldport, Oregon)

Loki as a seven-month old puppy (Waldport, Oregon)

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