My dog Lily is in her 16th year of life and I know that her days are numbered. Our days together are numbered. She’s weak in her hips. Sometimes she’s confused about where she is. This is compounded because she’s blind and deaf. Sometimes she falls and I have to help her up. She still likes her breakfast and dinner. She’s still happy when I find her and pet her. She likes to do yoga with me (I have to do yoga in my kitchen). She’s not in much pain (good meds) but she gets frustrated when she can’t get up from her bed. Normally all I have to do to make her fine is to stand beside her in those moments; then she gets up. I don’t know exactly what’s going on in her mind, but somehow my being near makes it better.

I’ve had old dogs before. I’ve had to help many of them find their way into the next world where, I hope to God they’re all waiting for me. I imagine this as a forest — a Swiss forest — with a little stone house and all my dogs. That’s Heaven.

I have much less equanimity about Lily’s approaching “transition” than I have had about any of my other dogs I’ve had to put to sleep. I’ve been trying to figure that out so that when the moment comes I’m up to the job. Today, I figured it out.

Lily knew me “when.” We hiked miles and miles together; ran on snowy trails and climbed mountains. When she came to live with me, my arthritis had not manifested symptoms. The first day I had Lily, she and Jasmine, whom I adopted with Lily, and I took a hike in the mountains. It was the dogs’ first mountain hike and they loved it.

Jasmine and Lily soon after they came to live with me. Lily was 3; Jasmine was 8

Jasmine and Lily soon after they came to live with me. Lily was 3; Jasmine was 8

Over the few years we could do this we tracked deer, chased ground squirrels, drank from a well, looked out at the Salton Sea and watched the sun set on the Pacific — all standing in one spot on a wonderful wild trail in the Lagunas that led to Hays Peak. Lily and I once tried a short cut and learned a lot about how mean a chaparral hillside can be — but we had fun.

Lily is the last “person” in my life who knew me when I was “real.” That’s what I thought today. Lily isn’t “real” any more, either. It’s been a while. I have photos of the last “real” hike of her life — and it was my last hike, too, in a way. A former student, friend, from Germany came to visit and he and I took Cody and Lily up Garnet Peak. It was very hard for me to climb down (up was fine) that mountain and when we all got home, I saw how terribly sore Lily was. That was it.

Lily Garnet Peak-1

Lily on Garnet Peak

Lily still loves snow, she just loves it more slowly.

Lily enjoying the snowstorm, 2/22/2015

Lily enjoying the snowstorm, ten years after, 2/22/2015

I realized today that the sadness, for me, won’t only be the loss of Lily, though that will be terrible, it will also be that she is the last link to my own lost joys.

All I can do is have faith that when the moment comes it will be all right as it has been for my other dogs. My job now is to make some peace with my future and develop a new sense of what it means to me to “be real” for myself, but also so that Lily’s last moments in my arms will be peaceful with no sad telepathic messages coming to her from me to disturb her passing.


19 thoughts on “Lily

  1. Oh, gawd. The last one who knew me “when”… Yes. And more. My 18 yr old cat, who I just lost, was that. And more. What you wrote touched me. I understand it. I couldn’t have written it as well as you did.

    • Thank you, Mark. I know you know what I mean by “real” and it IS heart-breaking. Watching Lily I’ve been tasked to face my own situation. That, I realize, is what hurts over and above the prospect of losing my dog.

  2. I could have written that post, just fill in a different name (Nan). We know it’s coming, but Garry prefers to get up early every morning and carry her up and down the stairs because she can’t do it on her own. We lift her on and off the sofa. Sometimes, one of us has to go outside to help her find her way home. I don’t think she hears much and I don’t know how much she sees. She’s okay inside because she knows the place so well … but in this weather, with so much snow, the ground outside doesn’t give her a lot of clues about where she is … and calling her home … well … she hears a little … but usually, I have to go out and bring her in.

    At this point, I have many more animals, friends, and family on the other side than on this one.

  3. Beautiful. My neighbor lost her cat 9 days ago. I took care of Pumpkin when she traveled, so I am grieving, too. I agree that our animals can know us better than other people. And yes, when they transition, they take a lot of ourselves with them. A coworker once said to me “I think you like animals more than people”. I replied, “Your point?”

    • People have said that to me,too. My mom said my dogs were “child replacements” but that was never true. My dogs have been hiking buddies and as hiking was a HUGE part of my life and there were no humans who were going to do what I was doing – not that I knew anyway – dogs were perfect “people.” Besides, I think we are capable of communicating in more ways than talking and somehow I communicate well with animals. I don’t know how and I don’t know why and I don’t take any pride in it, but it’s true. After all, we’re animals, too.

  4. This is a love-filled piece, filled with sadness, resolve, and awareness of how our worlds change as we age. I read it several times. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome — I always like it when you stop by! Lily taught me a lesson. She was just as happy walking slowly in circles in the snow we just had as she was running in it as a younger dog. That was a message I am grateful for.

  5. Hello Martha. I found your blog after you liked a comment that I had written in Barbara Pyett’s blog. So I thought, “let me see what this blogger is about.” And so I am here and I like your blog, how you write and, the fact that you have dogs.

    I have no idea if Lily is still with you but, I hope that she is still getting along okay. In the photo, she appears to be in pretty good shape, Her coat looks full and if she was/is plodding along in the snow then she still has a will to live. She is a beautiful dog in the photos that you have posted.

    I know that you have not sought my advice but please watch her at all times when she is outdoors. Since she is blind the prospect of her wandering off and you not finding her is very real. I know from experience when one of my dogs was lost on one fenced acre and I and two other people passed her by because she blended in with a huge brush pile. I found her within 30 minutes but my heart was racing. It was a very hot day and the heat, I knew, could kill her if I did not find her quickly.

    Your words of losing a dog or any pet resonates with me. I’m not a spring chicken and I’ve had to say goodbye to lots of pets during my life time. Losing a pet does not get easier no matter how many dogs or cats have been a part of one’s life.


    • Thank you, Yvonne! She’s still around, but writing that blog post helped me so much understand what is going on with me. Just so you know, my yard is small and well fenced. I do worry when she’s out there (mostly that she’ll fall and won’t be able to get up) but since she loves it and loves going out on her own I don’t want to keep her from it. When I’m not home, she is shut up in the house. Fortunately, her two dog friends — Dusty and Mindy — watch out for her. She’s so brave and good and has the wild heart all huskies have. I will miss her when she goes, but now I’m at peace enough with myself to do what I will have to do for her own good. But you are right. It does not get easier. Thank you for stopping by and it makes me happy that you like my blog!

Comments are closed.