The Last Miles

He came to live with us about a decade ago, low points in our lives, each for our own reasons, from which we all saved each other in a mutual rebuilding, the kind you only see where dogs are involved.

Miles was back in the isolation section of our favorite Humane Society on earth ... he jumped, he barked, a lot. In one of those cruel feedback loops of confinement, he could never really share his essential Miles-ness in that place, but we saw enough that we knew his weirdness would fit in with our weirdness, and really, what else is love but that matching?

Now, at the tail-end of our time together, I'm thinking about what made him such a good friend.

He's seen me at my worst and laziest and grumpiest and most selfish, and always thought somehow that I was worth the effort ... worth seeing through to the next chapter.

I don't know that he was right, but he was always there, that next day or week, to go for a walk, insistent that so long as we've got kibble and water and a place to sleep out of the cold, things'll be OK.

Besides loving us, he's welcomed each dog as they come into our life and home, tutoring them in his own brand of fierce and insular love (he's never really warmed to people outside our immediate family, but I think his pre-Sheffield life informs this habit).

We've always joked that he's all heart, and in the end this is proving to almost literally be true. Mile was diagnosed with advanced Cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) almost three years ago, given a life expectancy prediction of 6-18 months. 

He's had fainting spells in times of excitement/stress for the last few years, but in the last year has begun slowing and fading; precipitously in the last month.

The wonderful thing we see is the other dogs in the house, Puck and Olive, stepping up to keep him company, and cutting him slack in pack duties.

Nobody in the house has any doubt about how this story ends, but we're all watching and thinking about and remembering and loving Miles, working to make his ending both good and right, without edging into maudlin.

On the inside, in a place I hope I'm hiding from Miles and Gail and Ben and the other dogs, a cold and calculating part of me that I both hate and am grateful for is doing the math, the cost/benefit, on the days  that he, and we, have left ... I want him to enjoy each day in the manner of that Irish toast I've heard at weddings: "May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live!".

I spend, or rather a chunk of my brain spends, probably too many moments each day thinking about how to balance joy and pain and love of family and the end of everything ... I owe Miles my best efforts in this department, but beyond that I'm far enough along my own trip on the bell-curve that I'm interested in the subject for my own reasons.

Miles is family. He saved my life with love. I owe him no less, more if I can manage it.


Cousin Kathie said...

When we invite a pet into our home I believe we are chosen . . we do not choose. One day that pet becomes a friend and a family member. At that moment our lives become enriched with the unconditional love from the new family member. We nurture, care for, love and keep them safe and become fiercely protective of them and their welfare. A enthusiastic wag, dancing eyes and a smiling face and warm heart to snuggle with is the only reward needed and what we look forward to each and every day. Once you open your heart to a pet you will never be alone or lonely - they fill your life with love and devotion. And we become better for it.

Forever home takes on a new meaning when we allow a pet into our heart. Knowing that you gave them everything you could by giving them love and the dignity to enter the next stage is all anyone could ask for.

Miles as well as the Sheffield family was blessed when you found each other.

Unknown said...

As I sit here in my chair on a yet another snowy, cold Adirondack winter day with my kitty by my side, my mini dachshund on my lap, and my ever faithful Baci (my other 65 lb. pup) at my feet, reading your blog with tears in my eyes, I remember all my fur babies who have been in my life. I have had the opportunity to be loved by these fur babies all my life - and thanks to them I learned my first lessons about love and loss. I know that they will continue to enrich my life and heart, and that my heart will break with each loss. I know that every time a new fur baby enters my life, I will have to go through a whole realm of emotions that I am usually not ready for, but even as I sit and cry over the loss, I know that every minute spent with them was worth absolutely everything. Thank you for sharing your thoughts - elegant as always - with us.

flask said...

good luck to you and him and all o' you.

safe travels through this hard place.

Esther said...

Although I have rarely felt any affection for dogs nor them for me, your tale of Miles helps me understand dog-love, a mysterious affliction--or blessing--absent from my life.