I have been asked to write a book chronicling the life of our dog Cody. As I ponder the reams of paper my omnipresent writers block has left blank, this seems a daunting task, and probably a fool’s errand. On the other hand, this will perhaps become one more gift a wonderful friend and companion has left me. That through the telling of his mute life, I may find my voice again, and possibly some peace with the void his passing has left in my heart.
To try to tell of his life, and how he brightened everyone he met, I will start with the end, or as near to the end as I am now. Cody died just yesterday, mid-day; suffering from anaemia brought on by a range of maladies including the latest: lymphoma.
To say that Cody died, is a bit of a shaded truth. The hard truth is that I put him to death. He was certainly suffering, and while he had rallied some during treatment, he was again not eating, slipping into fever, pain, and lack of awareness. We had gone to the hospital that morning hoping he could come home, after his scheduled chemotherapy, but his release had been pushed back at least days, if ever. His treatment was delayed indefinitely as well, as he was not fit enough to handle the chemo. The prognosis was dire and it was just as likely he would not survive the complete first round, as it was he would see it through to remission.
Henry and I assessed what we knew, with the help of some simple metrics (Quality of life scale and How do you know) along with likely outcomes as presented by our vets. We realised that the past autumn of less and less walking, more and more sleeping, and only moments (instead of hours) of joy each day, was not likely to return. It was more likely he would be bedridden, unable to swim, walk, or stand, and only able to eat on his own sometimes. Other times he would need nourishment by spoon or a feeding tube. These times would be punctuated by the discomfort of short or long stays in hospital for chemo or other treatments. We agreed, this was not a quality of life he or we would want to have.
He was shivering, eyes rheumy and clouded, in pain when and wherever touched, and clearly distressed by his sudden aggressive relapse. Sobbing, holding each other, and him, we asked the vet to prepare euthanasia. This lethal dose of anaesthesia, would cause him to fall quickly unconscious and end all neural activity throughout the body. Painlessly his heart and lungs would stop and his brain would fall to unconsciousness, and death. They confirmed and started their preparations. We sobbed and held him close whispering loving and tender kisses in his ears.
As the vet prepared the catheter for the last injection, I climbed into his bed with him and cradled his head in my lap. Henry and I were sobbing, while trying our best to be brave and strong for him, but unable to withstand the gales of grief and pain. We continued whispering to him, It’s okay, good boy, we love you, be free, you’re coming home. Henry promised we would to take him to America which is still hard for me to hear…but true: in our hearts and in his ashes.
The vet pushed the plunger and Cody yelped at the discomfort of the act. The atheist and fool in me wants to think it was a cry NO! LET ME LIVE. The reasoning part of me knows he had no idea what was happening, nor that we would likely have wanted to live in the coming pain and misery of cancer, without the joy of his favourite things.
We kept eye contact, cradling his head in my lap, stroking him and pouring our love into him for the few seconds it took him to die. I saw the life leave his eyes as they went from rheumy, cloudy, windows witness to nearly 15 years of a wonderful life; to dull, opaque, lifeless orbs. He didn’t gasp, he didn’t twitch, he just settled and was gone. The doctor confirmed his death and left us to hold his lifeless form and say goodbye again.
George Hrab wrote a song called Small Comfort about his own dog’s passing. The small comfort being that while we will miss him, he will not miss us, and that his last thoughts as he drifts to eternal sleep is that he will see us again when he awakes. I’m not sure this idea comforts me yet, but I appreciate the sentiment and understand that the sacrifice is the deal we make, for those we love and lose. Small comfort, to be sure.
Cody may have been a common creature on this earth. I have no Hollywoodesque stories of outlandish heroism, or amazing feats to share (though I will try to share thousands of heartwarming ones). Still, he was the best god damned dog I have ever known, he was smart, kind, friendly towards every person and every creature he met, and the gentlest dog you could imagine. He was an avid hiker, completing nearly all of Hong Kong’s most aggressive mountain walks. He was an avid swimmer and splashed in many of our beaches, rivers and streams when he could get a chance. Mostly he was loved and loving with our small, extended Hong Kong family. He was there for us when we argued, when business was difficult, when life sucked. He was also there to celebrate and help suck all the marrow of life (a favourite pastime of his). He was so common, but to us he was a special kind of wonder. He will be missed, and never replaced.
We love you Cody, and can think of no complaint about you except we wish we had a million more years to share.