ME: Um, hey, Sir Oliver. What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be outside without my daughter.
SIR OLIVER: I’m just as surprised as you are. I was just minding my own business, walking around the kitchen, when suddenly I found myself outside. I certainly didn’t go outside alone on purpose, because I know that is not allowed and I would never, ever break the rules.
ME: Except for all the times you’ve snuck out in the past. And all the times you have jumped on the counter. And all the times you…
SIR OLIVER: You have no proof that I ever did any of that.
ME: Shall I show you pictures?
SIR OLIVER: Just shut up and open the door, Columbo.
It has been so long since I updated this blog, I don’t know how many people even follow it anymore, but I need to tell you about Emerson. We lost Emerson suddenly on December 15th, 2015. Two months ago, today. I have tried to write about it many times since then, but just couldn’t get through it. The pain was too fresh. I’m finally in a place where I can share some memories without opening the floodgates.
So, here is the story of how Emerson came to join our family, and the story of how he left us.
In December 2009, not long before Christmas, we were visiting my husband’s grandparents in northern Iowa. I was reading the newspaper. They live in a pretty small town so their newspaper was not an extensive read. Being December, it was too cold to go outside for entertainment, so I flipped through the classifieds. I was surprised to see an ad for Bernese Mountain Dog puppies. I wrestled for a while about this because I didn’t really want to purchase a dog based on a newspaper ad. However… our Berner, Xerxes, was 10 years old (this is quite old for a Berner) and was really starting to show his age. We had hoped to find another Berner in rescue before Xerxes passed away, but rescues for this breed are extremely hard to find near where we live in North Dakota. We eventually decided to give them a call. The gentleman was very nice, and reminded me of Ian’s grandfather. There was a winter storm blowing through so we couldn’t drive down to see them, but something about this fellow just put us at ease. We were encouraged by the conversation, and decided to get one of the puppies. We hadn’t even seen a picture. It was a ridiculously inadvisable decision, but my heart was telling me it was the thing to do. The puppies wouldn’t be ready until January and I was just about to start a new job, so we made plans to drive back down to Iowa the first weekend of February to pick him up. When we got to the farm, we found he was the last of his litter to go home – all his brothers and sisters were gone. This big fluff ball came lumbering up to us, little tail wagging like crazy, tongue hanging out of his little mouth. It was love at first sight. We had a few potential names for him, but didn’t want to make a decision until we had met him, so I started calling out the names to him. He ignored me until I said the right one; then, when I said “Emerson”, he suddenly turned and came running to me. And that is how Emerson chose his own name.
It was a long drive, but when we got home we introduced Emerson to Xerxes and our Saint Bernard, Selby. Xerxes taught Emerson the best way to eat snow.
He came to work with me at the groomer’s nearly every day and it soon became his second favorite place in the world to be (apart from home, of course). He learned how to recognize when I was getting dressed for work at the groomer’s. If I put on a grooming shirt, he would be right by the kitchen door when it was time to go. I’m fairly certain that he thought I couldn’t handle working at the groomer’s if he didn’t come with me.
Eventually I got a full-time office job and couldn’t bring Emerson to work with me every day anymore. The look on his face when I left for work without him the first day was brutal. Poor guy.
He always had to be as close to me as possible. I remember one time I was sitting in a chair in the living room, and he was on the floor next to me. At some point, I got up and moved to the couch so I could sit next to Ian. Emerson had to get up and flop down on the floor next to me – about 6 inches from where he had been previously sleeping. Silly boy.
Sadly, Emerson became old before his time. By the time he was three years old, he had slowed down more than Selby, who was four years older. The last year or two, it became clear that it was painful for him to move around at all. Sometimes he needed help to stand up. He couldn’t climb into the car without assistance. He used to be able to walk up to 3 miles with me, but by last year he couldn’t even walk around the block. At the end, he couldn’t even make it halfway down the street and back without obvious pain. We were starting to think about end-of-life decisions, but I just wasn’t ready for it. He was my heart dog; we had a special bond, and I couldn’t bear to think of letting him go.
So he made the decision for me. On December 15th, he became very sick. He had vomited a few times overnight, but didn’t show signs of pain in the morning so I went to work, thinking he must have just eaten something that didn’t agree with him. By lunchtime though, it was clear that something was seriously wrong. My son called me and told me that Emerson didn’t want to come back in the house after he let him out, and seemed to be in a lot of pain. I left work immediately and as soon as I got home and saw Emerson, I knew what it was. I also knew that we didn’t have a lot of time. He was laying on his side, breathing heavily, and his abdomen was completely distended. We took him straight to the vet, but I knew what they would say before we got there. I hoped they would see something I didn’t, and tell me “Don’t worry, it’s just this little thing that’s super easy to fix”, but they didn’t. A quick exam and a couple of x-rays later, and they confirmed my worst fears. He had developed a condition called gastric dilation volvulus, which is commonly known as “bloat”.* Essentially, this means he had a twist in his stomach which was preventing anything from moving through. Make no mistake, this condition is always an emergency. Unfortunately, it strikes quickly and by the time you observe the symptoms it is often too late. We could have tried to do surgery to fix the condition, but we knew the likelihood of survival was not great since it had probably been 12 hours or more since it started. Plus, given the troubles that he was already having before this condition struck, he would not have had much of a quality of life if he even made it through the surgery and the equally precarious post-operative recovery period (when dangerous secondary heart conditions are common).
We made the difficult decision to relieve his suffering through euthanasia. It is never an easy decision – even when you know it is the right thing to do, it still hurts. After it’s over, you second-guess yourself constantly. Did I really do the right thing? Should I have done more? What if I had recognized what was happening earlier and brought him to the vet right away? Would we have been able to save him then? The self-doubt is heavy for a while.
After some time passed, I was able to find clarity. I was looking through old photos and videos of Emerson and I started to really see how much pain he had been in for the last few years. I could see how active he used to be and how much he loved to play in the snow. He never did that anymore. I’m sure it just hurt too much. Emerson’s body was too old for his spirit – setting him free was a gift. I just wish I’d had the strength to give it to him sooner, so he wouldn’t have had to suffer so much in his last hours.
Rest in peace Emerson. Mama loves you, always.
Me: *walks into living room*
Wordsworth: [see below]
Me: *laughing silently, takes picture* All you’d need is a cup of coffee and you’d be a perfect impersonation of my Grandpa.
Wordsworth: I’m not sleeping, I’m just resting myZZZZzzzzzzzzz
Wordsworth: Hi Mama, whatcha doin?
Me: Putting on my shoes.
Wordsworth: Oh! Well you don’t need two hands for that. You could be petting me with at least one of those hands.
Me: Actually no, I really need both hands to tie my…
Wordsworth: *pushes face in between my hands*
Wordsworth: *puppydog eyes*
Me: I guess I should get some slip-on shoes.
When I was growing up, the movie Watership Down was one of my favorites. If you have seen this movie you might be surprised to hear that and wonder what my parents were thinking, letting a kid watch a movie like that. If you have never heard of this movie, go here and read about it. When I got older I read the book and loved it too. At one point in the story, the rabbits gather around a fallen companion and say “My heart has joined The Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.” This little prayer has always helped take the sharp edges of the loss of a furry loved one, at least for me.
Last week we said goodbye to Lord Dormir. This guy:
I first met Lord Dormir in 2004 when I was a volunteer at our local humane society. His name at that time was Sugar, because his first family thought he was a girl.* He weighed almost 14 pounds. He was friendly, beautiful, fully declawed, already neutered and one of the sweetest cats I have ever met. I loved him instantly. He loved people of all ages, cats, AND dogs.
He used to sleep in the dog beds, and though our dogs are ten times his size they never pushed him out. One day I went to put Selby in her kennel and found Lord Dormir curled up in there having a nap.
He had a bad case of feline OCD. He would groom anyone and anything -cats, dogs, people, furniture… but sweaters were his favorite. He could not resist licking a sweater, no matter how many times his tongue got stuck to it like that kid Flick in A Christmas Story.* (Which was EVERY TIME) He groomed himself and our other cat so well that he had a serious hairball problem. I’m sure he just considered this a necessary sacrifice in the name of beauty.
He really did not know how to take no for an answer; it was his firm belief that everyone in the world wanted to cuddle with him just as much as he wanted to cuddle with them. He could hear a butt land on the couch from anywhere in the house, and would instantly materialize to sit in that person’s lap. And then he would slowly make his way up from the lap onto the chest.
He liked to curl up on my shoulder when I was laying in bed reading or playing games on my phone (which was often). Or, sometimes, right on my face:
My friend Eric once described him as “the purringest kitty ever”. This was an extremely accurate description. If he was awake and a human was around, Lord Dormir was purring. He even purred while eating.
He liked to sneak out of the house and chase butterflies in the yard. He did NOT like to go outside on a leash & harness.
He once caught a mouse in my bedroom. And then let it go. And then caught it again. And then let it go. Witnessing this, I fully understood the meaning of the phrase “playing cat and mouse”.
He liked to steal the dog’s food when they weren’t looking. Sometimes he would even steal it out from under their noses while they were still eating it. He also liked to sneak up in the counter and lick our dishes clean. Recently he even got so bold that he tried to eat our food right off our plates while we were still eating.
He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfectly ours. I miss him.
* In fact, nearly everyone who met him for the first time said “What a beautiful cat! What’s her name?” But it made no difference to him whether you thought he was a boy, a girl, or a genderless alien. His mission in life was to love and be loved by everyone.
Scouty and Sammy: Play fetch?
Me: Okay. *throws ball*
Scouty: I’ll get it, Kari!
Sammy: No I will get it!
Scouty: Okay I give up.
Sammy: HAHA OLD MAN YOU ARE TOO SLOW! *gets ball*
Me: Good job, now bring it here so I throw it again!
Sammy: *drops ball*
Me: Um, Sammy, that’s 3 feet away. You’re supposed to bring it TO me.
Sammy: Beggars can’t be choosers, Kari. If you wanted the ball over there you should have gotten it yourself.
Scouty: I would have brought it all the way there.