We had to take her to the vet in Clayton, an hour away from our farm in Rocky Mount, and she hadn’t been in a vehicle since we’d first gotten her. We’d always had to drug her with Ace to get her there for regular visits, and even then, she drooled, panted and tried to escape from the truck for the first 30 minutes. I figured that by the time we’d get there, she’d be practically asleep– but I knew it would be stressful on her system. The vet wanted to try her coming without drugs.
On the fourth trip there, we made it, with just some hard breathing, and Ems was the perfect lady in the waiting room. She let the vet techs draw her blood with no problem. Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.It worked—for a while. Her appetite returned. We had read that a high-protein diet would combat the cancer, so she feasted on stew beef, pork chops, turkey burgers and chicken. No more biscuits for treats: she had beef jerky. As a vegetarian, I’ve never bought so much meat in my life. Thank you, Costco! My carnivore stepson, who became Emmy’s personal chef, also benefited from this diet–probably not in a good way.
She was eating and maintaining her weight and energy, so we had high hopes for the follow-up ultrasound to see if the tumors had shrunk. We were wrong. But, since they hadn’t gotten any bigger either, we took that as a positive sign.
Emmy had always been a tough character. She appeared a little over seven years ago near the road in front of our farm, limping—probably from a run in with a car—and we had to trap her to catch her. She was just about the homeliest dog you can imagine, maybe a cross between a pit bull and a sharpei. Plain black and tan, and tough. We were afraid to let her near our other dogs, so somehow she ended up ruling the kitchen, prime real estate that I’m sure the other dogs grouched about. She wouldn’t go in a crate, wouldn’t ride in the car. She was highly opinionated. She didn’t like thunder and would bark for hours at a storm: she wasn’t afraid, just pissed off by it. And she didn’t like people other than us. There were two instances where she actually bit people, one being the horse vet. (How embarrassing!)
She seemed destined to live out a solitary canine life, until Otis came along. Otis appeared in my yard in Hillsborough, an obviously purebred pitbull, wearing one of those massive spiked collars and dragging a huge chain behind him. My first thought was to look for my cat, but I quickly saw Taff checking him out from the barn. I got the chain, and Otis obediently followed me into my kennel. He had little wounds on his cheeks. I took his picture, printed it out, and took it to the convenience store, about two miles away. About an hour later, I went back and took it down. He didn’t deserve to be chained, and if those wounds were from fighting, I didn’t want him to go back to that environment. I decided if he was a beloved pet, I would check for lost ads, and if they didn’t care enough to look for him, then I would find him a better home.
That was wishful thinking—because, although I did post him at my vet’s and asked a couple of people if they were interested in him, I knew he wasn’t going anywhere. But he was scary looking. I walked him on a leash, and this was before I had my knee replaced, and one day I fell, on him, and I thought I was going to die. I looked at him; he looked at me. We were both scared of the other. I think it was at that point that we jointly realized we had nothing to fear.
Otis didn’t have a mean bone in his body, but I was afraid to let him in with our other dogs, so, with Emmy in the kitchen, Otis took over the living room and the couch. This arrangement went on for a while, until we finally had had enough of the put-one-out-then-take-out-the-other-one stuff. We took them out together on leashes. The two of them walked along as if they’d known each other for years. I think they saw they were evenly matched, so there was no need for that aggressive silliness. After that, they became inseparable.
So, along with my stepson, Otis reaped some of the benefits of the new diet. As Emmy got thinner, he got fatter. He loved her beef jerky treats. But Otis also seemed to know something was wrong. Ems didn’t run out the door so much any more, and she didn’t rush down the fence line after the squirrels. She did enjoy sunbathing, which is what she did all the time.
She did it on her last day. She lay in the sunshine with Otis. I saw him give her kisses.
When I went to the truck to take Emmy, Otis jumped in. At first I got him back out. Then I selfishly let him jump back in. No one else was going with me, and I wanted his company on the way back. I also thought that Emmy would be calmer with him along. I always struggle with when it is the right time to let go. But the chemo wasn’t working. Emmy wasn’t eating. She was losing weight, and her breathing was becoming labored. To an outsider, I suppose it would have been obvious that the time had come–but it is so hard to say goodbye. The vet made me feel better. She said she would rather see an animal come in before they get to a crisis and everyone is stressed.
Otis and I drove home. My daughter sent me a text picture of Otis and Emmy. Not wanting to stop and text her back, I just sent a picture of Otis back. She asked, “Did Otis go with you?”. I stopped and wrote “Yes”. She wrote, “Makes me think of Up.”(the movie). I wrote back: “Of the couple or Doug, the dog?” She replied, “The couple”.
Emmy’s buried now in our front yard– right by the fence where Otis runs to chase after squirrels.