Wednesday, June 13, 2018

When it’s time

It's always so difficult to know when it's "that time."
I suppose we should be relieved for them. I mean, after all, if only humans could choose to "cross over" so easily or had help to do so.

It was one month ago today that this end-of-life journey started with Big Brown - B.B. - and it has been, to use a cliche, a roller coaster. She has fought so hard, my small but mighty Big Brown, and all of the animals here have rallied around her.

A 4-week-old Big Brown, May 2008
Big Brown the day I purchased her at 10 months old
Big Brown as a silly yearling in 2009
I remember my third Midnight Run. It was my best finish in that race, and we had a flawless 75 or so miles completed when B.B. mistakenly turned "gee" (right) onto a snowmobile trail instead of the race trail. When I turned the team around, B.B. and her long-time rival Cinder, who was a good 8-10 pounds heavier, found an irresistible moment to call showdown. As I pulled B.B. in lead around, she came face-to-face with this arch rival, and ... let's just say it took me a minute to tear those bitches apart! Hell hath no fury...

That Midnight Run...

Arch rival, Cinder
After tending to a laceration on her right front leg and a nasty cut across the bridge of her nose, B.B. wasn't having any of this “stopping” business. Before I could completely clean the blood off her nose, she pounded her harness, the rest of the team screaming to go. She came roaring up the shoreline of Lake Superior, bloodied but no worse for wear, fighting all the way.

Toward the finish of our best Midnight Run. To the right is Lake Superior as we roll into downtown Marquette, Michigan
As far as the classic things that make sled dogs sled dogs - good feet, voracious appetite - well, B.B. has never cared much for all that. Horrible eater. I swear she'd hardly eat the entire race weekend no matter what race it was. By Sunday, I’d become as neurotic as a first time mom, asking the vet teams to check her for dehydration. She was always fine, and I imagined her rolling her eyes at me like a defiant teenager. Whatever, mom.

Stopping to rest as a yearling with her sister, Ruffian
You couldn't bootie this dog either! Hardest damned dog to get boots on! My friends Kathleen and Mike came over from Minnesota to handle for me that year, and it took all three of us to get boots on B.B.'s small feet at the checkpoint!

Nope. B.B. did things her way, always, but when it came to her job in harness or with children at an event or presentation, she did it exceptionally well.

And when all of the other sled dogs in the team rode in the dog trailer, B.B. always rode in the passenger's seat of my car. With me. Because she was special. She was a bomb proof lead dog and my best friend.
Such beautiful, almond-shaped eyes

Curled up after a 40 mile run inside my cabin in the Upper Peninsula, January, 2013

Illustrating proper "line out" technique from our training grounds in the Upper Peninsula, October 2012

At camp in the U.P., October 2012

Stretched out on my bed

She has continued with that fighting, true-to-herself spirit through these, her last days. Giving her 1 1/2 tablets of Keppra 3 times a day has been tricky. I've mastered the art of setting alarms on my phone for medication reminders, and Elise has also mastered the complicated art of getting a pill down a doggie throat. B.B. is still finicky, although she has enjoyed the grilled chicken breast strips and hamburger quite a lot!

But tonight, she couldn't keep her dinner down. Drooling, panting wildly and whining, she paced the floors, finally expelling the contents of her stomach. I gave her a small dose of Phenergan. Slowly, she fell into the steady, easy breathing of sleep, finally relaxed.

People seem to think because I have a couple dozen dogs that somehow this loss gets easier, that numbers somehow mean I love each of them a little less. As I sit here tonight, typing through tears, I can say this. is. not. true.

Bracing myself for this loss has shaken me. But, like birth, death is a process.

Surprisingly, this journey with B.B. has reminded me of my father's final few hours of life. As we all gathered 'round my parents’ big bed, watching the rise and fall of my dad’s chest, we moved from the frenzied imminence of expectation to a quiet peaceful acceptance. His final hours held a sort of private sacredness like the quiet and immensely personal intimacy of the first few hours of life. As hard as it was to watch my dad die, I was so deeply honored to share in that intensely personal, private moment with him.

It’s a perfect circle. A closing. In between the place of life and death, right before the light is extinguished in the soul, there is a sort of silence like I’ve never known ... except in one place: winter.

I don’t know how to let her go.

But in that quiet place tonight, I told B.B. it was okay to go.

Rest In Peace, little B.B.
5/4/2008 - 6/15/2018
We had a damned good run, girl.