Saturday, December 23, 2006

Kisses

These photos were taken the day of Sparkey's Living Memorial, circa April, 2006.




Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Final Days--Some Images

Here are some photos from Sparkey's final full day of life which have been sitting unseen in our camera for three months. Mostly, I've been unwilling to download the photos onto our hard drive, knowing that within that batch of photos---over 100---are some shots of Sparkey at rest in his grave, wrapped in a cloth that has been in our family for more than a decade. If any of you would like to see those photos which are, in fact, quite sweet, please email us privately and we will forward them to you. Due to the tender and personal nature of death, we will not publish them here.

A very sweet Sparkey taking his last ride in the car to town.


A sleepy moment by the pond......



The ubiquitous smile.......


A kiss for Momma.....


Being carried by Daddy.....

Of ribs and booties......



Looking towards the future.......



---Keith

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Three Months

Three months and counting. Sparkey's body continues to become one with the earth, his grave just feet from our house, the rhododendrons still embracing the unseasonable warmth of early December. Today is also the five-year anniversary of the death of our dear friend Woody, one of Sparkey's best buddies. On my other blog I wrote:

Sparkey and Woody were quite the pair, often barrelling together through the woods, returning to the house bleeding, limping, panting, and grinning from ear to ear. They seemed like brothers then, with matching red and golden fur, both unconditionally loving and loved. We miss them both so much, and hope they can frolic together in the grasses of some far-off heaven that is actually closer to us than it seems.

We do miss those two, but also feel them so close to us still. Sparkey's loving spirit is easy to access, and I send him love on this and every day.

---Keith

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Two Months

Today marks two months since Sparkey left his body and this sweet and troubled planet. He is still missed, of course, but the pain has ebbed for now.

Mary said today that our job is to be happy for him in his new circumstance, and rejoice for his freedom from illness and disability. Our other job is to be happy ourselves, the greatest gift we could give him. Lastly, but most important, is the happy job of loving Tina like never before. And that is just so easy......

We love you, Spark, and bless you now and forever.

---Keith

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sparkey's Twin

I was perusing some blogs that I like today and returned to Arse Poetica, one of my faves. In a recent post, the canine-loving author posted a photo of one of her dogs, the close-up of her face being the spitting image of Sparkey, so much so that it made me gasp. Please go see this photo here and tell me what you think. Wow.

---Keith

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Pangs

I so much wanted to see Sparkey's beautiful orange and white face when I came home today. Tina's greeting was all tail-wagging affection, and she always makes her delight in our long-awaited arrival thoroughly apparent. Still, there was a little pang in my heart when I came in the door and only one tail and set of canine eyes were there to greet me. After a hard day, coming home and realizing yet again that Sparkey is gone left me with a little feeling of emptiness, a void which I will fill with gratitude for his life and affection for Tina, our grey-coated love.

---Keith

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Saying Goodbye Again and Again

Last night, we watched In America, a sweet film about an Irish couple who come to New York City with their two school-age daughters in order to escape the memories of their young son who died from cancer. Towards the end of the film, as the father comes to terms with the loss and finally is able to say goodbye to the lost child, Mary and I both tearfully said goodbye to Sparkey and took another turn towards accepting that he really is gone. Just another page in the book of Sparkey's life, his death, and his lingering presence which blesses us daily.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

One Year Ago

Here's a photo of our Golden Boy one year ago, climbing our favorite small local mountain. When Sparks was a new puppyish member of our family long ago, we lived at the base of this mountain and he learned to hike off-leash in these very woods. He quickly became the kind of dog who would calmly wait for us at each fork in the path to make sure we didn't get lost. He always seemed at his happy best in the woods.....


---Keith Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Arriving Home

We just arrived home from our first overnight trip away from Tina since Sparkey died. As always, trusty house-sitters stayed here with her, allowing her to be in her own environment with people who she knows well. Luckily for her and us (and previously for Sparkey) our dogs have never stayed in a kennel, always spending time at home with loving dog-sitters, even when we were gone for weeks at a time. Still, it's a historical marker which cannot be ignored.

We came home to a happy and well-adjusted girl, apparently well fed and seemingly not starving for human contact, although she was down in the basement on a beautiful late afternoon when we arrived home---a curious finding. Nonetheless, she's our best girl and we're all together again.

Now for a cozy fall evening, home at last, a candle burning on Sparkey's autumnal resting place.

A tribe of three, together again.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

missing

i pause to honor keith's faithful and beautiful writing to this blog on top of his other one. mostly though, i acknowledge his continued loyatly to sparkey. keith has quietly been honoring and nurturing the parts of him that will always be true to his love for and with "sparkey d. dog". from his nightly ritual of lighting the candle and sitting in silence at the edge of the woods in sparkey's spot both in life and after death, keith has kept vigil. from his bike, in the car, at work, in our bed, keith has kept vigil in his heart and i thank him for his devotion. i am probably more deeply sorry for his loss because i am closest to it, and because it is a loss that i share deeply.

i won't go into what a pretty awful month it has been since sparkey died, which understates how our lives have been. Suffice it to say that i have struggled and grieved more than i imagined i would---even though i could barely imagine life without Sparkey's simple and reliable, gentle and comforting presence. i miss that dog so much, and even though there has been somewhat of a pall over our home as we have experienced much sadness of late, we remember to give and receive plenty of tender lovin' care with our girl Tina. She is doing better than all of us combined--or so it seems. and this is a great comfort in a time of needing just that. so thanks to Tina too!

in gratitude for my amazing housemates, lifemates and soulmates!

ahoy to you, maties!

all my love,

mary

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Full Month

Here we are, the 2nd of October, marking a full month since Sparkey's passing. I note that my recovery is slow, and I am definitely experiencing some level of anhedonia on a daily basis. It's time to put more energy into healing and moving on, not just holding on.

Out at Sparkey's grave at sunset, I had a talk with him. I told him that my nightly candle-lighting may become something I begin to do when I am moved to do so, not merely as a habit or ritual. I will continue to honor him by trying to heal, to move forward, to allow myself to embrace joy again, even in his absence. I know that he would want me to be joyful---as I believe he is now, himself---and my ability to continue to embrace life is a testament to all he taught me during our thirteen years together. He was the embodiment of being in the present, and now my task at hand is to do the same, not dwelling in the past and longing for what is no more. This is a difficult lesson.

My grieving for Sparkey has opened other wounds, other longings, and the time has come to welcome it all, embrace it all, and find a way to allow those losses to integrate into my life, into my heart, and transform into joy again.

The operative question is, how?

---Keith

Saturday, September 30, 2006

28 Days (A work in progress)

28 days gone by. Four whole weeks without our boy.
The sheet upon which he died is now on its way to the laundry. We've held on to it long enough.
His body lies in the earth.
His beat-up old boots, held together with duct tape, sit on a shelf with his collar and tags.
And his body lies in the earth as his spirit soars.

---Keith

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Balm for the Soul

Having Sparkey's grave right outside our door, I'm clearly seeing for the first time the beauty and emotional balm which a well-tended grave provides. In my personal cosmology, the body is a shell in which the spirit briefly travels, and although I realize that Sparkey's body is not truly "him", there is great comfort in knowing that his body, which we knew and loved so well, is returning to its organic source directly under our gaze, on land which he himself knew and loved.

Sitting out there tonight after sundown, lighting a candle, I found it easy to talk to him. It's simply a place to connect, a place where I can feel his spirit, knowing that, on some level, he feels my love and beams his love back to me. I feel even more connected with him when we're out walking or biking in his beloved fields, and Mary felt his presence the other day as we wheeled along the pond in the late afternoon sun, Tina racing behind us.

This autumn, I plan to climb a few small local mountains that Sparkey loved, to sit and contemplate this land with which he was enthralled, and to relive some of those moments of joy we experienced side by side in nature. He loved the snow, he seemed to enjoy the slowness of the heat and the coolness of a splash in the pond or the creek, although he admittedly seemed repulsed by getting wet in the rain, and would often sit at the door and refuse to go out in anything more than a sprinkle. When he did get wet, however, there was nothing he seemed to like better than a vigorous rub-down with a nice dry towel. I would thread the towel under his belly and "floss" his undercarriage, and he would stand so still as I did so. He seemed to love these post-walk ablutions, and it was a joy to rub him down and then watch him roll on the carpet in satisfied delight.

Now, the times when he rolled in rotting mushrooms or got a face full of porcupine quills were not such fun, but they were part and parcel of life with a dog, especially a dog as spirited as old Bob. How we loved so many things about him, like a benign uncle who just always seemed to be there when you needed him, but rarely asked for much in return. He was beloved by many,and even our friends who are not such "dog people" admit that he captured their hearts and filled them with joy with just a glance or a turn of the head. His specialness was contagious---and unavoidable.

So, his body slowly melts back into the earth, returning to the soil from which it sprang. The bulbs which blossom in the spring after the thawing of the long winter will be a testament to his enduring beauty, and to our unending gratitude for his kind soul's visit to our home, and our hearts.

---Keith

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Carnival of the Dogs

For those of you unfamiliar with blog carnivals, they are collections of blog entries on certain subjects from various participants, generally published on a relatively regular basis. I frequently submit posts from my other blog to Grand Rounds, a medical blog carnival, but last month I submitted a post to Carnival of the Dogs and was just informed that the current version of that carnival is dedicated to none other than Sparkey. You can click here to see the entry, graced with Sparkey's smiling photo. His fame is apparently spreading.

---Keith

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Gift

Just last week, we received a sympathy card in the mail. We've received many, but this one was from an organization in a nearby city that is committed to rescuing homeless cats. It seems that the home-visiting veterinarian who compassionately assisted Sparkey in leaving his tired body made a donation to this organization in Sparkey's honor, and they were writing to inform us of this loving act. We were very moved, to say the least, that she would go to such a length, and we are so very grateful that this donation was made to honor our Sparkey's gentle life.

Money never really entered into the scenario with the vet on that day when she came to do what we and Sparkey needed her to do, even as we dreaded the moment that he would close his eyes forever. I handed her a blank signed check and told her there was no need for further discussion---we were to just focus on him. She complied, and the gift we receive in return is her generosity of spirit in making this donation.

Sparkey gave us so many gifts, but it seems that the gifts just keep on coming. He must be having a cosmic chuckle that I'm even surprised at that outcome. "How else would you have it be?" he asks. "My life is the gift that keeps on giving."



---Keith

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Autumn Arrives


Although Sparkey was beautiful during any season, I especially loved the Autumn when his orange coat would often match or blend in with the leaves on the ground. He seemed to revel in each season---naturally---exalting in the snows of Winter, the crisp leaves of Autumn, the verdant newness of Spring, the cauldron of Summer. He loved it all because he was so present. Present and always accounted for.

Today marks three weeks since his passing, and though the ache is less, it is still present, as is his spirit. I was talking to someone at a party last night, and she showed me laminated photos from her wallet of her dog who died several years ago. Another person shared with me that she could cry every day---if she allowed herself to---about her dog that died three years ago. These notions normalize my grief, and also bring home the fact that I will always miss Sparkey's body and physical presence, but I can still be thankful for his thirteen-year visit and the joy he brought to so many.

I still miss him so.

---Keith

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Signs of Sparkey

There are so many physical signs of Sparkey around the house. How they tug at the heart strings and bring visceral memories to life.

When I would give Sparks his IV, he would sometimes bleed from the puncture site, and if I wasn't diligent about putting pressure on the site after removing the large needle from his skin, he would inevitably shake (like he was coming out of a pond) and diluted blood would spray in all directions. There are some spots in the house where spatters of reddish pink still adorn the walls, and we are both reluctant to remove the stains.

So many windows and sliding glass doors carry smudges from Sparkey's big nose. These smudges are memories of how he would press himself against the glass in our absence, getting as close to the outdoors as possible. Lucky for him, he had a lovely screened-in porch for six or seven months of the year, plus a doggie door and fenced-in yard. Not bad digs, really, but the yard was small. He always seemed to hate the backyard and fenced-in feeling. One of our housemates who helped build the fence named it "The Sparkitentiary".

The little foam mattress where Sparkey breathed his last breaths is still on the porch in the exact place where it was when we held him and set him free. It is covered with a burgundy flannel sheet which we have been hesitating to wash, his essence still palpable there. Tina often sits or lays on the spot where he died, and we too spend some time there. We're getting ready to let that one go, but it is a slow decision to be made.

The house is much less covered with fur now that Sparkey is gone. Tina sheds very little, and the dust bunnies were certainly more of a Sparkey origin, to be sure. As we do late summer cleaning, those reminders of his earthly presence slowly disappear into the vacuum, and eventually his fur will no longer sit in little corners of the house and under furniture. As we let go more and more, the physical reminders will also slowly diminish, and other memories will suffice.

This is yet another step along the road. Many people might not understand the visceral quality of this type of loss, but those who have lost an animal companion will "get it" immediately. Unconditional love is an amazing gift, and Sparkey gave us that gift for thirteen years. Our unconditional love for him continues unabated, and these remembrances are just part and parcel of the journey.

---Keith

Monday, September 18, 2006

Memories and Blessings

Sorry that the posts are so few and far between this week, but life is what happens when you're busy making other plans, as John Lennon once wisely sang.

More than two weeks after Sparkey having physically left us, his essence still abides in the house, and we feel him among us in different ways. The candle still burns on his grave every night, and we still extinguish the flame before retiring to bed for the night.

I still so want to see him beside the bed in the morning. I would just hang my arm off of the bed and almost inevitably find his ribs to stroke, that resonant sound reverberating as I patted his bony flank. I'm sure Tina misses him, but she does seem to be doing OK, just without canine company to chat with as the neighborhood noises come and go throughout the day. I even miss the nightly ritual of the IV, and the late evening walks we would take together, Mary and Tina huddled in the house or on the porch. How many hours I spent sitting in the street with him, or on the side of the road in the dirt or the grass. Whenever I had the time to spare, I would let him lead the way and guide the trajectory of our parambulations, even when we would just sit for an hour on the sidewalk, watching the world go by his only apparent agenda.

The pain and emptiness of not having him on walks around the neighborhood has calmed. The ache is less, although still there, and at times my heart just cries for him, even if my eyes are dry. I think of the many hours I spent over the years just laying on the floor next to that loving creature, nose to nose, breathing with him and communing in the most simple way. Just being together---that was the sweetness.

My conversations with Sparkey in the last week have been many, mostly having to do with memories, as well as my blessings going out to him as he explores his new world, his new etheric body. I have recounted the states we visited, the cities, the towns, the parks, the lakes, the ponds, the trails and mountains. How many homes we visited, hotels we slept in, places we camped. I visited with him in my mind all of the stores downtown where we would go to get treats and love and water. I talked to him about the grand re-opening of our local collective bookstore where he was a frequent visitor. The party was in 2005. It was crowded, a DJ spinning Latin CDs, food galore, and Sparkey on the dance-floor with us, among the people, a true party animal.

We had so many gatherings and parties in our several homes over the years, and he was always right there with us. Wild dance parties, Sparkey nipping at people's butts as they danced to the music. Healing circles and meditations where he knew just what to do. Dinner parties when scraps were like manna from heaven. And simple gatherings of friends where he could relax and be a dog among a pack, content to listen to the cadences and timbre of our voices, always alert for movement towards shoes, the door, and finally a walk.

Memories come and go so quickly, and I will continue to write them down for you to also share. He was a true member of my soul family---not just a dog, but a piece of who I am. I miss him so, but thank him for all he gave me.

Thank you for spending some time with us here. And please do come by again.

---Keith

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sparkey at Rest


Here are some photos of Sparkey's resting place, taken after Rene came and planted an Ivory Halo Dogwood bush (center), as well as several varieties of Mums. In the Spring we will see thirteen crocuses, narcissus and tulips bloom, representing the thirteen years that Sparkey brightened the earth with his presence.

We are still lighting a candle every night at sunset, and words and acts of compassion still flow our way regularly across the wires, ethers, and miles.

Walking Tina around the block just before sunset tonight, I felt a wave of missing Sparkey. As a friend wrote to me recently, "There is now a Sparkey-sized hole in your heart." May that hole be filled with sweet memories of the past and joy for his new life.

Meanwhile, the candle burns.

---Keith

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Continuing On.....

We returned from our retreat/conference to a happy and playful Tina, well-cared-for by our son Rene for the weekend. It was so sad to not see Sparkey's face looking longingly through the window, but lovely to be greeted by Tina's furry and seemingly well-adjusted self.

Rene used his gardening and landscaping skills to adorn Sparkey's grave, planting mums, a dogwood bush, and thirteen bulbs representing Sparkey's years on earth, photos of which are forthcoming when our computer issues are sorted out. He continued the ritual of lighting a candle on Spark's grave at sunset each night and blowing it out at bedtime. Our mailbox offered even more sympathy cards, our voicemail and email still oozing with verbal sympathies from friends far and near. We give thanks for everyone's thoughtfulness.

In a gentle yoga class this morning in a temple space at the retreat center, I was lying on my back and the teacher was talking about accepting death as readily as we accept life. Moments later I felt Sparkey walk through the solid wood door of the temple and settle on my right side, thumping into me as he would do when settling next to me in bed. I silently acknowledged this visitation and thanked him for it. This incident reminded me of a similar occurence after our friend Woody was murdered. I was lying in fetal position on the bed, weeping, and I literally felt Woody lay down beside me and "spoon" me, a sense of momentary comfort which I still remember to this day.

In James Agee's A Death in the Family, Agee vividly describes the family of the deceased character sitting in the living room on the night of his untimely death. They feel him enter the house, a worried and distraught energy filling the air. This visitor then climbed the stairs, entered each of the rooms of his two children as if to tuck them in, and then exited the house as swiftly and silently as he had appeared. They are all dumbstruck, and all but two agree that what they had just experienced was not a mass hallucination but a phenomena which has been described for millennia. Whether these incidents are "real" in the literal sense means nothing to me in the sense that they were "real" enough for me to experience them and be affected by them deeply.

This process continues, the candle burns on the grave, and another day ends with Sparkey's physical vessel lying in the earth not forty feet from where I type. My missing him is still so stark, but my love for this very special animal knows no bounds of physicality.

---Keith

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Retreat

We will be on retreat until Monday, away from all things digital. Thanks to everyone for the kind words, delicious food, kind notes, loving emails, compassionate comments and support.

May your heart be filled with compassion and love, today and always, and may all beings be free from suffering.

When someone is suffering and you find yourself at a loss to know how to help, put yourself unflinchingly in his or her place. Imagine as vividly as possible what you would be going through if you were suffering the same pain. Ask yourself: “How would I feel? How would I want my friends to treat me? What would I most want from them?”

When you exchange yourself for others in this way, you are directly transferring your cherishing from its usual object, yourself, to other beings. So exchanging yourself for others is a very powerful way of loosening the hold on you of the self-cherishing and the self-grasping of ego, and so of releasing the heart of your compassion.----Sogyal Rinpoche

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

All Part of the Process

Tonight, my face muscles feel tight, perhaps with unshed tears.

Looking at this photo, Mary reminds me that we both were outside with Tina when this photo was taken, separated from Sparkey by the glass. Now we are separated by the veil which divides the world of the living from that of the dead. But as Sweet Honey in the Rock once sang, "The dead are not under the earth; they are in the waving grass, they are in the rushing stream....."

Each day, each hour presents a new moment to experience in a new way. A smile, a tear, a wave of sadness, a moment of forgetting, another moment of remembrance. It is a sure sign that the process is under way, unimpeded.

Do I think it strange to not have cried for two days? Does this pall over my face and around my countenance mean that I'm holding back? Or is it just what I'm supposed to do? I've been here before, this grieving place, and it's as unpredictable as the New England weather.

The evening candle burns bright on Sparkey's grave, and I'll go outside and blow it out when I finish writing. It's my way of ritualistically acknowledging him, of remembering, and then saying goodnight as I move toward the dream world where I hope to catch a glimpse of my sweet boy. Some people might ask why I grieve so for this animal, this four-legged, and I can only answer that those who have known this kind of love would never have to ask such a question.

The tears come now in a sob, and I just send him love and thanks for his unconditional loyalty. Perhaps now these facial muscles will relax and transform into smiles of joy for his soul's beautiful and well-deserved freedom.

---Keith

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Missing Sparkey

Here we are on Tuesday. Sparkey's body has been in the ground for three days. A candle glows on his grave every night.

It is so difficult to fully take in the fact that he's gone, that this thirteen-year physical relationship, so grounded in the physical world, is over as we knew it. Walks, food, snacks, water, affection---it all revolved around his needs and ours. It was mutual regard, love, and loyalty. That has not changed, but his warm body is the missing piece in the equation, and that is the change most difficult to embrace.

To the left is the final photograph taken of Sparkey alive, no more than two hours before the vet arrived on Saturday afternoon. After a walk around the block, he sat on the driveway---as was his wont---and just wanted to watch the world go by. Rene teased him with a stick, playing with a line of drool---that ubiquitous drool (in these latter days, anyway)---that fell from his old man's dog-lips. He seems content in this photo, playing with his human brother.

Tina seems to be adjusting well, although how she'll be when we both return to work tomorrow remains to be seen. After finishing her dinner tonight she immediately ran over to Sparkey's old spot by the 'fridge to see if there were any morsels she could scarf up, but his bowl is no longer there. Ten years they spent side by side every day and night. How this will be for her in the long run remains to be seen. For now, we lavish her with love and affection.

This will be a long road.

---Keith

Dream visit

Here is the scene of my dream with Sparkey, whom I asked to visit in our dreams as he was leaving his body and we were saying our sweet farewells....Already he has honored my request:

Water Blessing

Sparkey is in the center. It is the shape of his body that is here, though is hair is longer and there is a general dullness, or lackluster, about this color. It seems as though it takes a lot of energy for him to be here, but he gets up, as he always did, and moves about and asks for water. He drinks water, and he assures me that his body is dead, not to worry, but that his visit is to tell me to drink more water and to tell me that he is okay. How does he know that I have been parched since his death? All the water coming out of my eyes and nose and lungs! He just knows and he’s made this special appearance to care for me. I will call Keith and encourage him to drink water too, but I think Sparkey knows Keith will drink a lot of water at work today, so Rene' will definitely get the friendly reminder from beyond via a call from mom.

Thank you, Sparkey, I got your message, and beside me is a big glass of water (with Emergen-C in it). I will always remember the gingerly way you sipped the last water you had here on earth…Right before the doctor came to the house, you were lying in the bed on your beloved porch, all ready for leaving, and I was holding the top of the glass decanter, a little drinking glass, up to your lovely snout. When you realized it was water I was offering, you tenderly lapped some up until you had your fill---you had just had your last drink from the toilet and it was pretty major, so you didn’t care for much. It seemed like such an act of affection, you drinking the water from the little glass as you did. Keith said a prayer over you as your tongue moistened your kind mouth, wishing that you may drink and never thirst…We drank from this glass before you did, and when Tina returned to the house to say good-bye to your body with us, she too drank from this glass, as if she smelled all of our scents on it, knowing it was her turn for the water blessing…The glass remains, as yet unevaporated, one of the Sparkey shrine that holds your collar, leash, and roughed up booties, Bob.

Thank you for honoring my request to visit in my dreams so soon after you have passed. To you, I lift my glass, to you I give thanks for your long and glorious life on earth with your human/canine pack, and to you I bow in humble recognition of your new life...

Goodbye sweet boy. Be free. We will be okay, but it sure ain't easy and it's gonna take some time.

~Mary


Monday, September 04, 2006

Blessings on Sparkey's Journey

Dear Sparkey,

We never met this time on earth. I feel though like I know you. I met you through a prayer and healing request, on a network that I shepherd.

Sparkey you have touched my heart deeply. I know that you are a kind, gentle and noble being and have been a wonderful healing for those who you have been with. I have prayed for you in your transition. Now you are free. Your loving nature will always be.
Bless you on your new journey.

Joanie

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sparkey's Passage From This Earth

Dear Friends and Loved Ones,

Yesterday, September 2nd, 2006, at 2:20pm, Sparkey left his body and this physical existence in the most peaceful way imaginable. The screened-in porch was a sacred space---a shrine created lovingly by Mary---of photos, candles, objects of devotion, and mementos of Sparkey's sweet and noble life. The party lights were lit all night on Friday, the porch glowing, the cool breezes cleansing the space. Mary smudged the house with sage, and also smudged Sparkey several times briefly.

The vet arrived at 1:30, Tina already in the care of a neighbor, her shades drawn so that Tina would not see the vet's van and be traumatized by the sight of it. Rene and I dug the grave in the morning, the area protected from rain with a brown tarp suspended from surrounding trees, that piece of earth blessed and consecrated by the three of us before beginning our task. We had at the ready an urn of our dear friend Woody's ashes, several of Rene's wisdom teeth, three sticks representing the three of us, a bone unearthed while digging the grave (most likely buried by Tina some long-forgotten afternoon), and a sage smudge stick. We had chosen a lovely cotton tapestry of aqua and earth tones and Native American design in which to wrap his body. This fabric had covered a favorite chair in our house where he had lived as a puppy. The grave was round like a womb and three feet deep.

The compassionate doctor sat with us on the floor of the porch as we connected with Sparkey. He had ensconced himself in the very spot where we had planned for his transition to occur, and we only had to shift him slightly so that we could all kneel on the foam mattress at his head. The vet sat at his feet and explained that she would inject a strong sedative into his buttock muscle so that he would become very drowsy and probably fall asleep. Only when he was completely relaxed would she access a vein on his hind leg and insert a needle and small catheter which would allow for the overdose of anesthesia which would actually stop his heart. Following the first injection, we all brought our faces very close to his, looking in his eyes as they became heavier, telling him sweet things, what dogs to look for in his new home, and how grateful we were to him for his service and loyal companionship. Even after more than a minute, he still was not completely drowsy, his head moving slowly from right to left, approximately four inches above the bed. I had the image that he was already slightly above his body, trying to detach, and was looking from left to right to take in a final image of the three of us and the scene in which he was the central player.

Following a whispered conversation between myself and the vet, she injected another dose of sedative and he slowly lowered his head to the soft mattress covered with a maroon flannel sheet, closing his eyes for the last time. Crying, we all said goodbye and urged him to float on, and we each placed a hand on his heart which was still beating slowly. The doctor then began the infusion of anesthesia into the needle placed in a vein of his right hind leg. A small patch of hair had been shaved and that hair was stowed in a small wooden urn kept on hand for that purpose. With our hands we could feel his heart slow and then peacefully cease its motion. He did not take a final deep breath as is sometimes experienced. His heart simply stopped beating and his respirations halted. Beautifully, a single tear formed at the outer corner of his left eye, fully visible to the three of us, and we wept as this lone tear increased in size and then streaked down his lovely orange face. The muscles around his nose were the only ones which twitched for a minute or so, almost as if he was getting a last scent of this earth which he so loved.

Taking her leave, the very sensitive vet exited quietly, and we were left to tend Sparkey's beloved body in private. Rene brushed him down, and gathered some of the fur. We also cut some of his hairs from several places with a pair scissors. I fetched Tina from our neighbors and brought her to see her brother's body. Wrapping him in the chosen fabric, we carried him to the grave, lowered him in gently, each took a turn kissing his head, and tucked him in, his spine gracefully curved, his front paws below his chin. The three sticks, Rene's wisdom teeth, and the bone were placed in the grave, and some of Woody's ashes were rubbed into the fur over Sparkey's heart by each of us in turn. Finally, covering his head and face, we then took turns putting handfuls of dirt over his shrouded body. One of the most difficult things I have ever done was gently place a shovelful of dirt over what I knew to be Sparkey's head. It was at that moment that I knew he was gone forever and would never return. Rene assisted me in completing this task of closure, and we then had our private family time around the grave, Tina at our side.

His body is now resting in the earth, his soul free to run with his friends old and new, and we give thanks for this loyal companion who loved us so unconditionally. His grave is now our sanctuary, and we will tend it with as much love as he tended our home and lives.

Sparkey's body is dead. Long live Sparkey's spirit.

Namaste.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Love to Sparkey From Uncle Kenny


Sparkey, your Uncle Kenny, Aunt Barbara, cousin Adam, and cousin Sabina love you very much. You have been a part of our lives for almost as long as Adam has been alive. We have pictures of you on our refrigerator, pictures of you in our family photo albums, and a wonderful video that Adam made of you last year. Most important of all, we all have an image of you in our hearts- you as a puppy running alongside Keith's car as we raced around the track at the university near town, you with Tina on those many walks around the Hollow, you lying near the Franklin stove in the winter keeping warm, lovingly licking our faces as we said hello to you, you patiently lying still as the iv fluids filled you with life. You have lived your life well Sparkey, a life full of love and dedication to your family and of love and caring for your sister Tina. You have touched so many people with those beautiful, soft, and seemingly all-knowing eyes. You were Rene's constant companion, and then when Rene moved away, Keith and Mary's constant and loving friend. It's sad to know that you are leaving us my dear Bobby. You have been so brave during this past year, dealing with constant pain, and eating when you probably felt that you didn't want to eat. But it is time for you to leave this earth Sparkey and go to a better place, where there is no pain. You will live on in our hearts and in our memories, where you will be chasing squirrels, playing in the snow, and giving us wet licks of love. You were the first dog that we grew to love, and we will always remember you Sparkey. You are the best dog a family could have ever hoped to have. We feel so lucky to have been part of your life. We love you Sparkey. Be happy and go serenely to that better place. You will live on.

Love, your Uncle Kenny


Friday, September 01, 2006

Grist for the Mill of Surrender

Today is Sparkey's last full day on Earth, and we've spent the day doing that which would bring him pleasure and ease.

After a quiet morning at home, we walked the one minute stroll down to our neighborhood pond and set up shop with blankets, water, snacks, and camera, a small rainbow smiling down upon us for over an hour, a Great Blue Heron standing meditatively in the reeds. A number of friendly neighbors happened by and wished Sparkey bon voyage. Even our favorite mail carrier who always brings our dogs special treats---even treats wrapped with shiny ribbon on Christmas---stopped and said goodbye. It was sweetly sad, and Sparkey seemed to take it all in stride, going down to the water's edge every half hour or so to drink pond water and eat tender shoots of grass. We must have taken 100 photographs, some of which will make their way to Latter Day Sparks in the weeks and months to come.

Unbeknownst to us, Sparkey even snuck out of the house this morning when Mary left the door propped open for a moment, and our neighbor saw him out her window and brought him home. She felt very clearly that he had performed that little maneuver so that he could will her to look out her window and see him, allowing them to connect one last time. She and he have a long history of running into one another during Sparkey's great escapes, and he seems to always enjoy the process.

A short trip to our little town yielded some sweet time in a small downtown park that we frequent with the dogs, each of us taking turns scooping water out of the fountain, letting the dogs drink from our cupped hands. Sparkey kept nudging Tina out of the way in order to keep drinking. Some sweet treats from the local bakery piqued Sparkey's interest to some extent, but not as much as a small outdoor covered container set up with water and cat food for some downtown strays. He made a bee-line for the container, put his head inside, and helped himself to some stinky wet cat food. What could I do? He had his fill and we mosied along.

Now we will while away the hours of the evening. A dear friend was going to help me dig a grave in the front yard this evening in preparation for tomorrow, but that has now been postponed so that our son and I can do that task together in the morning, rain or shine. Rene will roll into town later tonight in order to spend a final night with his childhood pal. I wish we could post photos from the days when Sparkey was a pup and Rene was a little tow-headed nine-year-old, but we don't have a scanner. Maybe we'll borrow one.....

We cry intermittently, sometimes feeling OK, sometimes not. At times, the reality of what will happen tomorrow hits one of us, we realize that the hours together with Sparkey are ticking away, and we feel a wave of grief as well as somatic feelings of nausea and lightheadedness. It's a strange feeling of waiting, dread, grief, joy, relief, and disbelief. This creature has made himself part and parcel of our souls, and his departure from our midst seems somehow impossible. A childlike part of my mind keeps playing tricks, hoping that the vet will somehow decide that he's OK, or he'll make some miraculous recovery overnight. Ths morning, he was on our bed, head hanging off the side in a way that he would never usually do, and I thought he had peacefully died in his sleep. I found myself looking at him, hoping that that might be the case, but was also so very glad to see his bony chest rise and fall.

So many feelings, so many sensations. This being human is physically and emotionally draining and simultaneously wondrous. We all know that grief lessens with time, but I feel that this is really going to be a long one. There will be so many reminders---every day---and although it will get easier over time, my soul is just so very deeply connected with that furry creature who we call Sparkey.

I breathe deeply now, steadying my mind and stomach and heart, and hold him in my mind's eye as he rests in the next room. A number of people have looked Sparkey in the eyes in the last two days and acknowledged that, yes, he is uncomfortable and ready to go, supporting our decision and praising us for doing the right thing. Even a stranger at the park today said, "He looks uncomfortable". We know this is right, but at the same time nothing can make it right. It just is, and we're here together by choice. I truly believe that Sparkey is a member of my soul family, and our connection will continue on. Letting go is a lesson in this life, and here is one more piece of grist for that venerable mill of release and surrender.

So be it.

---Keith

Sparkey, the Lost Puppy

Here is how Sparkey first came into my arms, and into our lives and hearts, forever...

Downtown was the Firemens' Pancake Breakfast...an annual outdoor autumn event and a bright light in the sad ole city where we work. Fire engines were proudly shinin' brightly in their reds with kids climbing up and down the ladders guided by the big arms of smiling firefighters. Smoke from the pancake grills was lifting artfully into the air, carrying the tittilating aroma of pancakes, reaching the nostrils of many humans and canines alike. Children were jumping and screaming with glee in their light little bodies. Colorful balloons danced on their strings as if they were trying to free themselves and fly over the whole, happy affair.

At the time, I was a social worker and advocate doing AIDS education and community outreach. And there I was at the Pancake Breakfast, a huge outdoor event, hosting a table alongside fire trucks and other service providers, welcoming people who took interest in the info. Mostly, I was an observing participant whose heart was warmed by such a classic, fun, family event. I remember feeling good that I was getting paid to be there as all my original resistance to working on a Saturday simply dissolved.

As I took the scene in, I looked across the way and noticed something orange and alive, about the size of a bread box, darting crazily around, quickly telling the story, "I'm a puppy, a wild little puppy, and I have gotten away". I stood up and called out to the puppy, opening my arms wide, coaxing the cutest thing I ever saw over to me. When we locked eyes, he came a-runnin', no, barreling over to me like we had been best friends who parted and were, at long last, reuniting. When he reached me, this little creature leapt into my arms and proceeded to lick my face until his nibbles between licks were sufficient for us both. While I would love to have taken this boy (yes, boy) home, I knew I needed to help him find his people and vise versa. So, with a make-shift string leash and a big sign, I set out to help reunite this dog to his family. I asked everyone I could if they knew if someone had lost their puppy. No one had a clue, so I parked the pup under my table, gave him some water, propped up the lost pup sign, and waited, secretly hoping that he was indeed a stray. After all, we had just moved to a house in the country with a huge fenced-in back yard that bordered conservation land, at the base of a small mountain which made for great daily hiking. My colleagues and I compared notes to see who had the best set-up and I was the lucky winner, hands down. They encouraged me to take the boy home, which was all the encouragement I needed before packing my stuff up, including the adorable puppy dog. Didn't dare call home first---my strategy was to simply introduce the little dog in person and take it from there...(Not to worry, dear reader, soon after my lucky find, I contacted the MSPCA with a found puppy notice, as well as a special lost and found radio program, and not a soul responded).

When it came time to hop up into my car, this cute puppy hesitated and it took lots of coaxing to assure him it'd be alright. The little guy was so exhausted that he crashed right out in the back seat of my car, on his back, legs completely splayed out...What a character, i thought, and then I noticed how he either peed or threw up en route upon our arrival to home. I called ahead to tell our then 9-year old son Rene' that I was coming home with a great surprize--and i instructed him to be in the bedroom with his Dad, Keith, with the door closed. Rene' went along with the plan, not even knowing who or what was to come, but he believed me when I said it would make him very, very, very happy.

As I entered our house with the pup securely in my arms, all was quiet and serene, bedroom door closed...I hollered out, "Are you ready for the surprize?" and I heard a resounding chorus of "Yes". I then let the puppy down, ran to the door, opened it and yelled, "Surprize!" and in charged the puppy who proceded to leap right onto the bed to meet and greet the rest of his new family. Within minutes of the bliss fest that followed, we knew he'd always be with us, and we immediately set out to give the boy a name..."Happy" was the runner-up name, but because he arrived fresh from the Firemans' Pancake Breakfast, we all agreed that Sparkey, who was indeed as sparkly as a sparkler, was the perfect name for who would become the epitome of a great dog, a dog's dog, an only brother to our only child, and our forever baby, Sparkey D. Dog.

~Mary
who wrote this on Sparkey's last full day on earth

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Haiku for Sparkey

For Sparky,
Sparky, leaving soon,
Giving all who've known you joy,
Peace awaits you now.

--anonymous friend and animal lover

Sparkey's Brother, Gallagher

It may be hard to believe but this is Sparkey's practically twin brother (not Sparkey himself with an upright ear moment!). This is the ever so gallant Gallagher, aka Cute Boy. I received the sad news just days ago that Gallagher died unexpectedly in his back yard. His owner, Lois, me, and and our mutual vet all thought that Cute Boy would outlive Sparkey...but Sparks will have outlived his litter-mate by a few weeks...Through the animal communicator, we reminded Sparkey about his brother, whom he remembered had a "spicey smell"and we asked Gallagher to help greet Sparkey. Its clear that Cute Boy is already having a blast and will gladly romp with his bio bro.

With blessings from Sparkey's aunt, I have included the moving story of Cute Boy's passage and powerful tributes after...

much love from our hurtin' and grateful hearts,

mary

hi mary - i have to let you know gallagher died quite suddenly a week ago saturday. (the anniversary of my dad dying too) he was quite fine during the day, went for a nice long walk, was playful with martin, hearty appetite, lots of cuddling. then later in the evening i noticed he was kind of panting, but i didn't think too much about it except that it seemed odd. he went outside, which is normal, the door is always open with screen flaps to come and go as they please. also not unusual to not come back in when i go to bed. but what was unusual, was at 6 a.m., he always barks a loud, sharp, single, wake-up bark, to announce i need to be getting up to feed them. but i didn't hear it, and suddenly had a sinking feeling, and got up on my bed and looked out the window and saw him laying on the lawn and not responding when i called tohim. he was stiff when i got downstairs, so i suspect he'd had a heart attack. heartbroken, i was not terribly functional last week. i did put up a flyer at our village coop, and had a memorial service for him yesterday in the pouring rain. some 20+ people showed up. even some folks i don't know, but had stories to tell me about how gallagher affected them. he was known as the mayor of dudleyville. my brother helped me bury him, and i planted an empire apple tree atop. one person brought some of the ashes of her dog, who was one of gallagher's first playmates, and put on his grave. i laminated a particularly regal picture of gallagher, where he is wearing a black bow tie, and titled it, "the mayor of dudleyville". i glued on a plastic top hat and cane. i also planted some mums and azaleas, and created a rather nice garden space. i had a scrapbook of pictures and people wrote in their sentiments. one person wrote a 3 page poem. i served cookies made in the shape of dogs and dog bones, and had quite a memorial service. it is all over now, but i feel blessed to have been the recipient of the gift of gallagher, as you are of sparkey. i hope you are all well.
lois




Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Pain of Clarity

On the tail of our conversation with the vet yesterday, today's process involved a telephone "reading" with an animal communciator who's been assisting us since Sparkey left the hospital. The result of that conversation is that we're now very clear that Sparkey wants to go and is ready to transition out of his body. If you cannot suspend your disbelief that we were actually able to tap into such information, suffice it to say that we now feel comfortable that the time has come, and we now have to steel ourselves for the task at hand, sad as it may be.

Our priority is Sparkey's comfort and the avoidance of unnecessary suffering on his part. We know that what he would face in the coming months is increasing debilitation, eventual complete loss of the use of his hind legs, and utter kidney failure. Even today he would not get up from the floor for the local dogwalker to take him out to pee in the mid-afternoon, and we're now using an adaptive sling to keep his hindquarters elevated. Still, he's eating well and drinking lots of water, readily accepting most treats proferred.

Now we begin to prepare the logistics---beyond the emotional preparation---for Sparkey's physical departure from our midst. Tina will actually be in the home of a loving neighbor well before the vet arrives to our home on Saturday morning in order to spare her the trauma and anxiety that the vet's appearance inevitably causes her. The most appropriate place for the vet to administer the anesthesia seems to be the screened-in porch where the dogs spends a great deal of their time, looking out at the boggy hollow beside our house, 150-foot white pines standing guard over the house.

His body's final resting place will be just to the side of the house in a sweet spot edged by three young rhododendron plants whose roots have already been fertilized with the ashes of our dear friend Woody who died in 2001. Woody and Sparkey had many adventures together, running at breakneck speed through the woods together, returning to our home bloodied, limping, and ecstatic. Some of those jaunts with Woody could leave Sparkey exhausted for several days, but he always seemed to revel in that well-earned exhaustion. There's a fitting poetry that Sparkey's body will share some soil with Woody's ashes, just as one of Sparkey's puppy teeth and one of our son's baby teeth are buried with Woody's urn in a Connecticut graveyard overlooking a rushing stream.

Writing about this process seems both unreal and somehow grounding. Simultaneous and conflicting emotions emerge. How can we choose to willfully end the life of this sentient being who still walks (sort of), eats, breathes, drinks, and shows affection (to a limited degree)? What right do we have to make that decision? What responsiblity do we have to facilitate a peaceful leave-taking? The answers now seem clear, although that clarity is painful to the eyes and the heart. It is also apparent in his eyes. According to the animal communicator, he's ready, and has been for some weeks. Even Tina knows. It was obvious to the vet yesterday, and for this reason ---based upon years of experience---she knows that the time has come.

We've already shed many tears, and I can't see any end to those tears right now, but I know that the pain will lessen with time. Imagining wrapping him in a sheet, lowering his body into the ground, and actually covering that body with dirt----this all seems so improbable, otherworldly, meant for another time, another place. But my conscience knows that the time and place are now and we are the players who have to fulfill our roles, as much as we feel that the rehearsals are far too brief and the playwrite cruel at best.

That said, Sparkey will sail from his body and be freed from the limitation of physical embodiment, and we'll stay behind to tend his grave, water the flowers that will bloom there, and honor his memory and spirit that will not die with his tired old shell, his ageing vehicle.

I expect a wide range of emotions over the next few days, on Saturday morning, and for days, months, and years to come. We just have to let those emotions wash over us like so many waves, and just keep breathing, even as Sparkey's breathing ceases altogether.

Please pray for us on Saturday morning---or any time---and know that your thoughts and prayers will be felt by all of us, magnified by the love and compassion that they reflect.

---Keith

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Loving Sparkey


Until one has loved an animal,

a part of one's soul remains unawakened.

---Anatole France

The vet visited Sparkey at home around one in the afternoon and called me about 3:30 on my cellphone. I was at work, and it was my turn to clean the office kitchen. She gave me her report, detailing the muscle wasting, hind leg atrophy, disequilibrium and cognitive deficits that she observed, as well as the ongoing renal failure. Just as she began to recommend that we strongly consider euthanasia, a coworker walked in and distracted me, my eyes beginning to fill with tears. I left the kitchen, cellphone clutched to my ear, and made my way to a quiet corner, sitting at one of the doctor's desks, photos of children grinning from the bulletin board as I fiddled with pens and paperclips during the continued conversation with the vet.

Taking into consideration that the kidney failure will only get worse, and Sparkey's physical disability become more of a burden for him and us, she gently advocated for us to euthanize him before something bad happens. The way she explained it, if his kidneys blow---and they could at any moment---he'll vomit and retch uncontrollably and suffer a horrific plethora of symptoms. With his hind legs like they are, we're also running the risk of him experiencing an injury or fracture---likely while we're at work---that will cause him terrible suffering. Euthanizing him while in acute pain or organ failure would be much less comfortable for him and a terrible way for us to say goodbye to our loyal friend and family member.

The vet counseled me that we have gone above and beyond, providing home hospice care with a nightly IV for more than four months, more than many people would do. She urged me to not second-guess what we could have done better, and to rest my mind in the certainty that we have given Sparkey a loving home and the best care we could manage. She assured me that he is not yet in great pain, just uncomfortable, and the most humane thing to do is allow him to leave with dignity and without undue suffering. I told her that we would consult our animal communicator in the morning by phone, and follow up with her in 24 hours. We agreed that the appointment which we so strongly hesitate to make could take place at our home on Saturday morning, four days hence.

Tearful, face quivering, I retreated to my desk in the corner of the office, and was consoled by three different co-workers, who hugged me and offered their own experiences and stories, which were simultaneously comforting and frightening. I fled the office, leaving my desk a mess, and drove over to Mary's office where I gave her the news. We both cried on and off in the car, stopping by our previous vet's place to pick up IV supplies. One of the lovely and compassionate vet technicians at that office who loves Sparkey and really sees his soul took us into a private office and counseled us in our despair and confusion. She was saintly in the attention she gave us, and we are forever grateful for her kindness and largesse.

The ride home called for a stop at Friendly's, kid-size coffee Fribbles for us and a dish of vanilla ice cream for Sparkey. When the going gets tough, the tough eat ice cream.

It's going to take a few days to integrate this, to come to terms with the reality, and to accept what we have to do. While deciding to end an animal's life in a medical manner may seem unnatural, the domestication of animals is also somewhat unnatural and we must bear the full responsibility of their care, and often the timing of their death. My heart feels like it's breaking tonight, but perhaps that breaking does not have to be seen as injury, rather, it's an opening, an opportunity for even more compassion to be experienced, whether I want that experience or not.

---Keith

Monday, August 28, 2006

Attachment

Attachment is what it is. Attachment to how things are. Attachment to the present, even as the present slips into the past. Sparkey is a symbol of the life we have lived for fourteen years---the majority of our seventeen years of marriage---and the loyal mascot and guide who has seen us through so much---so knowingly, so quietly, so regally.

I am attached to his smell, the feeling of his fur against my leg, that pointy spot on the top of his head, his wet nose, his soulful eyes and determined eagerness to be outdoors, prancing in the leaves, water, and grass. His paws often smell like the sweetest, earthiest musk, and his presence has always been a source of calm---through nursing school, Mary's grad school days, Rene's transition from childhood into adulthood, the murder and soul-wrenching loss of our best family friend in 2001. He's always been there. And now we're there for him as he prepares to leave, and I am finally beginning to let go.

You can go now, Sparks. It's been a job well done, a life well lived. You can let go and know that you were the best dog you could be and brought so much joy to many. Be free.

---Keith

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Rainy Sunday

The rain has been soaking the earth most of the day. It's late evening, and I just finished Sparkey's IV. We were hanging out upstairs and he joined us, and now seems hesitant to go back down. He's been making it up to the second floor on his own recently, but going down is most problematic, like he just can't put on the brakes. I've taken to carrying him both up and down the stairs most of the time, and sometimes carry him to the house from the driveway when he just seems too tired or reluctant. I take a break from writing and carry him down. Mary's convincing him to go for a walk.

Mary feels that he just isn't having much fun anymore and I must agree. We'll be consulting the animal communicator soon, and the vet will be here Tuesday to give us her input. When I think of euthanizing Sparkey, I feel a queasy feeling in my stomach. How to say goodbye under those circumstances? Do we cook him a last supper? When is the right time? Do I dig the grave before or after? Should our son be here or not? It's overwhelming and sad. I'm at a loss.

---Keith

Friday, August 25, 2006

Reality Check

We've asked the vet to come to the house to assess Sparkey. She'll be coming on Tuesday while we're at work. Sparkey's ability to walk on his hind legs is diminishing and we think the time is near for him to be freed from the confines of his body. I came to terms with that harsh reality on a walk around the block this evening after work, Sparkey scraping the top of his right hind paw along the ground, his little bootie falling apart at the seams. It's pathetic, and perhaps our hanging on is also pathetic, if not just plain sad.

Old friends from DC came to visit overnight last night with their lovely little girls. These two friends kept Sparkey with them in Maryland for one month in 1999 when we were in Europe. We had previously had their big black Lab---Zimbra---for a year while they were on their honeymoon in the mid-90's. We have been very soulfully connected to one anothers' dogs and children over the years, and they knew that this visit with Sparkey was definitely good-bye. Old Zimbra---Sparkey's former housemate for a year---left this earth a few years ago, beloved as always. Our friend Paul told us the story of finding Zimbra dead in the living room one early morning, and I verbalized our desire that this would be our fate with Sparkey, but we know for certain that this will most likely simply not be. He will need our help, and soon. Ah, me.

Sogyal Rinpoche shares:

At every moment in our lives we need compassion, but what more urgent moment could there be than when we are dying? What more wonderful and consoling gift could you give to dying people [or animals] than the knowledge that they are being prayed for, and that you are taking on their suffering and purifying their negative karma through your practice for them?

Even if they don’t know that you are practicing for them, you are helping them and in turn they are helping you. They are actively helping you to develop your compassion, and so to purify and heal yourself. For me, all dying people [or creatures] are teachers, giving to all those who help them a chance to transform themselves through developing their compassion.

---Keith

Thursday, August 24, 2006

From Lord Mountbatten

This note from our trusty dog-walker Dave awaited us after work today:

"Hi-Lo-Lo---Here I am again. Sparkey was a bit slow to rouse today, and still wobbly. But we did get him out and about. He must have gotten into the likker cabinet again. And I thought I was the only one. Nothing much else to report. Have a good nite. -----Lord Mountbatten"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

How Long?

Sparkey seems slightly more debilitated every day. He's really dragging his hind legs, eschewing food as often as he's accepting it, sleeping most of the time. We are now beginning to wonder how long to let this go on, how long to allow him to be in this state.

We ask ourselves if he is still experiencing any pleasure in life. Does he feel pain? Does he still want the IV and the meds? Are we being selfish by prolonging his life or are we allowing him to live out his days in relative comfort? How long is long enough? Do we allow him to get to the point where he can no longer walk at all and then make that decision?

We are wrestling with these questions daily now and praying, hoping, asking for an answer from him, from the Goddess, from God, from the ethers, from our souls.

How long is long enough?

---Keith

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hello, its Mary, Sparkey's finder, rescuer, and pack mother. I am pokin' my head in and making a rare appearance--visible to others, that is.

After Keith's last and deeply moving post, I knew it was time to return here myself. I know I have been remiss in writing, but i do visit Sparkey's blog daily...i suppose i haven't been into writing but lately i have been feeling the itch to share some Sparkey stories...Most importantly is the love that is shared among our pack, and i treasure each and every day we have with the 4 and often 5 of us all together.

I promise to post some happy stories, but today i am experiencing the sadness of loss regarding our loyal old pal--the loss of his senses, his agile physical abilities, his avid and voracious appetite, those buff muscles keith referred to, and our adventures in the great outdoors---Sparkey's favorite place in the whole wide world. This morning he refused to lick Keith's yogurt container and he barely sniffed with dim interest at a huge beef jerky strip that, in healthier days, he would have fought to secure for himself. It was as though he was telling me that he wanted to want this treat, but he is just too weak to rally. I understood and stashed it for later within his visual range, assuring him that it is his for later...A bit after Tina devoured hers, I offered this special treat again to Bob, and he managed to slowly relish the beef jerky. He's now returned to sleep--and is quite the deep napper these latter days.

I am reminded by his deep sleeps how much work it can be to prepare for death, the great passage, and that this is precisely what his body is doing, like that song Old Man River, but without the fear. Sparkey is doing this so well, and he will forever be an example to me.

I have some fears though, questions that plague me like, will he suffer? will we be there to end his suffering? will the doctor be able to make it on time? will Rene? how devestating will Spark's death and post death absence be on Keith? on Rene? Somehow I fancy that I will be fine, just fine...which of course is a red flag and I am thus awakened from a pervasive denial that I've been running... Its no wonder that i have been somewhat stoic and even avoidant...I have refused to do Sparkey's IV--and rarely participate in it when i could be there for both Keith and Sparkey during the process. Keith has been a saint in this regard, and I have been a coward, and coward is a word that does not fit with how i see myself, yet here i am, guilty as charged, and for this I am sorry, Keith and Sparkey. I think I have been avoiding feeling the pain that has now caught up to me. Please forgive me, you two, and as you see, Keith, I have my limits, and rather than stretch beyond them as is my usual MO, I have slinked out on you both. Again, please forgive me for copping out in this important, life-saving daily ritual.

While I have been a pathetic wimp in regards to the IV, I am still Spark's pack mom, and he will always be my boy. I know he can't hear me crying right now, or he would begin pacing and personalizing my distress. Usually Tina comes to the emotional rescue to comfort someone who is feeling sad, but even my girl is deep in slumber on this cloudy August morning. I hear the rustling of Rene in the kitchen and will rally to provide a dog day afternoon for us all...

~Mary

The Ink of Love and Loyalty

Tonight I taught our son Rene how to give Sparkey his IV. We will be away for a weekend in September and Rene will care for the dogs and house. We never expected Sparkey to be around for September, and are now reluctant to leave him with anyone except for Rene, his brother and pack member for fourteen years.

Since Rene will only need to do the IV once, I didn't show him how to spike the bag, prime the drip chamber, and other prep. He will simply have a pre-prepared bag ready to go since I will do the IV on Friday morning before work and then again on Sunday night when we return. Saturday night will be for the two boys---the canine and the human.

Rene took in the instructions easily, grasping the concepts immediately. After some guiding words, he lifted the scruff, found the sweet spot, inserted the needle, and opened the line, the solution flowing readily and quickly. Holding the bag up, he squeezed mightily for about seven minutes as the solution flowed into Sparkey's subcutaneous space.

During the treatment, I explained kidney function, kidney failure, and dialysis. We discussed Sparkey's symptoms and what we might expect down the road and what symptoms might force our hand. We kissed Sparkey, fed him his pills wrapped in sliced turkey breast, then plied him with ice cream as a chaser. He took it all in stride and turned up his nose when he had had his fill.

Just now---I am writing at 1 A.M.---Sparkey woke, left the downstairs bedroom where he was sleeping with Rene, drank some water noisily from the toilet, and then loped up the stairs to join Mary and Tina in the upstairs bedroom. He tripped and faltered a few times, and I ran to the bottom of the stairs to assist, but he made it to the summit on his own and disappeared into the darkness of the second-floor hallway, and into the room where Mary and Tina slumber. He doesn't seem to mind that we are itinerant sleepers, moving from room to room based on temperature, weather, and how many houseguests are currently ensconced.

I will so miss that boy when he goes. He was---and always will be---my first dog. He is loyal, attentive, affectionate (less now than before, of course), predictable yet surprising, simple yet deep, soulful, animal yet strangely human. His eyes convey so much, and I watch him watch us, his dulled senses still keen to assess our moods, our intentions, our patterns of behavior. He can no longer hear us say, "Wanna go for a walk outside?" He watches our movements, obviously refraining from getting up until he's sure. Mary discovered months ago that loud and sharp clapping is the best signal to let him know that our intention is clear and a walk is imminent. Two claps and he's lumbering for the door.

Rene marveled at the insubstantiality of Sparkey's hindquarters. We used to say that his hips and butt were so muscular and developed, it made you want to just take a big affectionate bite. Now, bones protrude and the muscle mass is gone, the hindquarters weak and atrophied. Rene also marveled at the way the 1/2-liter of IV fluid infused into Sparkey's scruff hung over his neck like Quasimodo's hump. The Hunchdog of Notre Casa. Rene looked Sparks deep in the eyes. Sparkey reciprocated by kissing Rene's nose.

It's a bond like no other. It's a level of trust between human and animal which dates back millenia. While we don't hunt and gather or protect the cave from predators, we rely on one another and live a symbiotic existence which binds our souls together, cleaves our lives into a domestic whole.

The hole which will be left by Sparkey's eventual departure will be gaping, but he will live in our hearts, his life and its innocent dedication to us inscribed in indelible ink. It is the ink of love and loyalty, and the narrative which it writes is an age-old story. We are living that tale, and we breathe in each moment, welcoming the fact that this is yet another moment in love together on this earth. May we all see how that ink of love fills the pages of our lives, making a mark worthy of remembrance and gratitude for a life well lived.

---Keith

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Day in the Life.....

We had a walk around the block while Mary was at the gym after work. ("Curves for Women", that is.) Sparkey had rest on his mind, so we had two relatively long stops along the way. The mail-carrier gave us treats, and then while we rested in front of the mailboxes, a neighbor---or rather a woman who works in a group home for disabled individuals across from our driveway---also came bearing canine snacks.

Either sensing that Mary would be home soon, or just enjoying watching the action on our somewhat bucolic street, Sparkey insisted that we sit on the grass at the side of the road until Mary arrived. Tina would have been happy to run home and fall asleep on the porch, but no such luck today. Thankfully, Mary did not keep us waiting long.

(BTW, please see my other blog for an account of my day prior to coming home to the beloved canines.)

Lucky for me (and said hounds), we discovered a meat outlet near our workplaces yesterday and had the fortune to purchase pre-cooked frozen meatballs and burgers en masse. This translates into no barbecuing for Keith, and a nice change of culinary pace for Bob and The Girl. Can you beat that?

Just a day in the life, folks....

---Keith

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Small Joys

Other dog people might understand this sentiment. Especially since Sparkey has been ailing, I find great pleasure in very small things regarding the old guy.

The other day, he and I were coming back from a walk with Tina and he pulled his usual stunt of sitting down at the driveway (which is about 200 feet from our house), making it obvious that he wanted to hang out for a while. If I was on my way to work, this would be inconvenient, but since it was a day off, I tied him to the lamp-post and walked back to the house with Tina, who is always eager to come home just in case a treat might manifest itself.

After about 30 minutes, I took a few treats, a small container of water, and my current novel down to the driveway, taking advantage of the fact that I had nowhere to go and nothing to do. Sparks didn't hear me coming as I sat down beside him on the ground. Feeding him treats and then offering him the bowl of water, I kept my face quite close to his and reveled in the sounds of his munching and slurping and swallowing, licking his chops (and my nose) after he had had his fill.

Although we have always taken great pleasure from the small antics and habits of our canine companions, at this particular moment---perhaps because it was my birthday and I was relaxingly spending the day alone with the dogs---this moment of connecting with Sparkey over snacks and water was memorable and remarkable. Just the sensual experience of hearing and watching him imbibe some nourishment was enough to give me some worthy moments of simple pleasure.

Is this strange to a non-dog person who sees dogs as simply animals? Perhaps. But to a person who loves dogs or any animals, these simple moments can be almost transcendent.

Treats, anyone?

---Keith

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's In the Numbers

So today---my birthday---is day 120 since Sparkey left the ICU. That means 120 doses of IV fluids. That's 60,000 cc's---60 liters---of Lactated Ringers Solution under his skin! What a trooper! What troopers we all are!

Any votes for 120 more? (Tina votes yes, as long as the BBQ'd chicken keeps coming!)

---Keith

Monday, August 14, 2006

On the Town














Today we went on an outing to town, giving the dogs time at the ol' swimming hole, our favorite CD store, the local collective pinko-commie bookstore (where he received an overwhelming welcome), and our favorite ice cream shop. Sparkey had what I consider his personal favorite flavor (not Cherry Red, for you Rolling Stones fans) but old-fashioned vanilla. Tina partook as well, but a significantly smaller serving for the little "Barrel-on-Sticks". The compassionate and kind ice cream staff also served up cold water, much to the dogs' needful delight.

Overall, a sucessful trip to town, and no one the worse for wear after treats, exercise, a swim, and seeing old friends.

---Keith

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Did You Say Vegetarian?

This vegetarian household has always made an exception for its canine occupants, buying canned and dry dogfood in enormous quantities over the years. While some may try to raise vegetarian dogs, we're of the mind that naturally carnivorous domesticated animals should be given the diet to which they are naturally accustomed. And since Sparkey's Easter illness, as he began to earnestly eschew his regular diet, I have grown quite expert at grilling tender vittles to titillate his taste buds (and Tina's, by extension).

Speaking of Tina, when Sparks eventually does go to Doggie Heaven, I'm not planning to continue my canine culinary accomplishments, and Tina will need to be weaned off of this luxurious diet towards a more affordable and less labor intensive cuisine. However, if she ever becomes as ill as Sparkey, she can rest assured that we will care for her with equally tender loving care, with a menu to match.

Nevertheless, I must say that when these dogs have had occasion to swallow a tofu dog or veggie burger, they've never seemed to balk at the cellulose origins of said offerings, and in fact seem to favor certain brands.

Now back to the grill....

---Keith

Friday, August 11, 2006

Wisdom of the Buddha

This missive is from a daily meditation which I receive by email each morning, selected by Sogyal Rinpoche, who wrote The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. You can subscribe to this excellent daily email here.


This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds

To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain. ----Buddha


---Keith

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ravenous for Life

Ravenous for life. Yes, the zest is still there, lame legs and failing kidneys be damned!

Last night was a visit to friends, described in the previous post. Tonight was a trip to town to have a picnic with a friend who starts a new job and career as a nurse tomorrow. Sparkey was very interested in a few other dogs, actually played and made a show of machismo with a young Border Collie, ate cheese, tortillas, dog food, and anything else on offer (except for fried plaintains) and has since collapsed on the dining room floor after I carried him from the car to the front porch. The poor guy is exhausted.

It seems as if we're just packing in the good times while Sparkey is still mobile and game for some adventure. We try not to push him too hard, but also try to provide him with interesting, varied, and enjoyable experiences that involve people, food, cars, walks, water, more food, dogs, and even more food, not to mention food. I am not in sufficient enough denial to see his ravenous eating as anything but symptoms of protein loss via his failing kidneys, but my Inner Jewish Mother (I.J.M.) loves to watch him eat, and that same I.J.M. is crestfallen when he turns up his nose at perfectly good vittles.

We'll keep the missives coming, keep documenting Sparkey's days, and hope that summer will turn into autumn and this golden boy will have a chance to once again lay in the crunchy golden maple leaves which match his coat so nicely. We know that this is his final summer (based upon the prognosis and common sense), and thus also assume that this autumn will be his last experience of that season as well. If he actually sees the winter, then that will be a triumph indeed.

All that aside, we'll just continue to take it one day at a time, thank you.

---Keith

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

We Go A-Visitin'

Tonight we visited the home of dear friends who recently lost a dog who I have previously described as a friend to both Sparkey and Tina. "Stanley" is buried in a secluded spot behind their home, and Mary and I paid our respects, leaving echinacea flowers in a small vase to commemorate our visit. Tina also came by, sniffed the grave, and poked her nose in Stanley's bowl which marks his resting place.

Over a lovely grilled dinner, we reminisced with our friends about our dogs as Sparkey and Tina lay nearby, comfortable and at peace in a house which is like their second home and where they are always welcomed with love and affection. The missing piece was Stanley, but his spirit can still be felt.

Sparkey's skinny skeletal self seemed to surprise one of our friends, but his spirit never changes. We remembered puppy-ish antics played out with our children who are now adults, and the joy that having a dog brought to our kids' lives. Now our kids must grapple with the deaths of beloved canine friends. Such is life.

All in all, a lovely evening, another walk down Memory Lane for Sparkey, and another reminder that each day with him and Tina is a day to be grateful for.

Amen. Amen? Adog.

---Keith

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Head Tilt

Sparkey has always been well-known for his retention of that most puppyish and endearing habit---the head-tilt-while-listening. The photo at left illustrates a classic example of such, circa May, 2005.

He would always reliably tilt his head from side to side in response to his favorite questions said with a marked questioning uplift at the end, obviously trying to divine the meaning of our question and the authenticity of the offer:


Do you want to go for a walk outside?
Do you want a treat?
Do you want to go for a ride in the car?
Do you want me to dial the number for you?

Alas, the head-tilt is a phenomenon of the past, but his cuteness is not diminished. Au countraire! He is more endearing by the day.

---Keith

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Still Breathing

Just about every morning, I wake up and look over at Sparkey sprawled on the floor and try to see if he's still breathing. Sometimes his respirations seem so shallow, I have to put my hand on his bony rib-cage just to be sure.

While we would hope that Sparks will at some point simply die painlessly in his sleep, wandering off to the spirit world from his rich dream world, we've been informed fairly clearly that his heart is quite strong and he may very well eventually need us to assist him in leaving his body. Being midwives to his passage will not be easy, but it's something that we're prepared to do as many pet owners have done before us.

In this culture, euthanasia of animals is accepted, legal and accessible, and having that option can preclude much needless suffering. While humans may not truly have that legal option outside of Oregon and The Netherlands, we're comforted by the fact that our vet will come to our home if the time ever comes that we have to give our best boy that blessing to go in peace.

On this beautiful summer day, I can't imagine not having Bob around, his orange fur rising and falling with his peaceful breathing, his feet twitching as he sleeps, his pointy bony head, his soulful eyes with little blonde lashes. But here we are, another day, and he awoke just like any other. We're both a little stiff, hungry and thirsty, but still ready for the day.

Still breathing.

---Keith

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Old Friends


Sparkey and Tina and I went over to our old neighborhood this evening to visit some sweet former neighbors, one of whom is Sparkey's canine puppyhood friend, Amos, who is one year Sparkey's junior. On the way over in the car, I opened all the windows and drove slowly through the forested roads, Tina with her head out the window, sniffing madly. Sparkey looked out the window as well, and I accompanied our ride with a running commentary of memories of the neighborhood which we left in 1999 and where the dogs spent their formative years.

Turning the corner onto the street of our destination, lo and behold, there was Amos wandering in the road. I pulled the car to a stop and called his name, Amos bounding over in a very energetic way for such an old dog. He wagged his tail and whimpered, following our car and taking a short cut across the neighbor's yard (just like the old days) and meeting us at the top of the driveway.

Amos' maternal unit greeted us warmly and the dogs were affectionate with her, obviously remembering her scent, as well as her loving demeanor. We proceeded to sit in the grass and talk over chips and salsa, the dogs thoroughly enjoying the crunchy nuttiness of the flax seed corn chips which they readily gobbled.

Unlike the old days, Sparkey and Amos didn't really play, but like old men on a porch, contemplating the winter of their lives, they watched the trees, felt the warm air of the summer night, and lay in our midst as the pack animals they truly are, obviously contented, panting, and satisfied. Even Tina has become somewhat less playful, and spent an hour or so lounging in the grass at my side, the lassitude of these extraordinarily hot August days in full control of her energy output.

A short walk down the street revealed to Amos' mum just how weak Sparks has become and how slow his dragging gait truly is. At a certain point in the walk, the leashless Sparkey simply chose to hobble up to the front porch of a very attractive and well-appointed country home and made it clear that he wanted to mount the steps and knock. Dissuading him, I donned the leash and urged him towards our friends' home and our waiting car. (This new habit of simply wandering off at will and walking up to other homes is an interesting turn of events.)

Overall, it was a successful trip down Memory Lane, and we hope to take the boy on similar outings in the next month or so, especially when the weather isn't too oppressive. After his hospitalization at Easter, we were told he might live two months, and here we are approaching 110 days since discharge from the ICU. We count our blessings and will continue to assist Sparkey in connecting with his past, seeing his loved ones and friends, and making the best of these latter days.

---Keith