Marietta Pritchard: Missing Kirby’s voice
AMHERST — It’s not that she was a noisy dog, but the house is now strangely quiet. Earlier in her life, Kirby would bark enthusiastically when you mentioned going out or even began to put on a jacket. In recent months she had stopped barking, and what we heard was mainly the pad, pad, pad of her pacing, especially in the evening.
It was anxiety, our vet Ted Diamond said, typical of old dogs, a form of canine senility. After all she was 16, a good age for a corgi. We tried anti-anxiety medication, but didn’t like its knock-out effect. Better to pace, we thought. At least she was moving around, which she was doing a lot less of outdoors.
For eight months we ran, in effect, a doggy hospice, accommodating ourselves to her needs, trying to keep her comfortable. Back in April, when she stopped eating for a time, the first time she’d had any health problems, Dr. Diamond found that her kidneys were failing, and predicted that the end would be very close if we couldn’t find a way to get her to eat.
It seemed almost like a joke, the idea of trying to get her to eat. This was a dog that, in the almost 11 years since we’d adopted her, had never turned down any form of food. She even loved raw vegetables and would always show up in the kitchen when she heard me chopping anything, hoping to be handed bits of carrot, broccoli or green pepper. And of course, edibles on the ground — someone’s discarded sandwich or pizza slice were always fair game.
Meanwhile, she never showed anything less than enthusiasm for the standard dry and canned dog food that she seemed to inhale even on her last day. And that was when she was so blind that we had to put the dish right under her nose.
But back in April, she had refused everything — the special food I cooked for her, chicken and rice and scrambled eggs. She refused the special kidney-care diet the vet printed out for me.
We were desperate. Finally, at the suggestion of another dog-owner friend, we tried vanilla ice cream. It was not what the doctor ordered, but she ate it happily. Then we added cooked hamburger, another hit. For about a month, she lived on this all-American diet, gaining back some of the weight she’d lost, until one day, when I was out of the country, she refused that, too.
A panicked call from my husband was followed by a visit from our daughter-in-law, who opened up a can of regular dog food. That was the ticket, and from then on, Kirby was back in business. Her decline from there was slow but steady. She slept with us, but could no longer navigate the stairs, so we were carrying her up and down. Soon this seemed like a dangerous option for us. I moved downstairs to sleep with her, since she was now waking up in the night and needing to go out. Eventually I moved back upstairs, and left her enclosed in the kitchen. Except at night, we were taking her out about every two hours, since she had now become incontinent. The kitchen was easy enough to clean up.
Was this all worth it? I think so. We had her company and she ours for a little longer, and she was still enjoying parts of her life, sniffing around outdoors on our short walks, stationing herself next to my husband at mealtime in hopes of table scraps.
One evening a little over a week ago, she collapsed and became unresponsive. It was time. The Valley Vet Hospital, where she had been a regular for most of her life, was just closing for the night, but they stayed open for us and helped us say goodbye to our sweet dog.
These days, aside from the quiet, we have to get used to new routines. We no longer save the plastic bags our newspapers come in, and we don’t have to go outdoors in miserable weather. We could move the dog crate out of the dining room, but we haven’t done that yet. We can come and go without thinking about an old dog’s needs.
There is a hole in our hearts, and although she never spoke, we miss her voice.
Marietta Pritchard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.