Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Green Mile

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The phone rings.  The vet is ready when we are.  It’s 5:45pm on Sunday.  We ask her to meet us at The Farm in two hours.

The clock is ticking.  What do you do with your dog for the final two hours of its life?  She’s too weak to really walk or play and she can’t see.  It’s 90-something degrees outside and, since she can no longer control her bowel functions we can’t take her indoors.

We lie in the grass and pet her and talk about her and tell stories about her and I think it’s the closest thing to a funeral you can give a dog.  She moans and wheezes the entire time and I watch bugs crawl all over her body, treating her like she’s already dead.  I put my hand on her ribcage and feel her heartbeat, wondering how many pumps it has left.

I feel mournful and sad but in control.  I feel like I have it completely together but I know the worst is yet to come.  An hour and a half.

Earlier in the day my wife and I had dug a hole.  “Hole”.  A grave.  Kaidance lazed in the grass nearby and slept while we worked.  At one point I glanced over and she appeared to be sleeping with her eyes open.  I shouted her name but she didn’t respond.  “KAIDANCE!” I shouted again.  Nothing.  I walk over to her and nudge her with my foot.  She blinks.  She’s alive.

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It would be just like this dog to give me the final “screw you” by being disobedient even in death; passing onto the next world on her own accord when I’ve orchestrated this whole beautiful thing.  I turn around and keep digging, through the top soil, through the clay, through some roots.  It’s a very textbook operation.  I turn to my 8 month pregnant wife – who is using a spade to flatten the edges – and say, “It’s better than I thought.  I thought I’d be a mess but this is sort of cathartic.”  She agrees and stomps on the top of her shovel.

It’s now around 7:30 and we decide to make The Long Walk before the vet shows up; get her comfortable Out There before hand.  I try coaxing Kaidance to follow me but she seems reluctant, maybe even more so than usual.  I loop my finger through her collar and start walking very slowly while whispering, “C’mon.  Good girl.  It’s okay.  C’mon”.  And she follows me.  Off the driveway, through the yard, past the electric fence, into the pasture, towards a small grove of trees.  It’s not exactly The Green Mile but it’s definitely The Green Block and a Half.

This is it.  20 minutes and counting.

The first purchase my wife and I ever made together was a striped comforter.  It’s come with us from house to house over the past ten years but, as we’ve upgraded our home, the blanket has slowly found it’s way to the back of the closet.  Every year or so we pull it out while doing a spring clean and say, “Maybe we should donate it to Goodwill….no….no, it’s too emotionally valuable.  Put it back in the closet.  We’ll talk about this next year”.

And so it goes.

But today we’ve found the perfect use for it.  Today it stops being a comforter with high emotional value and it transforms into a shroud.

We lay the blanket out on the grass in the field about ten feet from the grave and, since she won’t sit on her own anymore, we force her backside down.  I set a white Burger King bag down on the blanket and something turns over in my stomach.  The Last Meal.

I say, “Look what I’ve got for you,” and pull out a Whopper Jr.  I tear it in half and feed it to her.  She swallows it in one bite, barely chewing at all.  I tear the half in half and give her the first piece.  A pickle drops on the blanket.  She sniffs it out and picks it up.  I feed her the final bite of the Whopper Jr.  I pull out a second one and the exercise repeats itself.  My wife and I continue to talk about her and joke about how bad of a dog she is.  I pull out a sausage, egg and cheese breakfast croissant and feed it to her.

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I say, “You’ve never had one of these,” and I pull out a King Sized Snicker bar and unwrap it.  I break it into quarters and feed her the first bite, the second bite, the third bite.  I put the fourth bite in her mouth and my wife says, “Last bite” as she’s swallowing it and I immediately feel a sense of loss, like it should have been cherished more.

But it’s gone.

I start to choke up a bit.  We get her to lay down on her side and I think I hear something in the distance.  I look.  Nothing.  I huddle next to her and I pet her behind the ear and my wife pets her muzzle and I put my hand on her heart and I feel the beating again and I just want it to be over but I feel so guilty for wanting that and then I definitely hear something and I turn my head and I see a truck pulling into the driveway and it’s so real and it’s happening now and panic washes over me and tears start running down my face and I’m sobbing and I’m hugging Kaidance and I’m telling her how much I love her and I’m whispering in her ear and I’m telling her that I’m sorry and she’s so good and everything is spinning around and it’s all so surreal.  The sun is setting and there is a breeze and it couldn’t be more beautiful or horrible.

I turn around and the vet is walking towards us and I know this is the end.  This is what the last week has been leading up to.  We’re here and it’s now and it’s happening.  The vet is blond and tells us that she’s very sorry.  My wife and I are both puffy and salty with tears and we both mumble something about, “Thank you so much for coming out here on your day off”.

She sits down on the blanket with us and hours has turned into minutes has turned into one minute.  The final minute and I’m not ready to let go and I don’t know if I can do this.  I lean down and whisper, “It’s going to be okay, good girl, good girl, good girl,” and the vet pulls out a syringe filled with something intensely blue and she tells us that it’s a high grade anesthetic and that it will be just like going to sleep.  I put my hand on Kaidance’s heart and the vet asks if we’re ready and there’s no way we are or ever will be but we both nod yes and she sticks the needle into her leg and words just start pouring out of my mouth.  “I love you, Kaidance, I love you, Kaidance, I love you, Kaidance.  Good girl.  I love you so much,” and I can’t say it enough.  I can’t get it across.  Every bad thing I’ve ever done to her is flashing into my mind.  Every time I’ve ever yelled at her and every time I’ve thrown her outside for tearing into the trash and every moment of our stupid road trip where I asked her to stop breathing on me and I just want her to stay here and be okay and I just want it over with and it’s done.

Before the vet even pulls the needle out, Kaidance has stopped breathing.  Her heart has stopped beating.  No matter where I put my hand, I can’t find the labored thump-thump.  I lay my forehead against her and I weep.

The vet walks away and Jade and I are left in the field alone with our dog.  We try to shut her eyes but it’s not like in the movies.  They just stay open.  We sit with her for several minutes and we both cry and pet her and say those final words.

Jade picks up the Burger King bag with the old wrappers in it and lays it down on the blanket by Kaidance’s chest and says, “We should bury her with this.  She would have wanted it,” and it’s so stupid but she’s so right.  Kaidance would have wanted an old Burger King bag.  We wrap her up in the Striped-Comforter-With-High-Emotional-Value and we each pick up a side and there is definitely a reason they call it dead weight.  120 pounds is much heavier than I was imagining.  I step into the grave and I grab both ends of the blanket and I lower her in.

We each throw a couple handfuls of dirt on and then we grab the shovels and for the next 15 minutes we move dirt and tell more stories.  When we’re done we stand above the grave, the sun just dipping below the horizon and we say a couple more things.  “Kaidance, we loved you and we valued you.  Thank you for your protection.  Thank you for loving us.  You were a terrible dog but we loved you.  We will think of you often.  We probably won’t miss you, but we’ll think of you often.”  I say the last part mostly in jest because I need to laugh.

We grab the shovels and we begin walking back to the house.

Alone.

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ABOVE: The last photo.

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The Cost of Living

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‘Tis  better to have loved and lost than never to have–”

SCREW YOU, ALFRED TENNYSON!  YOU PROBABLY NEVER HAD A DOG THAT YOU HAD TO PUT TO SLEEP!

It’s 12:30am on Saturday night / Sunday morning.  I have to get up in about 8 hours to dig a hole.

Someone offered to help.  I said no.  Someone offered to bring out a Bobcat.  I said no.  It feels wrong.

This is the only way that made any sense.  This is the only way that feels right.  Doing everything alone.  Somehow making it mine.  It feels like it’s my last gift to her.  It feels like I’m cheating if I do it any other way.

The whole thing; the whole event.  The journey.  It’s supposed to celebrate Kaidance and give her one last “hoo-rah”  before going out… but it’s difficult to have a party when you know you need to kill the guest of honor at the end.

 

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The last two weeks have watched her go from bad to worse.  I would guestimate that she is now roughly 95% blind and equally incontinent.  She’s covered in tumors and struggles with breathing and standing.  A dog that was once a passionate connoisseur of food now can’t even find her dish when it’s placed directly under her nose.  Watching her desperately weave her head back and forth over her dinner breaks my heart and makes me sick.

The cost of living.

I have to splash water under her mouth so she knows where it’s at.  She can no longer walk up and down stairs or get into or out of the van.  I have to lift her up and, at 120 pounds, it’s no joke.  Last night my wife and children slept on the second floor in a bed while I slept on the couch in my mother’s living room because we couldn’t get her upstairs.

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ABOVE: Kaidance in the days following surgery.  The vet said if we removed all of her tumors we could buy her another six months.  Ended up getting us almost three additional years.

 

People kept saying, “You’ll know when it’s time, you’ll know.  The dog will tell you” and… I know it’s time.

It’s 12:40am and this time tomorrow she’ll be in the dirt and the thought of the bugs eating my dog twists my gut.

Standing outside at the farm today Jade says, “Let’s bring her a giant bone tomorrow” and I say, “No.  Tomorrow we’re bringing her a Snicker’s Bar and a Whopper and maybe even a personal pan pizza because… why not?

When she finally goes, I want her to think she’s in Heaven before she actually gets there.

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Responsibility vs. Debt

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AUTHOR’S NOTE:

I was 25 miles away at the time of this incident so the story is being retold from my perspective as it originally happened to Jade, who was my girlfriend at the time but is my wife today.

It’s past midnight.  The moon is just a sliver in the sky making Denver darker than usual.  The year is 2004.  My wife is living in the basement of a 4-plex down the street from Capitol Hill right off Colfax.  The area is sort of a living juxtaposition as Capitol Hill is pretty nice but Colfax is a dump so you never know who’s going to walk into you.

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Something pulls her out of a dream.  Something has lassoed her consciousness and started to slowly tug it towards the surface.  Clink-Clink.  Two people in the dream click their glasses together in celebration.

Her eyes come open and the room is black.  The simple apartment consists of a bedroom, a living room and a bathroom, each darker and dingier than the last; all of them looking like they should belong to Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.  She’s tried her best to gussy it up but still it just looks like a dungeon with some tulips in the corner.  She shuts her eyes again.  Click-Click.  The dream changes to the face of an old robot, its mechanical parts trying to operate a dead system.

The consciousness floats a little higher and her eyes open again.  Click-Click.  She wonders if that noise were in a dream, sort of those lacy tendrils of memory we have when we wake up – the fog of the unconscious waving in front of our brain.  Was it real?  She waits, quiet.  Click-Click.  It’s not in a dream.  It’s in real life.  In her basement.  Click-Click.  She can see the doorknob leading to her unlit backyard from where she lies.  It shakes once.  Pause.  It shakes again.  Click-Click.

And it falls to the floor.

The doorknob falls from the door frame, onto the floor.

Capitol Hill / Colfax.  You never know who you’re going to get; sometimes Buffalo Bill walks right into your house.  Be sure to ask him for an autograph before he sticks you in The Pit.  Get a photo with him before he makes you into a skin suit.  Update your Facebook status before he turns your thumbs into decorative earrings.

Jade’s eyes open.  Her consciousness is full surface.  A large figure steps into the door frame and then through it.  He’s inside the apartment and, just like that, Kaidance is up like a piston.  While Jade is stiff with fear, just waiting politely to be scalped and boiled alive, Kaidance charges straight towards this dark shadow without hesitation.  She doesn’t need questions.  She doesn’t need answers.  She only knows that someone is here who does not belong.  It’s the bravest thing she’s ever done and it is majestic.  She barrels across the floor, all four of her feet lifting off the ground at once, her teeth bared, her head down, her hair up.  The noise emitting from her mouth is neither bark nor growl but a primal language that is very clear.  It simply states, “If I catch you, I will hurt you”.

Kaidance is young and in her prime and for this one act of service I owe her so much.

The Man turns and runs out of the house.  Jade hears the chain link fence in the backyard rattle and then silence.  Kaidance waddles back into the basement with her slow lioness gait, meanders back to her bed and lies down.  No “Thank you” necessary.  No “You Owe Me”.  Nothing.  This is simply the unspoken contract a dog has to its person.

It’s this one moment that I carry with me for the following decade that makes me grateful for her presence.  What did she save my wife from that night?

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Fast forward roughly ten years and Hurricane Kaidance is the the most burdensome creature in my day-to-day routine.  She ruins my house, my belongings, my clothes.  She makes my life more difficult than it needs to be and certainly more difficult than any other dog owner that I’m familiar with.  At one point the “Maybe-We-Should-Give-Her-Away” conversation comes up but…

I can’t help but remember 2004 when Kaidance saved my wife’s….. what?  Life maybe?

Maybe.

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I believe that when you bring the responsibility of a living thing under your wing, you are making an unspoken contract that lasts for the big haul, through thick and thin.  Ashes to ashes and all that.  It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun but it’s yours.  Hanging up the hat is not an option.

Have we discussed getting rid of Kaidance; donating her to another family, leaving her in South Dakota for “farm life”, dropping her off on the side of the road and speeding away as quickly as possible and never looking back free of her burden forever and ever amen?  Yes.  We have.  Countless times.  But we can’t.  Because, even though my personal motto is “’til death”, I owe Kaidance considerably more than a generic PETA themed fortune cookie.

A dog is a responsibility, but I owe Kaidance a debt.

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Brown Desert

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There’s a strip of desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas that runs dark for about 300 miles.  It’s an area of the Earth so void of hope that no one has ever bothered to develop; it’s no man’s land.  Anything goes.  Mad Max.

It’s in this stretch that Kaidance suddenly begins breathing heavily; goes straight from her average, low volume wheezing to full on post-marathon panting.  Like a floodgate that has been switched, saliva begins dangling from her mouth in long tendrils.  Droplets of spittle bounce off her tongue like confused raindrops and begin covering the top of our cooler.  It’s day one of our Fantastic Voyage to Take Kaidance Home to Heaven and we’ve been traveling for 2 1/2 hours.  In case you’re uncertain, this is definitely foreshadowing.

Your Woman by White Town begins playing and, as though on cue, Kaidance sticks her slobbery jowls between our seats like Donkey in the first Shrek movie and just begins to……. exist.  And I could never be your woman.  No, Kaidance, you sure couldn’t.  Her putrid breath heaves onto us.  You can feel her stank exhale resting on your skin like a thick Georgian humidity.  She mouth-dribbles on the cooler.  She mouth-dribbles on the arm rests.  She mouth-dribbles on my wife’s Diet Coke and, if you know anything about my wife, you know you don’t mess with her Diet Coke.

Homey don’t play that.

She shouts something incoherent, threatening the life of the canine.  The panting gets louder.  My wife cracks a new, untainted DC because she’s certain some of “that damned dog’s” mouth water has poisoned the well.  The panting gets louder… louder… louder… it has successfully drowned out the radio and we’re beginning to grow concerned that the noise of her breathing is going to wake up the children.  Something by Nirvana comes over the speakers but I can barely make out what song it is.  This says less about Kurt Cobain’s choppy vocals and more about the noise of a pervert hissing in my ear.  Why is she standing so close to me?    Kaidance has her mouth full open, jaw unhinged, tongue dangling 16 inches past her teeth, a waterfall of saliva in full stream running down her chest and into a bag of groceries.  There goes the fruit.

My wife says, “This is disgusting.  Dog, you are disgusting.  This couldn’t be any worse” and I say, “Don’t tempt the universe” and my wife says, “What’s that?  What is that smell?”  I think perhaps she’s making a Teen Spirit joke, what with Nirvana and all but then, no.  It’s a fart.  No.  A shart.  No.  A turd.  No.  A bunch of turds.  No.  Diarrhea.  For every ounce of saliva that Kaidance has splish-splashed on our belongings, she has perfectly matched with The Liquid Brown.

Softer than any velvet and more pungent than the strongest cheese, it’s on the door, the floor, the blankets.  It’s week old green eggs and ham.  It’s Operation Dumbo Drop.  It’s The Devil Inside.  It’s a hot dog factory where everyone has BO and bathes in horchata.  It’s……. still coming.  The Spray.  She’s a sprinkler with a pulse, a faucet filled with rusty water, a fire hose gone wrong, and I’m gunning it at 80mph down the freeway into Oblivion.

My wife turns to me and says / sobs, “What are we going to do?” but she already knows the answer.  She already knows the horrible, inescapable answer even before I say it… she knows.

Nothing.

It’s 10:30 at night and there’s nothing between us and civilization but 60 miles and a trillion specks of sand.  My wife gags and rolls down a window.  She gags again and says, “I think I’m going to puke”.  She sticks her head out the window and starts making these loud breathing noises that don’t sound dissimilar to Kaidance and her wheezing.

I turn the volume up on the radio.  Something soft by The Shins juxtaposes everything that’s happening.

Like a turd, the next 45 minutes are long and smelly.  Finally, we find a lone gas station that’s lit by a solitary flickering bulb.  Horror movie’s have started here for sure.  We clean the van out.  The kids wake up.  Kaidance lets the concrete know who’s boss.  Clementine runs away.  The kids go back to sleep.  The dogs get back in the car.  It’s midnight.  Everything stinks, the upholstery is clean-ish but covered in a sticky residue.  Pandora’s box has been closed… or at the very least plugged up.  We only have 23 more hours until we reach our destination.

This is vacation.  Welcome to Paradise.

This story and a million like it are what I will remember about Kaidance long after she’s gone.  Some people have stories about hunting dogs and farm dogs and family dogs and wonderful little dogs that fit in purses and lick you on the lips and wear sweaters and know fun tricks.  Not Kaidance: Destroyer of Hope.  No.  She is a breed of cruel, dastardly perversion all her own.

Below, I’ve compiled a quick list of memories I have with my dog, both the good and the bad.

Kaidance, this is your life…

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1. When you were a puppy you would sleep on my pillow, curl up next to my ear and snore.  That’s a cute one.
2.  I remember taking you to the park in Denver on a winter day, the snow standing taller than you.  Another cute memory.  You were so tiny.
3.  One day you ate my friend’s pet turtle.  She was pretty upset.  That’s a sad memory, for sure, in case you’re keeping tally.
4.  We took you to The Turtle Girl’s parent’s house and you did that diarrhea thing you’re so good at all over their brand new white carpet.  They said it wasn’t a big deal but I could tell… they were pretty upset.
4.  Jade had spent a considerable amount of time on a three tier cake for her Cake Making 101 class.  You knocked it off the counter and ate most of it moments before she left to present for a final grade.  You also ate my celebratory “I beat cancer” cake that my favorite nurse gave to me.
5.  I remember you pulling a bottle of vegetable oil off the counter, tearing it open, drinking the whole thing and then dropping peppermint patties all through the house.  PS. Peppermint patties = more diarrhea.  This happened while we were out so by the time we got back it had all dried into these dusty  rocks that had stuck to the floor like anal barnacles.

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6.  You went through a phase where you tore open the trash every single day.  Even if there was nothing in the bin but newspapers, you simply didn’t care.  This was frustrating.
7.  Towards “the end” when you were no longer able to control your bladder, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to let you out at 11pm, 2am and 5am like a newborn baby.  This too was pretty frustrating although I do understand.  Even at 30 it is rare that I don’t get up at least once a night.
8. You were never a dog that could be taken to someone’s house for a social function.  When you get excited you drool… and you get excited about pretty much every thing.

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9.  Once, when I had cancer and was having a particularly tough day you suddenly crawled up into my rocking chair with me, completely unprovoked.  You’d never done it before or since.  It was very thoughtful of you and was exactly what I needed.

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10.  I once purchased 20 Whopper Juniors and gave them all to you on a platter.  I know it wasn’t healthy but I’ve never seen you happier than on that day.

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11.  One day I left some carrots on the counter.  You pulled them down and then pulled down Jade’s favorite turquoise ceramic bowl.  She was upset.  At both of us.

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12.  You once sat on my pillow and when I pushed you off there was a brown starfish where I put my face.  Why do you do these things to me?
13.  You are one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen and you love pushing yourself between people’s legs like a bridge.  It freaks newcomers out.
14.  You used to sleep on the bed with us and would full on stretch out, taking up every square foot you could.  I would typically curl into a little ball and try to work around you.

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15.  You’d get so excited when we pulled out your leash, you’d jump onto your hind legs and bark… and then when we got to the dog park you’d just lie down next to us and observe those which you considered inferior.

You’ve been with Jade and I since 2002 and, as evidenced by this list, have taught me a considerable amount about patience and grace, which I’m thankful for.  In a very backwards way, you’ve helped me to become a better father.  Trust me when I say that being a parent of 2 1/2 year old twins is 90% patience and grace and 10% damage control.  Whether my kids are destroying an object that I’m fond of, pooping on my couch, waking me up at 2am to pee, or hogging the bed with their strange sleeping aerobics, you did it first.  You forged the way for these pioneers.

Am I surprised that you blew the stinky all over the inside of our new mini-van?  Absolutely not.  I know your track record.  Like a moth, you’re going to go out big and I’d expect nothing less.

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Dirty Dog

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I’m sitting in my car, alone, in a grossly lit parking garage.  My lips are curled back and pulled down, tugging my face-skin tight.  My nose crunches in on itself and everything goes blurry.  I’m doing that thing humans do when they’re sad; I’m crying… alone… in a parking garage… in the building where I work.

There’s a banana sitting in the passenger seat and, since I’m sort of hungry from an early lunch, I lift it up and start to peel it.  Tears streaming down my face, I quietly whimper and take a bite of the fruit.  FACT: You can’t cry and eat a  banana at the same time; you feel too foolish.  It’s like the two cosmic ends of the universe are colliding right into you – the mournfulness of tears and the comic genius that is representative in 1000 people slipping on banana peels over the years.  One must break.

I prioritize my hunger, finish eating the banana, set the peel down and then pick up where I left off with the crying.  I start my car and, through blurred vision, navigate out of the garage and start my journey home to my dying dog.

Kaidance is an eleven year old Rhodesian Ridgeback that has been with my wife and I since we were in college.  She’s moved across the country with us, she was there when we got married, she was there when we had children (and when we were trying to have children, wink-wink-nudge-nudge-dog-in-the-room-while-you’re-having-sex-joke-wacka-wacka).  She watched me go through cancer and enter remission and has also dealt with her own battle which, sadly, she is finally succumbing to.

Over the last four years she’s been, like the Fast and Furious franchise, sick but active.  However, over the last four weeks, we’ve watched her go from an overweight bitch with a penchant for food and destruction to an overweight bitch who is blind and has trouble standing up and sitting down.  Even when she lies on her bed she just moans like every breath is killing her and I suppose, in some regards, it is.  That whole Ticking Clock Syndrome each of us suffers from.  Every second is closer to our own endings but there is something reassuring about not having any idea about when it is; next week, next year, next, next, next.  Not Kaidance.

Kaidance doesn’t have anymore NEXTS left.  This week Kaidance has only The Lasts.  The Last Bath.  The Last Night of Sleep.  The Last Walk.  The Last Meal.

My family and I are leaving on a road trip very soon.  We’re leaving Los Angeles and heading to South Dakota to see my sister’s new daughter.  From there we’ll hit Montana to see my sister-in-law’s new son.  When we leave LA we’ll have our two kids in tow along with our two dogs; Kaidance and a cocker spaniel named Clementine.  When we return, we’ll have only two children and the cocker spaniel.  When we get to South Dakota, we’ll stop at my mother-in-law’s farm and she’ll call her vet.  The vet will come out to the farm and we’ll put Kaidance to sleep somewhere in a field.  I will dig a grave and I will bury my dog.

We’re doing it this way because I cannot stand the thought of taking her to a vet clinic.  THE SMELL ALONE.  She hates going and begins shaking compulsively when we pull into the parking lot.  It’s not fair that her last feelings would be those of fear.  She is more valuable to me than that.  She is better than a cold steel table, the reek of cleaning supplies and a needle.  I just need her to know that we love her and I just want her to be as comfortable as possible.  Kaidance is not JUST A DOG.  No dog is JUST A DOG, the same as no person is JUST A PERSON.  Emotions, impulses, instincts, feelings; love, excitement, joy, hunger, thirst, fear.

Kaidance has five days left to walk the Earth.  She has seen her last Monday.  She has seen her last Tuesday.  The numbers on that stupid clock are getting smaller and smaller and sometimes I wonder if she can’t tell something is up.

Over the following week I’d like to share with you all the reasons I love and hate this stupid dog and my final journey to take her home.

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