Exactly one month ago I said goodbye to my beloved boy, Wylie.
What a roller coaster it's been since that day in June when he went into heart failure. In some ways, it feels like lifetimes ago. And it also feels like it was just yesterday.
Let me tell you a little about Wylie. I met him when he was just a wee three months old at an adoption event. For months and months I stalked all of the dogs on Petfinder. My first choice was actually a cute little black lab pup, but luckily, we got our second choice instead. (We never told him he was our second choice because we didn't want him to have self-esteem issues.)
Wylie was originally named Ponderosa. That was such a mouthful we had to change it. He had no name for the first week. Then one day, his little pointy ears told us that he needed to be called Wylie, as in Wylie Coyote.
Wylie was a little rascal from day one. He really seemed like he was part wild coyote, a role he played his entire life. When he hiked in the golden hills of California, he blended right in, like he was in his natural habitat.
He loved to run and chase and play hide-and-go-seek. When he was just a pup, he picked up a baby chick in his mouth, and when I screamed "LEAVE IT" loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear one Saturday morning, (a command he had just learned days before) he gently set the chick on the ground and it scurried off unharmed. (Don't ask why there were random chickens in our backyard. They weren't ours.) As wily as he was, he wouldn't hurt a fly.
Wylie loved his yellow lab cousin Max. So much so that he would eat his poops. We tried dousing them in hot sauce (something I read on the internet), but that seemed to just make them more flavorful and enticing to him. It took him a few years to grow out of that.
It also took him a few years to stop chewing sprinkler wires in the backyard. (Sorry, Doug!)
Puppy-hood lasted a good four years with this dog. Or even maybe his whole life. His very last weekend on this earth he managed to play a little hide-and-go-seek and chase the rats in the backyard. (Yes, we have rats. The whole neighborhood does. We've learned to embrace them as a functioning member of the outdoor society.)
A month after Wylie was diagnosed with heart failure, he had his first run-in with a skunk. At three o' clock in the morning. I have never smelled anything more putrid. Poor Wylie's head stunk for weeks. But, the majority of the spray hit my hair and the inside of the house. Thanks to the wisdom of Facebook, I learned that bowls of vinegar are the best remedy to soak up the smell. Let's hope I don't have to do that again. I had just bought Wylie a new color. That went right into the trash. I joked that getting sprayed by a skunk was on his bucket list.
Wylie was constantly on alert. He let our neighbors know when the mail was here, and could detect a UPS truck from several blocks away. He went crazy when the doorbell rang, even if I was the one standing in the open door ringing it. Perhaps that was the shepherd in him. Or maybe the coyote.
He wasn't a particulary cuddly dog. He liked his space. But when he was ready for me to get off the phone or computer to take him for a walk, he would let me know. He nosed everything to get my attention. Sometimes he would literally rearrange the furniture because he nosed so hard. If he wanted something, he let me know.
Wylie was always up for a hike or a walk. He loved being out in nature. He would hike for miles and miles. He also loved going to the beach. But he wasn't a huge swimmer. He liked running on the sand more than anything. And he could be a big bugger. He usually got so wound up that he would start barking and running towards humans and dogs, scaring the crap out of people who weren't particularly dog-friendly. This was frustrating at times. He was far from an easy-going pup. Let's just say he lost his off-leash privileges many times during these outings.
But Wylie could be quite patient, too. When he was younger, he had a girlfriend at the neighborhood park. Her name was Trixie, and she was just about the sweetest beagle girl I've ever met. Everytime we saw her, she would jump up, put her paws around his neck, and lick his lips and snout. He would just stand there and move his head from side to side, letting her give him kisses.
In fact, everywhere we went, Wylie got plenty of attention. He really did look like a coyote. Or a wolf. Or a dingo. People would comment on his unique beauty. He really was handsome. Then "Is he friendly?" To which I wanted to reply, "Are you?" But instead I explained that he would run away if he wasn't interested in saying hi or being pet. He always ran away. Unless it was Trixie.
When Wylie got sick, my heart broke. And as I sit here writing, I can't help but cry again. I don't want to go into too many details because that would make this post waaaaay too long, but basically he went into heart failure over Memorial Day Weekend in 2016. He started coughing first, which I didn't recognize as coughing right away. Then he was panting. He was having trouble hiking, and also didn't want to eat. By the time we got him to the vet, he was in bad shape. An x-ray showed a severely enlarged left atrium and a tremendous amount of fluid in his chest. He would have died pretty soon if we hadn't brought him in when we did. And, as it was, I wish we had brought him to the vet sooner.
Wylie's heart disease was terminal. Nothing any pet parent wants to hear. Eventually, through medication and the dedication and expertise of the right care team, Wylie was able to get to a pretty good place health-wise. There were a handful of teary episodes when I thought for sure he was a goner, only to have him bounce back to life after an adjustment in medication. He had a really good life for the next six or so months. He really was our little miracle dog for a long time, even continuing his three mile hikes for the first few months.
But then in December, around Christmas, he started to get really sick again. I knew in my heart that this was the beginning of the end. He became less of his spirited self. We adjusted his medications again, but we were at the end of the road with treatment options. It was really just a (short) matter of time before his final decline would come. There was nothing more we could do. The cardiologist told us, if he were a human he would be getting a heart transplant. Unfortunately, that was not an option for my little guy. So we just tried to enjoy every day with him and hoped for the best.
In the beginning of February, Wylie started coughing again. I tried not to worry too much, but I knew we didn't have much more time. He went in for a vet appointment, and had to have an emergency IV of lasix (diuretic) to remove the fluid from his lungs. This was just enough to buy us a little time before we would have to put him down. That was a sad, sad day.
The next day, the day before my birthday, we were able to take a trip out the beach. Wylie was tired but had the best time, with a smile on his face all day. We walked slowly on the sand, I picked up beach glass and marveled at the beautiful sky. Wylie didn't bark at a single soul.
The next day we made art from his paw prints.
He hung in there for the next week while we figured out how to go about saying goodbye to this precious soul. He ate a little, went on a few walks, and seemed pretty content for the week. But by Friday, one week after the emergency IV at the vet, he was not doing well. He didn't want to eat and was starting to slip away. His eyes changed and he wasn't fully present in this world anymore. That day we made an appointment for what we called his Big Nappy.
We originally scheduled his Big Nappy for Tuesday (such a strange thing to set up an appointment for), but on Monday morning, we knew he needed to visit the Rainbow Bridge sooner. Saturday he was carried up the hill for his last hike.
And Sunday he went for a car ride where he was greeted by a real coyote, who seemed to be guiding him home.
Then on Monday, he was gone.
I had been wondering and stressing about how his life would end. What would it look like? How would I know when it was time? How does someone know it's the right decision? How can I possibly play God like that? Or would he just die in his sleep? Would his heart stop during the night and that would be that?
Wylie, the special soul that he was - that he is - told me when it was time. Yes, he stopped eating for a few days prior, and that was certainly a sign, but on Sunday he really told me. After taking all of his medications like a champ for over eight months, he basically said to me "No. I don't want to take these anymore." This dog had been so great at taking all of his pills (he was on about 8 medications and supplements) and finally just said enough. He clamped his jaw shut on that Sunday and stared into my eyes and told he he was done.
And when the amazing man (because he truly was amazing) came to help Wylie take his Big Nappy, he didn't bark or stress out or anything. That was unheard of for this dog. It's like he knew exactly why this man was here, and he gave him permission. And, as sad a day as Monday, February 13, 2017 was, it was also an absolutely beautiful transition. The sun was out, the birds were singing, and Wylie got to lay on his comfy bed in his favorite spot in the yard.
That afternoon, I packed up a little pouch of Wylie things and brought it on his favorite hike. We buried it under the big rock that he liked to climb on. And, like magic, there was the form of a big leaping Wylie in the clouds that day. I kid you not. He was there.
It was all so surreal. Not only that day, but the entire experience of taking care of a dog with terminal heart disease. I think about him every single day. And I cry about him often. He was such a big soul. I thank him for teaching me how to live each day in the present. His disease taught me to not let fear stop me from living each day. If I had let fear guide me, we wouldn't have had all the adventures we had in the last eight months of his life. He had heart disease. He was going to die. Well, guess what? We're all going to die. That's how it works. But instead of worrying about it, I learned to get more comfortable with it. To go on a hike even though he could drop dead at any moment. (Yes - this is what I thought about and had to get comfortable with when I took him out and about!) But at least if he died on the trail, he'd die doing what he loved more than anything. I wasn't going to let my fear stop him from living a full life.
And five days later, we did something that was also very fearless. We brought home a new little girl. Her name is Rosie.
Because another thing that Wylie taught me, was that I have lots of love to give. He opened my heart in a way I didn't know existed. And how could I let that all that love go to waste?
Thank you, dear Wylie. You were the wisest soul I've ever known. Miss Rosie has some big shoes to fill.