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Coming Home... in time to say Goodbye

I've been home for a week.. back home, on my farm, where my heart never left. I'll be honest. There still much to be done. Relationships to work on. Love to mend. Being gone for 7 weeks was really good for me.. good for us, but being back on the farm has been a reminder that this is where my life is. Where I'm supposed to be. But it hasn't been easy...

I'll start from the beginning. Last Tuesday morning I was driving through the foggy Oregon terrain. It was beautiful. It was the first time in weeks that I started to get the feeling of being home. Something about fog, you know? As I drove the seven hours home, I made plans in my mind of how things would go when I arrived home. I made plans for the week. And then the phone call came. "She had a seizure"... It was Dylan, my husband, telling me that our wolf-dog, Koda, had suffered a seizure early that morning. We've dealt with animal seizures before (one of our cats has an episode every few months). But something about this one was different, he said. She was still groggy, still acting out of her norm. It had been hours, but the vet that was "normal". The vet said to wait twenty four hours. So we made an appointment for Wednesday at 8:00am. I got home Tuesday afternoon just after 2:30pm. I pulled in the driveway and I'll be honest, it felt weird. Weird because I remember pulling out of the driveway seven weeks ago, not knowing if I'd ever be coming back. That's a weird feeling.. feeling something so concrete and yet how quickly God can change your circumstances. How quickly He can change your heart. Change the direction of your plan.

I pulled up to the house, got out and immediately went to check on the dogs. Koda barely looked in my direction, and slowly got up. I greeted her with immense happiness, but an equal amount of worry.

Something about her was off... so very off. At one point, she grew too weak to stand and laid down in the mud, resting her head in a puddle. I should have known right then.. I should have rushed her to the vet right then. Instead I said a prayer.. "Lord please heal our baby girl, but Lord if it's your will, please take her quickly. Don't let her suffer. I'm not strong enough to know the time." I carried her inside and dried her off, hoping she'd perk up a bit.

We spoiled her that night. Treats, chicken, you name it, we tried it. She was slowly losing interest in the special snacks. On Wednesday morning, Dylan carried her weak body to the truck. I remember sitting in the back with her, giving her all the loves and pets I could. I'd missed the last seven weeks with her. I came home to a different dog. I came home to a dog I didn't recognize. The vet techs came out with a stretcher to get her and there we sat, in the truck, waiting for answers. They ran every test possible and "shocked" was an understatement to what we heard from the vet's mouth. "UTI... Blood in her urine... hypothermic... dehydrated... limited pain receptors... high white cell count... no platelets... fluid in her chest.." We were $900 deep with a load of lab results and no direction. We had two options.. rush her to an emergency vet hours away to hopefully save her and get some answers OR take the gamble that antibiotics, steroids, fluids and some old eastern medicine of at home care would heal her. We took the gamble. After all, I had no job and therefore, all the time in the world to care for her. I'd lose sleep for that baby girl in a heartbeat if it meant saving her. I brought her home just after noon, carrying her incredibly heavy eighty pound body into the house.

I moved her bed into the living room, made her nice and comfortable in front of the heater to keep her body temperature up, and gave her water. I mentally prepared to be by her side for as long as it took to get her back. Every thirty minutes or so, she'd get restless and want to walk. I'd help her up, she'd take a few steps and then it's like her brain wouldn't communicate with her body to lie down. From the little EMS experience I had, it appeared that she may have not only had a seizure, but also a stroke at some point. I remember thinking we had a long road to recovery ahead. Oh what I would give to have a long road to recovery for her.

Around 2:30pm, she began panting and moving as if she was restless. But this wasn't normal panting, it was labored. She was trying to breathe. I called the vet and they assured me that what I described was "normal" for what she'd been through. I questioned their advice but after hanging up the phone, noticed her demeanor changed. Her breathing slowed. This was it. This was the end. Our girl was dying. I called Dylan at work and through sobs said, "You need to come home. She's taking her last breaths." I put him on speaker, held her in my arms, and told her how much we loved her. How much we were thankful for her life. How much I loved being her Mama. I sat there with her and cried as she took her last breath. Oh what I would give to have kept her breathing.. even long enough for Dylan to say "goodbye".

We buried her by one of her favorite trees. Dylan held her lifeless body and we thanked her once again. This time, I thanked her for being there for him those last few months. They had become closer than I had realized. She was one of his best friends.. and for that, I am thankful. I'm thankful for the Lord's timing. I'm thankful I was able to be home in time. Thankful she didn't die alone or surrounded by strangers at the vet. She was home, in her bed, with her Mama holding her and telling her how much we love her.

We spoke to the vet the next day and it was clear to all of us that at some point, she must have ingested some sort of poison. I scoured the dog run, talked to the neighbors.. NOTHING. No answers. We had to choose to make peace with the fact that whatever it was, there was nothing we could do about it now.

I know for some of you, those of you who don't have animals or who haven't gone through the loss of an animal, you might not understand. But for us, these dogs are our babies. Each one we've known and raised from very early on. They are our family and we are their humans. I've seen death, given CPR, I experienced the loss of loved ones.. but this was something I've never experienced before. Watching a living being take their final breathes, holding them, knowing in that moment that there was absolutely NOTHING I could do to stop it or change it. That helpless feeling is one of the most terrifying experiences in the world. If you haven't experienced it, I pray that you never do. But I do pray that everyone experiences the love of a dog. It's truly remarkable. Something I am thankful for everyday.

This past weekend, we took our first family walk. It's been months since we've taken a family walk, this being significant as our first walk without our girl. As we walked, we talked about her, reminisced about memories of her, and dreamt of the future for our farm and our family. I still look for her when I pull into the driveway or when I go to collect food bowls for dinner. She'll always be part of the family.. even though she's not here.

We love you, Koda bear. You were one and only.


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