What does your dog mean to you? I love all animals but I have a special place in my heart for dogs – especially rescue dogs. I grew up in a rural area on almost 10 acres of land. There were all kinds of animals around all the time: dogs, barn cats, cows, pigs, horses, goats, etc. I personally had numerous pets growing up such as rabbits, cats, hamsters, fish and of course dogs. I loved them all and have very fond memories of all of them. However, it wasn’t until I met Claudia the Dog that an animal truly touched my heart and became a part of my soul.
Claudia and I met one chilly afternoon while I was still living in Missouri. I was living in a rural area and someone had dumped her and another dog in a ditch in front of my home. Claudia (as I later named her) was very timid and scared but beautiful. She was a wonderful caramel color and looked to be a mix between a lab, a spaniel and maybe something else. It took days to coax her out of that ditch. Every day I would go check on them and I was convinced I wouldn’t find them but they stuck around. I was finally able to convince them that I had a consistent source of kibble and a warm, safe home.
I named Claudia’s partner in crime Charlie. He was a wonderful, beautiful Catahoula mix that adapted to people and his surroundings very quickly. It did not take me very long to place Charlie in a forever home. Claudia however, was struggling a bit. She was very timid and very nervous around new people. Any time I would bring someone by the house who wanted to consider adopting her, she would either run away from them or growl. However, she was wonderful with me. After a few failed adoption attempts, I was beginning to think that I was going to be “stuck” with this dog.
When I say “stuck”, I mean I was stuck. I fell in love with Claudia almost immediately. She was so sweet, beautiful and so vulnerable. She needed me and little did I know I needed her as well.
My life took a turn and I ended up having to move to the “big city”. The life change was ultimately a good one, but I wasn’t quite sure how Claudia fit into the picture. My mom was kind enough to take her in while I got settled into my new life in my new loft which did not allow pets. Claudia loved staying at her “grandma’s” house. She got to sit on the couch and would get the occasional pizza bone once she figured out how to manipulate my mom with a certain puppy dog look. In all fairness to my mom, it really is a difficult look to resist.
This was meant to be a temporary fix. My mom wasn’t in a place in her life where she could give the correct amount of attention to a dog. Her work schedule was just too much at the time.
I had just met my future husband. Things were going well and I was beginning to wonder if this was going to turn into a serious relationship. I mentioned Claudia and our situation to him in passing. He was immediately intrigued. He had always wanted a dog and was never allowed to have one as a kid. He pushed me to meet her which I told him was no problem. I was going to visit her that weekend.
We all met and went to a park. Never having a dog and never having met Claudia, my future husband had grand ideas of turning her into a frisbee dog who would be able to do flips off his back while catching a frisbee, etc. Upon hearing this both Claudia and I raised an eyebrow, shook our head and settled into our blanket to enjoy the sun and a little nap. Despite his initial disappointment, he fell in love with Claudia right away and immediately asked me if he could adopt her.
This is crazy I thought! This guy has never had a dog, he lives in a city loft that does not allow dogs, we just started dating, etc. How could I turn my dog over to someone I may or may not spend the rest of my life with? I don’t know how to explain it, but I just knew it would work. The three of us were a team and a good one at that (even after he got kicked out of his apartment).
To say that Claudia influenced and impacted our relationship is an understatement. We were an instant family with a bond that was very solid. Although my husband and I were “technically” adults when we met, I feel like the three of us grew up together.
We moved several times beginning in Kansas City then to North Carolina then finally to California. We started our careers, bought our first home together, then our second, then our third.
As the years passed, Claudia began to slow down but I didn’t think too much of it at the time. She tended to be a bit fat in her younger years but as she aged, we learned the importance of a healthy diet and keeping her weight down. We used to hike and take long walks. She was happy and healthy.
Watching someone / something you love, that you know you are supposed to outlive, grow old is a privilege that is not for the faint of heart. It is one of the most difficult things we have ever been through. Claudia kept growing older and getting slower, but she just kept chugging along. She was amazingly healthy and strong, just slower. She did not deteriorate overnight and for that we are blessed. We had time to experience her old age with her which was hard to watch but we were so thankful for the time!
The changes were subtle. She did not want to walk as long as usual. She did not have to chase EVERY squirrel. Looking back, I don’t really remember when she went from being a dog, to being an old dog, to being a really old dog. What I do remember are things like the time it became difficult for her to jump on our bed. I didn’t think much of it. I just did what anyone would do – I bought a very expensive bench to place at the end of a very expensive bed that would allow her full access with ease. It worked! Life went on.
Then she started sleeping on the bench. Then she moved to sleeping on her bed full-time. There was a shift.
The next phase of her aging was the most difficult. You expect an old dog to go on shorter walks, to need assistance getting up and down stairs and in certain areas, etc. What I did not expect was the profound affect the reduction of Claudia’s sight and hearing would have on her. She would wander around the house for hours in a confused state. She would yelp out when she would get “stuck” in a corner of a room that she was too confused to get out of. It was heart wrenching, almost too much to take at times. We did the best we could to help Claudia cope with the changes and did everything possible to make sure she was comfortable. Time was winding down.
When I say we were blessed by this time, I mean it. It was very difficult on all of us. I learned things about my husband I may never have known through the process. For example his deep love and respect for Claudia. His endless patience level. He never got frustrated or angry when she lost control of her bladder or woke us up at 2 a.m. crying and looking for the way back to our room, lost in her own home. He would have done anything (and almost did) to make her comfortable and to make her final days with us filled with dignity. We both did our best but often, he was better at it than I was.
I did not realize it at the time, but we began mourning Claudia while she was still alive. The vibrant, sassy dog that we knew for years and years was no longer with us. Claudia was comfortable the entire time, but in many ways she was long gone before she passed.
Although Claudia was very old and was beginning to weaken, she never got “sick”. This was a miracle, but it made it very difficult to decide what her end of life would be like. I kept hoping I would wake up one morning and she would have peacefully passed in the night. I should have known Claudia was too stubborn to make it easy on me. She just kept ticking along.
We decided to go away for a quick weekend to Santa Barbara. We knew Claudia was slowing down but she showed no signs that alarmed us and we had an excellent dog walker staying with her so we felt confident that we were okay to leave for a couple of days.
While we were gone, we kept getting reports that Claudia was really slowing down and just wasn’t herself. In our hearts, we knew we were getting close. However, every time we thought we were close in the past, she would bounce right back and show us a sign that she just wasn’t ready yet. There was another shift. She didn’t bounce back.
When we returned we quickly determined that it was time to say goodbye. I probably can’t explain it exactly, but I felt like leaving that weekend gave her a chance to let go and to let her little body finally give out. I have heard of this in hospice patients, but had not heard about it in dogs before I experienced it.
We decided the best thing to do was to have her euthanized at home in her bed. It was not an emergency situation and she was not in terrible pain. I wanted her to go peacefully in her own home. Her little body had just finally give out after all these years.
The procedure was quick and painless. We were so lucky to be able to hold her during her last breath. She was a part of our family and always would be. It was devastating, beautiful and a relief all at once.
We now have Daisy dog that we are bananas about and love with all our hearts, but it’s not the same. That’s okay though, it’s not supposed to be. Claudia came to us at a specific time in our lives and it was wonderful. We estimate that she was almost 19 years old when she passed.
Claudia changed me and changed my vision of dogs and what they can mean to us. She had a certain grace that touched me and my husband and everyone who knew her. I will always remember her fondly and with a deep love.
Rest in peace dear Claudia.