We met him over 16 years ago. We saw him in the cow pasture on a parcel adjacent to our then rural home. A small, white dog, lingering close enough to the cattle to stay warm but not so close as to bother them. It took my husband weeks to gain his trust in order to feed him. We hadn’t planned to keep him originally. Snake, our coydog, wasn’t good with other dogs and we feared she would hurt him. But he came to trust Rich, Rich fed him and we housed him separately from Snake as we tried to find a home for him. One day during a “let’s hope she won’t hurt him session,” Snake decided to chase the puppy around our dining room table and they developed a sort of friendship. We named him Asp and he became a member of our family. The bond between Asp and Rich was really beyond description. They were like two peas in a pod. After Snakey left us, the bond grew even stronger and it was as if they were two parts of the same person. Rich often joked that they could speak to each other telepathically and teased me about the fact that Asp sometimes didn't listen because I was speaking "with a cat accent."
I have told people over the years that I think there are times when animals enter our lives as part of some bigger plan. Believe what you will. This is my belief and I cannot be convinced otherwise. Sometimes we cross paths with animals because we are meant to help them in some way, even if it’s just to be a stepping stone to some new life. Sometimes we are meant to share our lives with them and they are meant to share theirs with us as they teach us what we value and how to be better versions of ourselves. We know all along that they cannot last as long as we want and we accept that as part of the relationship. We know they will leave us some day. We just try our best to focus on the present and how very much they enrich our lives just by being there to accept us unconditionally, make us laugh, make us cry and help us cope.
Asp had a stroke last September and it was debilitating. We were less than 24 hours from having him euthanized by our veterinarian and had even called the local business which provides cremation services. We didn’t want him to suffer and we were prepared to put his needs first, as every animal lover must. We decided to go for one last R-I-D-E and when he rebounded, we decided to let him stay and see if he could recover. He slept in a child’s playpen for days so he wouldn’t hurt himself trying to walk on his own and Rich boiled chicken to feed him because he had trouble chewing kibble. As the days and weeks went by, he improved. Life got back to normal for the most part and he was happy and eating and back to being our boy. We knew it would not last, but we followed the lead all dogs show us: try to live in each day and just enjoy the now.
I think most people can count on one hand the worst days of their lives and we are no different. The 4th of July holiday was one of those days for us. Aspy had a seizure on Sunday night and it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. It didn’t last too long and we took him to an emergency clinic for help. The vet who ordered his ultrasound gave us the grim news. Aspy had a mass in his liver, a mass in his spleen and it was likely that the cancer had moved to his brain. We took him home and hoped for the best, but it was not to be. We let him go on Independence Day after a prolonged seizure, the vision and sounds of which will surely be seared in my memory for all time. Did we do the right thing? Did we wait too long? Did we not wait long enough? Such are the questions which haunt and plague every animal lover who has ever had to make what Marion Hale once described as That Terrible Decision.
I know we are blessed. I have faith that the soul of our little man was saved and that he is not in pain. Each day was a gift and while life will never, ever be the same, our focus has to be on what was best for him. No matter the cost to us. Some people have never known the type of bond we have shared with our dogs and for them I feel sorry. With great and powerful love also comes great and powerful loss, but we wouldn’t miss any of it for anything. We love him. So we gave him wings.
He asked her, "what gifts can I bring you
to prove that my love for you is true?
I want to make you mine forever.
There's nothing on this earth I would not do."
She said, "anything I've wanted
you have given willingly.
So now there's only one more thing I need.
If you love me, give me wings
and don't be afraid if I fly.
A bird in a cage will forget how to sing
If you love me, give me wings."
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson