This past weekend was not an easy one. My fourteen year old little dog, Kira, had a serious cardiac episode. She’s been a cardiac patient for nearly two years now and we’ve had some episodes of syncope from which she’s always recovered quickly. This time she came into the house from a brief walk, coughed a few times, walked to her bed, sat and looked at me with a slightly dazed expression, and then her nose crashed into the bed and she didn’t move again. I picked her up. Her body was eerily light. Her head flopped lifelessly against my shoulder. I wasn’t scared so much as I was in disbelief. I held her against my heart, stunned that a vibrant life could extinguish so fast and without struggle. There’s a great sadness and also a blessing in being able to depart like that. I held her this way for what felt like a good minute, but probably was less.
Then, slowly and miraculously, her rib cage began to expand and she was breathing again. She still couldn’t lift her head. And so I kept holding her, not sure if she was making a momentary return, only to leave for good.
She surprised me. She lifted her head and looked around. I checked her gums. They were a mix of grey and lavender — hypoxia — and the first sign I’ve seen of it since her cardiac disease began. I looked into her eyes and they seemed to register. She gave me a look that I swear said, “If you can do this, I can.” She was straining to breathe, but she was in there and seemed to have an interest in staying. So I grabbed a blanket, wrapped her in it, and kept holding her.
I called a friend who is a hospice nurse and we decided that it was wise to give her a homeopathic for anxiety and her cardiac herbs, all of which she happily chewed (you have to love a dog who has a palate for Chinese herbs). A timid shade of pink was returning to her gums. I felt her energy sink deeper into her body and she had more of a substantial feel to her. In Chinese Medicine, we would say the Shen (the Spirit) was rooting back into the body. Slowly but surely (over a period of about 90 minutes), she returned to her old self, walked around, stood in front of her empty dish, looked at me with an expression that said “Are you gonna do something about this?” And I fed her, sitting on the floor next to her, never so grateful to watch that little creature eat.
She went on to play with her toys and look out the front door and bark at the dogs that walked by. Today she was even better and her energy levels seemed to be improved beyond what I’ve seen in her in weeks. She spent the day soaking up the sun as it streamed through the house, my job being to move her bed around so she could continue to sunbathe. (I am quite certain she was Cleopatra in a past life).
I am waiting on some labs this week and will then review options with my holistic vet, who is the only vet who has ever really understood Kira (or me, for that matter). And we will talk about maybe introducing a cardiac medication along with her herbs. I’m not sure yet how I feel about that.
There is an energetic component here too (isn’t there always?) and Kira is a sensitive dog. Less has always been more with her and pharmaceuticals have always held a price. So I’m not necessarily convinced that integrating meds will be right. But I am open. For now she is doing well, she is happy and playful, demanding as ever, and there is some seriously good Shen in those soulful brown eyes. She amazes me.
Kira has been my teacher since that early November day in 2002 when she ran across a basement room, crashed into me, wrapped her paws around my ankle and chose me. We have journeyed through so much together: divorce, three interstate moves, three businesses, the magic of holistic medicine, new loves, lost loves, two academic degrees, friends we’ve met (human and canine), friends we’ve lost far too soon. When I was scared and alone and had no one to count on, she forced me to get up each morning to take care of her. And in doing so, she made me believe in myself. God had entrusted me with this tiny life that was reliant upon me. What was God thinking? Through my panic and fears of inadequacy, Kira made me laugh and forget the terror. She astounded me at how smart such a tiny creature could be (she understands three human languages, plus sign language). She inspired me to give up cable because she was such an incredible puppy, all I wanted to do was play with her, watch her grow, and study for exams with her sleeping on my lap.
Two years ago, when she became old overnight with no clinical explanation and lost her hearing completely, she taught me how to be present to the unexpected. She also taught me about the grace of aging. Her muscular body was now thin and frail, her once thick and shiny coat had thinned and had become dull, but her spirit never wavered. She even barked louder, just like an old person who was hard of hearing. Her body might have gotten old, but she still knew how to get her point across.
Perhaps this past weekend was the best lesson Kira ever taught me though: sometimes it’s not only okay, but it’s absolutely necessary to put yourself and your own needs first in order to take care of those you love and who are truly are dependent upon you. She woke me up to the fact that living like this is part of honoring the sacred in yourself. I urge you to live this way, if you don’t already. As one whose vocation renders me a caregiver (and on-call most days), it’s a requirement to know when I am dangerously low on reserves. If I have nothing to give, I am not much use to others. Still I tend to give more than I wisely should. I don’t believe our Creator desires us to give everything. What creator who loves her creation would? Honoring your boundaries is not selfish. It is a way to honor your sacred place in Creation and in the end, serve others better.
This honoring of boundaries in my life will be a new normal for a lot of people around me. But it’s healthy behavior and it’s what I need to do — for myself and for those I love. A lesson well-delivered by a 13.5 pound little dog with one great big spirit and a very determined heart.
Blessings and peace,
Maria Grace Mandarino