I just looked back in the archives to see how much I told you about Carmi when we got her. Surprisingly little. Actually, not that surprising, because that post is four days before my first date with Clay. I didn't have much time for blogging, what with all late night phone talking going on. How sly am I, with my "I'm in love" declaration? Heh.
Well, the background on Carmi is that my mom found her online. She was at a shelter across town, and we'd been searching for the right dog for awhile, so we headed over to see her. It was nearly closing time when we got there, but when the staff heard we wanted to see Carmelita, they hustled us off to meet her. It seems she'd been listed as a pit bull cross, and so she'd lingered there for nine months, and her time was almost up. They were really hoping she would find a home in time. A patient shelter, but not a no-kill shelter, you see.
Having been locked up so long, Carmi was a little stunned. We took her out to an open space to try to get a sense of her. She stood and stared at us, not seeming to understand what we wanted. I had to take Raphael in for a trip to the bathroom, leaving the other boys and my mom outside with Carmi. When I came back, Max had managed to make contact with her, and he was throwing a ball for her to fetch.
We took her home (obviously), and she loved us completely and irrevocably. At first, she was awfully nervous whenever we left the house. She would sneak into the van in the chaos as I was loading the boys in. More than once I glanced in the rear view mirror, preparing to back out of the garage, to see her sitting there, trying hard to look like one of the kids. And looking guilty. She always looked sorry.
I'd haul her out of the car and into the house and she'd leap up into the front window and watch us drive away, quivering with anxiety. And looking sorry. For a few weeks, I was worried that she'd never really know that she was finally safe.
It took a long time for her to believe that she was home for good. She fell into the midst of the boys like she was created for them. Whenever they barrelled through the house, racing from point A to point B, she would leap to her feet and run after them. And even though she was clearly a herding dog, and tending to her pack of boys, she never nipped at them, but tapped them gently on the sides of their legs with her nose.
She was love. Pure love, in a cloud of dog hair.
But of course "safe" isn't a permanent condition, and love doesn't stop the years from stealing what they will. Carmi got more and more stiff with arthritis, and her wonky liver meant the vet couldn't prescribe her the good drugs for the pain. She became more and more confused, wandering aimlessly through the same rooms for hours, in and out the door, looking lost. Lost and sorry. She ate less and less, and her bones pressed at her skin. Sometimes she just fell down, and sometimes she couldn't get back up without help. She pooped in the house every day, and didn't even know she was doing it.
How do you decide to let a good dog go? I agonized, sought advice, and cried for days. My sister-in-law suggested we ask ourselves if Carmi could still do her five best things ever, and if she would recover and be able to again. And obviously, no. She couldn't go on walks, or fetch balls, or chase squirrels. She couldn't even sit comfortably enough to rest her chin on a friendly knee. Clay pointed out that she didn't even wag her tail anymore, so fragile was her balance.
She was so tired.
I will never, ever again underestimate how difficult a decision it is to put your animal to sleep. I am not exaggerating when I say that I cried for days. But on Monday Carmi's vet came to the house. Raphael waited upstairs, not ready to see something so hard. Sophia went to the park with Amma. And Clay, Tre, Max, and I huddled around Carmi and said goodbye. It was a transcendentally sad moment.
I don't question if it was the right choice, I just wish we didn't have to make it. I wish I could hear her shake her head and jangle her collar again. I miss her every day. Every dog picture I see on Facebook makes me cry.
But I think about her there, surrounded by her people. Each of us had a hand on her, and she gazed up at us, grinning (don't even try to tell me dogs don't smile, just don't). She trusted us, completely, and we did our solid best to live up to that trust. We loved her.
And she didn't look sorry.