5 am is good.
I hear the dog smacking her lips and then engage in a solid head shake. It gets magnified by the mass of her ears, and the slapping of her flapping overwhelms the minor bird songs which have begun outside. Then it’s quiet again, back to the odd lip smack.
I don’t really know that it’s 5 am yet. My eyes are only the slightest bit open, but I can make out the hint of dawn at the edge of the curtains. The covers are pulled back enough that I can move when the time comes, but I try to hold onto that brittle last dollop of sleep while it lasts.
But, 5 am is good.
The scrape of her nails on the floor means she’s now standing. So, I’m up and on her, picking her up and getting her to the back door. It isn’t that she couldn’t walk, but it’s simpler to carry her. Her eyesight isn’t great any more, and negotiating the turns can sometimes lead to getting stuck in a corner. At her age, a delay in getting outside sometimes results in a bit of pre-breakfast cleanup. But, there’s no such issue this morning. I set her down the ramp and she’s out back, sniffing and finding the perfect spot for that morning pee break. By this time, I’ve thrown on what must be the world’s ugliest pair of fleece pants - pilled, baggy and ill-fitting - and joined her. The sky is a beautiful bluish-black, a few stars still hanging on. A few chickadees flit about, but the acorn woodpecker which has been steadily working on the large maple has yet to begin. It’s mostly silent, and we pad around the edge of the patio. She doesn’t like to venture too far onto the grass anymore, as it seems she gets a little bewildered out there. Before long, she’s looped around to her satisfaction, and leads me back up the ramp and inside again. I finally look at the clock.
Yep. 5 am. Almost on the nose.
This is, as I’ve been repeating, a good thing. It’s the second day in a row that she’s slept in this late. A few weeks back, she started popping up early. She’d done that before. A 4:30 isn’t comfortable, but isn’t too bad. Normally, we’d deal with the doggy business out back, and then she could be coaxed into sleeping for another hour or so. The “spanielarm” had always been pretty hard-wired for a 6 am breakfast, so much so that I haven’t actually set an alarm regularly for years.
But, things got different. 4:30 became 3:30, which started to hurt. Then 2:30, which had me spinny-dizzy awake from pretty solid REM-state, realizing I was out in the backyard in my underwear as I kept her from walking into things.
The real problem was that she wasn’t at all interested in going back to sleep at that point. She’d pace around inside, nails clacking on the floors, getting stuck in all manner of places or falling over like a felled tree if she got a flop. Regardless, as soon as you picked her up or backed her out, she marched around again like a wind-up toy. This new behavior continued for a while.
You get a little crazy when you’re sleep-deprived, when it’s the third night in a row and the behavior isn’t changing. You try to hold her down in the bed until her impulse to walk subsides. She got a couple of midnight snacks (she likes to sleep after meals) which sort of worked. We tried ascriptin, in case it was body aches in that so-thin-now frame of hers. That seemed only to make things worse, as she’d now circle tightly as though she was about to lie down, but just keep circling, endlessly.
So, I’d watch that - particularly the spinning - and just want to cry. It’s the time when you realize that you are closer to the end than the beginning, when the hard and real question begins to clearly form. There’s a point when you have to say goodbye.
We’re pretty sure that our families think we’re a bit obsessive and kind of nuts. That it would be simpler to put her down. But, whatever tipping point that has to occur to make that decision hasn’t quite happened yet. We’ve had to make that decision before, and while it’s never easy, you just know when it’s time. At this point, the happy moments - meals, short walks, ear scratches and sniffs - still take place, and we need to hold up our end of the bargain for a while.
That’s really what we agreed to back - what, 12 years ago? When Tashi was a greasy, dirty, frail-looking, recent-momma dog just overwhelmed by the clatter and roar of the shelter. When they asked us just to foster her until they could find a home, since she was already past her termination date and they needed the space. When we went outside to get to know her, and she looked up at us and suddenly rolled onto her back, letting us pet her belly as she made it clear that while she didn’t know us, she trusted us. And anything had to be better than where she’d been for the past couple weeks. Before we’d even left the shelter, we all knew that this was for keeps.
We took her home, cleaned her up, got her strength back, listened to her bark for the first time, enjoyed longer walks, then romps, felt the masses in her belly, stayed up through the night as she recovered from the first, then the second operation, watched her regain her strength and stay cancer-free for the past 8 years. All through it, she kept smiling and loving and saying, “thanks”. She’s plugged along through a lot. Now, when the propanthelene doesn’t quite cover things heartbeat-related and she stiffens and flops, she still pops up, wonders briefly how the room went sideways and then gets back to the serious business of finding whatever morsel of food we may have dropped.
Now it’s the stewardship phase. It’s not always comfortable, and involves cleanup more than not. But, at least from the perspective of a couple nights worth of normal-esque sleep, it’s what we agreed to. I’ll sit there ready to pass out, rubbing her ears, crying a bit at 3 am, telling her it’s OK if she needs to leave us while just hoping that she can get back to sleep for an hour or two. We owe her that.
Maybe with the 5 am wake ups, things have settled back in a bit. Maybe it was the heatwave, the combination of sleeping too much in the daylight, the propanthelene building up a bit and wiring her. Hopefully that was more of an anomolie, a bad patch, a speed wobble that suddenly damps with a shift of weight. She’s lying on her bed again, all doggie business done for the morning and a bellyfull of food in place. Breathing steady and shallow. In her world right now, things are soft and warm, hopefully comfortable and happy.