Saturday, December 8, 2012

In Loving Memory of My Little Latti

Anyone who has known the love of and for a pet understands the unshakable bond that connects us to them.  I had the opportunity in my life to feel this unconditional love for an animal and on Tuesday of this week had to say good-bye to her, my first baby, my best friend, my sweet little Latti.

I first moved to Salt Lake City, Utah in the fall of 1998.  I was young, 19 I think, and still so immature even though I had already been living on my own for 3 years.  Being an animal lover my entire life, I always knew that when I lived on my own, when I had appropriate living conditions and when I was done spending most of my days travelling for work...that I was going to get my very own canine companion.  I never knew exactly when and had no idea what "type" or breed of dog I wanted, but I knew it was going to be a big part of my future.  Little did I know just how much of my future this addition in my life would be and it was just around the corner.

In January of 1999, my dear friend Kortney called me up and convinced me into going to a pet store with her because there was a cat she was interested in.  Kortney, my boyfriend at the time and I packed in his car and headed down to, in all honesty, a cruddy, little, hole-in-the-wall pet store in a not-so-good area of town.  When we arrived, Kortney led me to this cute puppy for sale that she saw earlier in the day.  Little did I know, her plan all along was to get me to see the puppy (knowing how much I wanted a dog) because she somehow knew I'd fall head over heels.  We went into the small room filled with wall cages, it seemed empty.  Then, I looked up and saw two dogs sharing a cage much too small for the both of them.  The first, a miniature type dog.  The other, a cute little yellow lab mix puppy that would be my Latti. 

Latti was young, about 2 months old.  The pet store employee said she was the last of the litter for sale.  To this day, I think to myself how wrong everyone else was in choosing the other puppies and not Latti.  I really lucked out with her as far as the short time it took to potty train her (a few days), to crate train her, teach her not to chew on my shoes and to leash train her.  By the time she was a year old, she didn't need a leash.  She always stayed right by my side, until the end really.  Anyways, after seeing her I was instantly smitten.  I asked the employee if I could hold her.  She seemed so hesitant seeing as I was quite young.  I don't blame her though...I was only 19, dressed most likely in jeans with holes in the knees and probably wreaked of cigarette smoke (a habit from my past I am not proud of).  But she did anyways.  She handed her to me, warning me that the puppy was very timid.  I could tell.  She clung on to me quite intensely, it was incredibly sweet.  I knew she was mine, and so I took her home.  She cost $65 which included her first set of vaccines (funny little memory).

Latti was a typical puppy, rambunctious and wild.  She chewed on the wood trim on the walls of our rental home, she chewed on my running shoes and bit my fingers when I played with her.  But she quickly learned.  And she quickly became my baby.  I took her everywhere with friends' houses, camping trips, trips back home to visit family, car rides running errands, walks and runs, everywhere.  I'm not sure how much my friends and family appreciated my wild dog running around but they were thankfully accepting.  (My parents weren't too happy about her seeing as they felt I wasn't responsible enough to have a dog.  Understandably so, I probably wasn't and dogs are like children, requiring a lot of attention.  But I learned quickly too.)

Over the years, Latti and I were on the move.  We lived in the mountains of Munds Park, AZ in a beautiful cabin.  Everyday, we went on adventures of exploration of our new surroundings.  I remember fondly of her pouncing through the deep snow like a deer while I followed behind in my snow shoes.  I remember romping in the pretty water sources throughout the mountains and just south near Sedona.  I remember never feeling lonely and feeling relatively safe because she was by my side despite the fact I lived alone for some time pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  We had a blast living in Arizona together...some of the best memories of my life were spent there with her.

We lived in Salt Lake City in between living in other places.  We also spent time in Kansas City where my parents lived.  She really enjoyed swimming in my folk's parents were awesome for letting her cool off in it!  We lived in Miami Beach, FL for about 6 months with my ex-husband.  She swam in the beautiful crystal ocean and ran around the beach like she owned the place.  She also experienced a nasty case of the fleas, no thanks to the possums that lived just outside our apartment. 

We spent time in my hometown of Bismarck, ND while I was briefly married to my ex.  She was a trooper despite the frigid winter temperatures of the upper north.  She was happy anywhere, really.

And we finally ended back in Salt Lake City, our permanent home.  We took many summer trips camping in the endless parks of Utah. I have our best memories lakeside in southern Utah at Lake Powell.  It was there we spent a ton of time with dear friends.  Latti was a huge water dog, never leaving it unless it was bedtime.  Even then, I remember early in the mornings when the sun was peeking out of the red rocks, she would quietly climb out of the small hole in the tent and I would hear her splashing around in the water.  My favorite memory, one I will NEVER forget, was a time when we decided to take a weekend trip to the lake.  As we approached the lake, Latti could smell the water.  She sat up in the backseat, something she never did, and realized where we were.  I rolled down her window and in an instant she had her front paws on the door with half her body out the window.  The minute the car stopped she jumped out and ran for it.  Those memories will always live on.  We were having adventures together, her happiness was my happiness and I have no doubt she felt the same.  Latti was my best friend, and I couldn't think of another whom I'd rather have shared these experiences with.

In Latti's golden years, we travelled a lot less.  I got remarried to the love of my life and we all settled down and began having children.  I regretfully watched as Latti got less and less attention from me as my children were born and grew older.  I always felt so guilty that we didn't spend as much time together but at the same time, I truly felt she understood.  She didn't have as much energy as she did when she was younger and preferred to lay on her bed most the day.  She became a bit arthritic, typical to her breed of dog.  Running with me was no longer fun for her, and every time I tried to coax her with her leash to go with me she cowardly stepped away from me.  I wasn't going to make her do something she no longer enjoyed so we stuck with her favorite sport, playing fetch.  Right around the time I had my first son, when Latti was about 10, she began getting these horrible fatty tumors.  I took her in to have the vet look at them to make sure that was all they were and was told that she was too old to have them removed (which I assumed).  The past 4 years, two of the tumors grew quite large in size...comparable to a large grapefruit.  I felt so bad for her but she never seemed to be affected by them, only noticeable to others.

Latti was a sweetheart with my children.  She never got cross with either of the boys for climbing all over her, interfering with her mealtime or even tugging on her ears.  After Jude was born, I saw, for the first time, her demeanor change to that of a true, loyal protector of the kids.  Whenever we played outside, she never left Jude's side.  She really enjoyed his company as he got older and put up with a lot from both boys.  Some days, I wasn't sure if her loyalty was more towards the boys because they were her family or because of all the food they kept giving her.  She was a lucky girl.

This past August, I awoke and went to let the dogs out to go to the bathroom like I did everyday and to my surprise, Latti couldn't walk on her own.  She kept falling over and was acting extremely sluggish.  After observing her for a few minutes, it appeared she had had a stroke.  She kept leaning and falling to her right side and was unable to eat or drink on her own.  It was heartbreaking to watch and even more to come to the realization that our time together was coming to a close.

After 24 hours of hoping she would get better and with the thought of euthanasia looming in my mind, I found out from my dear friend Heidi that dogs, unlike humans, can overcome strokes.  I took her to the vet the next day feeling a bit more confident with her condition but after he took one look at her, he said she most likely had a brain tumor which caused the stroke.  He taught me how to nurse her back to health but said if she didn't begin improving within a few days that it was time to put her to rest.  He really didn't believe it was possible seeing as she was riddled with tumors and very old.  I went home determined to prove to him and to us, of course, that we could overcome this obstacle.

I fed her soft food and water through a syringe all day long.  I had to carry her outside to the bathroom and coax her to want to walk, eat and drink.  I gave her 90% of my attention, gave her lots of love and snuggles and made her as comfortable as I could.  And within about a week, she had greatly improved.  Over the weeks, she behaved normal again except with the complete loss of hearing.  That was interesting to get used to, but completely okay.  I still had her with me, she seemed her normal chipper self again and I was going to make the best of the remaining time I had with her. 

She acted like a typical old dog, sleeping most the time and deaf.  But she didn't have a problem eating and going to the bathroom on her own and still liked to play in the yard, if only for a few minutes.  She was always excited when we got home and greeted us in her usual way.  She loved when company came over, especially those she knew.  She even had the opportunity to see my parents one last time over Thanksgiving.  We occasionally played fetch or frisbee, but she only lasted a couple of tosses.  I was happy for even that because I knew she still enjoyed the game.  November rolled around the corner where she would turn 14!  I was so proud of my baby girl living so long and felt incredibly lucky to have her all that extra time.  Just last weekend Friday, Latti played a little fetch outside with me, rolled in the grass like she loved to and ran around with the children.  Friday was a good day.  Saturday was not.  Unfortunately, when Saturday came, she took a turn for the worse.  Sunday I confirmed it in my mind and in my heart, she officially was feeling bad.

I could tell when Latti awoke she wasn't feeling well.  She stared at her food but couldn't seem to walk over to it to eat.  I tried to coax her into eating but with no response.  How sad it was to see her staring at her food, knowing she wanted it and needed it but without the willpower to do so.  Sunday morning she had an accident overnight and I had to clean dog beds and walls as well as bathe her.  I knew while giving her a washing that it would be our last.  She felt crummy, I could see it in her sad eyes.

On Monday, I hoped so much that she would eat or drink but her condition remained.  She lay on her bed, looking tired, almost defeated if you will.  I knew her body was giving out on her.  It was heartbreaking to say the least.  I finally got up the nerve to call her vet to ask if he made house calls.  I always knew I would never take her into the vet, a place that she was scared of, and put her to sleep.  Like everyone else wishes for their own beloved pets, I hoped she would die naturally at home, peacefully.  But I couldn't let her die with so much pain and suffering.  After finding out the vet did not make house calls nor did he have any openings for a few days, I knew I couldn't wait.  They referred me to a woman who did make house calls and I called her immediately.

I made the appointment for Tuesday morning while my husband took the boys to school so I could be alone with Latti.  What a dreary, dreadfully sad morning it was.  My heart was breaking.  I couldn't believe I was holding it together until my family left the home.  This really wonderful woman/vet came to our home where Latti was comfortable and felt safe.  She was sweet, loving and respectful to both Latti and I, and I couldn't have asked for a more appropriate experience.  She administered a drug like morphine first so Latti wouldn't feel any more pain.  In fact, she was so relaxed, she sweetly fell asleep laying her head in my hands and in my lap as I stroked her and told her how much I loved her.  After about 15 minutes, she was put to rest with me by her side, lovingly holding her beautiful little face.  I was relieved that my baby girl was no longer suffering.  I wrapped her in a soft blanket, gave her a kiss on her cheek and I said my final good bye to my sweet and loving dog on Tuesday, December 4th at 9 am.  Latti was cremated and returned to me two days later.  For years I planned on burying her in our backyard under my favorite tree but realized that our current home is not our forever home and that if I had buried her here, I would never leave.  So I opted to cremate her.  That way, she will be with me wherever I may go.  I also have big plans on returning part of her to a few of our favorite places we spent together.

The grieving process has been really difficult for me.  I want to be selfish and say I wish Latti was still alive but life doesn't work that way.  I miss so much about Latti that I can't hold back the tears.  Every time I walk into the kitchen I keep thinking she is going to be right there.  I turn a corner and expect her to be staring up at me but she isn't.  I miss the road trips where Latti laid right behind me, excited about where we were headed.  I miss her soft fur and the way she nuzzled her head into me.  I even miss having to vacuum up her fur all over the floor every morning, something I loathed when she was alive because she shed SO MUCH.

I put her doggy dish away today and set up the room where the dogs used to lie together in a different way.  Yesterday, I picked up her toys outside and put them back in the basket, wondering if they will ever get played with again.  Latti's departure is nothing less than the end of an era in my life.  I think to myself that even though her departure from this world is difficult, I take solace in remembering all of our beautiful times together, filled with adventure and love.  I know in my heart that someday we will meet again.  She will always be in my heart and I am grateful for the life we had together.  Writing this memoir has been a strong part of my healing process.  I really wanted to put all of my thoughts into words before time would pass and I'd begin to forget the little things about our time spent together.  Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share our story.