Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Morgan, RIP

Today we put our dog down.

Morgan was a happy, bumbling cocker spaniel, more than a little neurotic, and just smart enough to consistently draw the wrong conclusion. You haven't experienced true canine hilarity until you've seen a dog who can't quite grok the concept of three dimensions try to figure out what the hell happened when the squirrel she was chasing ran up a tree.

As with many cockers, she was really a one-person dog. In her case, that meant that my wife was her mom. (Apparently I must be the alpha dog of the pack, because she would always crawl between my legs during thunderstorms.) My wife and Morgan were inseparable. She was, as my wife said, simply "the best dog I ever had."

I'm not really that much of a dog person but Morgan was just a sweetie. You have never seen anybody--dog or person--that was happier just to see you.

Morgan had a simple life. As long as her mom was around, all she really needed was the occaisional game of squirrel (the stuffed, two-dimensional kind), a walk where she could sniff stuff, the occaisional belly rub, and as much food as she could get her little doggy paws on. My god, how that dog loved to eat! It was truly an amazing sight, watching her hoover up whatever happened to be around. A dog of simple needs: if you gave her any of the above, she got all wiggly and smiley.

At about age 11, Morgan began to exhibit the symptoms of Cushing's disease. She became lethargic. She gained weight. Her usual love of food became a sort of desperation. She developed a wide variety of skin disorders. Her arthritis got worse. She just wasn't the same dog, but she was hanging in there.

Then she developed sudden acquired retinal degeneration (SARD), a condition that's sometimes associated with Cushing's. Over the course of about two weeks, she went completely blind.

I'm told that some blind dogs adapt after a while. Morgan never did. During the day, she seemed to have a small residue of sight. She could navigate outdoors OK, and usually could avoid bumping into things in the house. But if she went to sleep and then woke up, she would consistently panic; it was as if she forgot she was blind every time she slept. At night, she was helpless.

Coupled with the Cushing's, and arthritic hips, and a variety of digestive disorders that seemed to accompany the Cushing's, she became more and more lethargic, more and more fearful, more and more in pain. The smiley face was replaced with a pinched, confused look. Mercifully, she slept a lot.

We arrogate certain responsbilities to ourselves when it comes to our pets because, well, they're animals. They can reason out certain things, but it's beyond their capacity to reason out things like "the life I'm living now isn't worth living and I wish it would end." We have to do that for them, knowing that if we could ask them, they might easily disagree. We dithered for a while, but ultimately it was just too cruel to let her continue.

We had a terrific vet who walked us through the euthanasia procedure beforehand. Morgan died in the arms of her mom and dad, peacefully and quickly.

As a nonbeliever, I just can't quite wrap my arms around the idea of the afterlife. That's a problem when loved ones die, because you can't really jolly yourself into thinking that they've gone to a better place. For Morgan, I'll have to content myself with the knowledge that she had a terrific life and the few months of suffering she had at the end are now over.

But if there were going to be such a place as doggy heaven, I'm certain that Morgan would be a shoo-in. No doubt, in doggy heaven, trees are just high enough to pee on, and squirrels have to manage in two dimensions.

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