Cozy Tales: 52. Week Two

On Sunday March 5th, we once again loaded up the two cameras and went outside with the dogs. Cozy was feeling pretty well, and she played with the Kong while we took pictures. I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to take some great pictures given Cozy’s prognosis. I had agreed to shoot a wedding a month prior, and had purchased some wonderful lenses for the occasion. Those lenses added a certain magic to the images that made Cozy look almost ethereal. She was beautiful, even so close to death.

We took the dogs out into the woods near the stream where I had taken pictures of Cozy in the snow. Cozy threw her Kong into the water and stirred up the mud looking for it, determined to cause trouble even when she was so sick. I could see the glint in her eye as I managed to find the Kong with a stick. I had managed to protect the Kong from the mower for all these years and there was no way I was letting it get lost in the mud now!

Nine days prior the vet had told us that she would live for a week at the most. To look at the pictures of Cozy that day, you would think there was nothing wrong. Thanks to a lot of love and care, Cozy was hanging on and loving life and we considered every day like this to be a gift that we cherished.

Still, it was hard to stay upbeat. Lauren and I both knew that Cozy might die any day, or worse, we would have to put her to sleep. We had talked about it a little, and neither of us really knew what to do. Cozy seemed fine on days like this and how could we possibly take that away from her? On a more selfish level, I certainly didn’t want to let my Cozy go, and I know Lauren felt the same way.

Cozy was our baby. She was the first baby that we brought into our house and she had filled it with life. She had taught us how to be parents and she had prepared us for life with children. Emotionally, she was our first child. To us, the idea of putting her to sleep seemed as unthinkable as having to make the same choice for Meghan or Colleen.

We started asking friends and people on Newf Net when we would know the time was right. The universal answer was that Cozy would let us know when it was time, which sounded ridiculous to me. All Cozy ever wanted in life was to be with me. Was I to expect her to tell me that she didn’t want that any more?

Cozy had been my friend, my confidant, and my companion. She and I shared a bond that I had not felt with anyone else. The thought of it being my choice to let her die before nature had run its course seemed tantamount to murder. How could I kill my beloved Cozy? For that day at least, the question was only academic, but I knew it wouldn’t be for long.

Again I set up the computer to process the many pictures and then sat on the floor into the night with my Cozy. Often, while alone with her on the floor, I would cry and mash my face into hers, telling her that she needed to let me know when it was time. Cozy would sit quietly with me as if she knew what was happening and was prepared. She did not seem scared or in pain. She seemed calm and in control. I was the one that needed to be comforted. I was the one who was falling apart, and once again, Cozy was there for me.

Owning my own consulting company had its perks, and I decided to work from home all week so I could spend more time with my Cozy. My clients gave their blessing as they understood what was happening in our lives and appreciated my love for Cozy, a fact for which I was extremely grateful.

When I woke up on Monday, I could tell right away that Cozy was feeling sick again. She was a bit droopy, and when she’d look at me she just seemed to be saying I’m sick, Daddy. She was nowhere as bad as she had been that first day when we had rushed her to the vet clinic, but she wasn’t as bouncy as she had been in the woods, either.

I could feel that her belly was big again, which meant bleeding tumors. Her nose felt warm too, so we gave her an Ascriptin in a piece of Newfie cookie. Ascriptin is buffered aspirin designed to be released into her intestines and not her stomach. Dogs will break down aspirin in their stomachs where it won’t do them any good, so coating it allows it to pass into their intestines where it can help.

The vet called to see how she was doing. When Lauren told him about the Ascriptin he told us to take it easy because it could also prevent clotting and we wanted the tumors to clot in order to make her feel better. This was proving to be a delicate and frustrating balance. We spent the day lying on the floor with Cozy and letting her do whatever she wanted to do. The vet seemed to agree with our plan, his advice being to keep her as quiet as possible in order to let the tumors heal.

Cozy perked up a little bit on Tuesday, though she was still droopy. I had gone outside in order to take a picture of something in the yard, and as I turned to go back in, I saw Cozy plodding along the driveway towards me. She looked sick, and she looked unhappy, but she desperately wanted to be with me, so she had summoned her strength to come find me. I took a picture of her and decided that I would rather be inside with her. Later, when I processed the picture I was amazed by how sick she looked. She wasn’t gaunt – she was still a big girl – but her youth and exuberance were gone. She looked sad in that picture. She looked like she didn’t have long, and looking at the picture broke my heart.

Later in the day Cozy seemed to get some of her energy back, so I invited her to go for a walk in the woods with me. She came with me, and I was again struck by the difference in her. Had I opened the gate and asked Cozy to go for a walk in the woods even a year ago, I might have been bowled over by a dog eager for a chance to explore outside the gate. Now, I stood at the gate and waited patiently for my sick old dog to catch up. She wasn’t really old; she hadn’t even lived long enough to develop the white muzzle of an old dog. She just moved like she was old. Cancer had robbed her of years, years that I had expected us to share. Now I hoped for another few days.

One of the pictures in particular struck me as Cozy seemed silhouetted against the barren landscape of the winter forest. It made me feel as if she was on a journey towards death in a place where I couldn’t follow. Other people saw hope in the image as if she was exhibiting life in the face of death. Such was my state of mind that I only saw the impending end, I suppose.

If you look carefully you’ll notice that the woods in this picture has served as the background for my blog since the first Cozy Tales chapter was posted.

Cozy walked with me into the woods. We didn’t go far – she was too tired. We got to the stream that she had played in only a few days before, but this time she only got her feet wet. She stood in the water quietly and looked up at me. Thank you Daddy. Standing in the stream made my water-dog happy. Her tired smile as she looked at me was heart-wrenching, but I was happy to help her enjoy her last few days however I could.

After a few minutes enjoying the cold water on her paws, she turned around and left the stream. She walked to a point where the bank was a little higher and lay down to rest where sat contentedly watching and listening to the forest life all around us. It was still winter in New Jersey, and there were no leaves yet on the trees. The sounds of busy forest creatures would echo in the clean cold air while Cozy sniffed in calm silence. I took some pictures, then sat with her on the bank for a while, happy to spend the time with her. I only wished that I had made her more of a priority in the previous few years. Cancer is a terrible reason to sit by a stream with your dog. Every day life is a better reason.

Cozy was much perkier the next day, so I took the opportunity to grab the cameras and take both dogs outside again for some pictures. It had warmed up a bit, so Lauren went out in a sweatshirt while I wore a light jacket. We brushed Cozy and Daisy and they both looked shiny and beautiful. Well, Daisy actually had some sort of skin allergy, so she wasn’t looking very shiny, but she was always beautiful in her own way.

Cozy looked fabulous, though, and with her energy level back up she was very photogenic. We have a grass-covered hump in our front yard that covers the leech field in the septic system which makes a wonderful spot for pictures. We all went up to the hump where Cozy proceeded to entertain us.

I took many portrait shots of Cozy that day. Some serious shots with her noble profile filling the frame, and many less serious shots where Cozy had her head back and you could almost hear her deep voice as she exclaimed, Woooo woooo wooo! Cozy was happy to be alive and her enthusiasm was infectious.

Lauren posed with Cozy, and then Daisy, and with both of them. Cozy, ever the mischievous malcontent, purposely set to ruin perfectly good portraits by licking Lauren and making her laugh. Little did she know that her silliness would make for some of the most memorable pictures of her to date. Then again, maybe she did know. Cozy had never cared much for rules or discipline. Life was meant to be lived, and dammit, she was living!

Next it was my turn to pose while Lauren took the pictures. The first picture that Lauren took is of me hugging my Cozy with both of us looking right into the camera. When Lauren first saw the picture on my computer her first reaction was, “That should be on the cover of a book.” Everyone who has seen it since has said the same thing. It is one of my favorite photos of all time, and as you may have guessed, I have a lot of photos.

Cozy gave me some happy Woo woos while I looked on and Lauren took pictures. My Cozy was back and I was thrilled to be with her. It was a glorious and memorable day and I thanked Cozy for sharing it with us. I thanked her for staying with us and I kissed her on the nose while I scritched both ears at the same time. She purred at the special double-ear treat. She was a happy girl.

That night as I sat with Cozy, I could hear her belly gurgling. Something was happening. It sounded terrible, but she showed no obvious signs of distress. After a day of fun with my Cozy, I was reminded that she would not be with me much longer. Still, it wasn’t time. She hadn’t told me it was time.

Thursday came as a sharp contrast to the wonderful day before as it was very clear that my Cozy didn’t feel well. She wasn’t wagging, and she wasn’t excited about anything, not even food or her Kong. She would lift her head up when I walked nearby and she would still groan her happy groan when I scritched her ears, but she was favoring the cool tile floor. She didn’t seem to have a fever, but we guessed that her belly felt uncomfortable after the previous night’s rumblings.

It pained me to see her like this. My Cozy was normally so full of life. Cozy, who would come up to me and nudge the Kong into my hand because she wanted to play, was suddenly not interested. How many times had I told her to “go lie down” because I was too busy or too annoyed about something else? How many times did she huff at me and then go lie down like a good girl? How many times had I pushed her away? Why must our priorities be so skewed?

I was now at a point where there was nothing that I could do. I could make her comfortable and as happy as possible, but the light in her eyes was fading. I hoped that it might come back like it had in the past few days, but I knew that it might not. The best thing for her was to let her rest. The tumors needed to heal. I knew it was a vicious cycle, though, because being active could cause the tumors to bleed again. Happiness and vigor meant pain and suffering. How cruel.

I was not yet ready to let my Cozy go. How completely unfair that such a smart vibrant soul should be crippled by a failing body. All I could do was sit with her, pet her, and tell her that I was there for her. That’s all she ever wanted, and though I felt that I had taken our time together for granted, I promised her that I would stay with her now.

In the late night I would sit with her and cry. I started to tell her that she shouldn’t stay for me if she was in pain. I told her that she had been a good girl, and I told her that she was the best dog ever. I meant every word.

On Thursday Cozy perked up again. It seemed that treating the symptoms, or at least reacting to them made her rebound every time. The liver and Ascriptin seemed to do wonders for her, though we couldn’t know how much of her rebound was due simply to reabsorbing the blood in her belly.

It had miraculously warmed up to a balmy 70 degrees, and winter finally seemed to be relenting. I opened the door with the Kong in my hand and Cozy ran outside ready to play. This roller coaster of emotions was exhausting. I spent a good half hour outside with Cozy throwing the Kong. She would fetch it and retrieve is and push it back onto my lap as I sat on the bench on the patio. After the night before, this felt like a dream.

Her good days were becoming so good that we started to talk about possibly having the vet look inside her with a laparoscope to see if maybe they had been mistaken about the diagnosis. It had been two weeks since the vet at the emergency clinic told me that she had only days to live. Surely there was a chance that they had been mistaken. She had even eaten her breakfast, so it seemed that she was recovering. Days ago we had talked about when to put her to sleep and now she was playing in the yard with her Kong.

While I was busy doing something or other, Lauren invited Cozy to go wait at the bus stop for Meghan. Cozy had always loved their weekday trips to the bus stop, but she had not had the energy for the past couple of weeks. Cozy made the trip up the driveway and proudly waited for the bus with Lauren and Daisy. When the bus arrived, Cozy walked up to the door, stuck her head in and greeted all the children with a loud Woo woo! The kids talked about her for days. My Cozy always made an impact.

On Saturday I was confident that my Cozy was feeling better, so I set out to finally buy an HD camcorder. I had decided on a specific Sony model, and since this was very new technology, I had to travel over an hour to get it. I had called every electronics store within 50 miles and found only one that had it in stock.

I loaded the car with a small power inverter that allowed me to plug AC devices into the DC cigarette lighter plug. This would allow me to charge the battery on my trip home so I could use it right away. When I arrived home from my electronics purchasing expedition, I had the camera ready and pulled into the driveway with the camera rolling. I captured my Cozy running out to greet me with happy wags and enthusiastic woo woos. I captured Cozy on the deck with her Kong and some late night movies of her sleeping. The one of Cozy greeting me really captured Cozy’s spirit, though. She was bouncy and joyful and so happy to see me that I felt all the time and money spent on the camera had been well worth it.

My first HD video also happened to be the last video ever taken of Cozy.

Her tale was drawing to an end.

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