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For the third time in six months, we have had to help a beloved four-legged walk on and cross the Rainbow Bridge. First, in May, it was our cat Huck, more frequently known as Pest, to cancer. Then in July, it was Raven's brother Quinn, again to cancer. Now, today, it was Raven, our beloved puppy (always a pup, even at 7 1/2), and it may have been - probably was - cancer yet again, this time either a stroke or a brain tumor that took our girl from us but left her body behind, still going through the motions but with no dog home.

Warning: this will be pic-heavy.

My friend Deb used to breed Flatcoated Retrievers, and was also a professional field trainer for hunting dogs, especially retrievers. She followed the philosophy of loving them into what they needed to know, and they succeeded. I talked to her one day shortly after two of her bitches had given birth on back-to-back days: Kaos on December 31, 2004 and Glory on January 1, 2005, for a grand total of 17 pups between them. Of course we wanted to go play with the puppies, so I arranged a time for us to go visit. All the way driving up, we were in complete agreement: this was just for a visit, and we were not going to adopt a puppy. We already had Bitty and Bonehead and that was enough.

We got up there, and I started picking up the four-week-old pups, playing with each for a bit and then putting him or her back. When I picked up one little girl, she lasered in on me like I'd never seen before. I had literally never seen or heard of such focus in a four-week-old pup in my life, yet there she was, glued to my eyes. This one I didn't wind up putting back; she fell asleep on my chest instead. I later passed her over to Charles, and she fell asleep on him, too.

A short time later, Charles passed me the pup again and left the room, talking to Deb out of my earshot. We stayed and visited for a little while longer, then headed for home.

As we were leaving her driveway, Charles asked me "You know the pup that was sleeping on you? How would you like to adopt her?" I was overjoyed! He had snuck out of the room and made arrangements with Deb behind my back to adopt her (at no charge, as long as we agreed to show her), and so it was that we went back three weeks later to pick up a little black retriever pup.

When we got her home, we sat on the kitchen floor, me with Raven in my lap as Charles took pictures. One of the first people she encountered at home was her uncle, our dog Bonehead (real call name Taz, and he answered to both Taz and Bonehead).

Raven and Bpnehead: first meeting
You can see what beautiful dogs they both were.

This picture is a special favorite.

And then there was Bitty, my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, who has been my dog literally since she was born. At 11 1/2, she is definitely getting on in years, grizzled around the face, but still healthy and sleeping nearby on the floor. Thank the Gods.

That night, she decided that having the pup get all the lap time wouldn't do.

Her show training started that night.
So, too, did her bond with Charles. She always showed better for him than for me; and it's not unexpected that a female dog would bond  more with a male owner. Besides, I had Bitty and Bonehead bonded with me, and while I would (and did) bond with Raven as well, she stole Charles' heart straightaway.
She grew quickly
and followed her Uncle Bonehead anywhere he led: to the catbox, to the pasture, and especially to the pond.
And she got into everything. I do mean everything:
And look at her head in profile at 12 weeks, in the middle picture just above. She had a perfect head. She was pick bitch of her litter, as her brother Quinn was pick male of the same litter.

In 2006, Deb offered us Raven's brother Quinn in May, and we started talking about taking him. We lost Bonehead to autoimmune hemolytic anemia in August, and a week later, Deb called us and said we had to come and get Quinn before he got himself killed by a horse, and besides, he needed a woman to bond with and her two males weren't letting Quinn bond with her. We weren't at all ready to adopt another big male Flatcoat yet, having lost Bonehead about six days prior, but there he was and he needed to come to us, so he did. The sibling rivalry between Raven and Quinn was hilarious. They acted like a pair of preschool children! It was that way for the rest of their lives, until we lost Quinn to cancer this July.

Quinn left, Raven right:

Quinn right, Raven left:
Me holding Raven's toy while Quinn tries to get it:
Both of them coming at once to get scritches (Raven is the smaller one):
Just before Samhain (October 31), Raven started acting listless and not eating all of her food, or even all of her bedtime cookie. When a Flatcoat doesn't eat, the next stop is the vet, because Flatcoats are notorious chowhounds. And she wasn't wagging her tail, but instead had it tucked between her legs (in a breed where the English breed standard calls for a constantly wagging tail). I took her to the vet on Samhain, but remarked to Charles that I had a bad feeling about taking her to the vet. Raven turned out to have several calcified discs in her back, arthritis, a calcified and slipped disc in her neck, and was in pain. She was prescribed medication for pain and a muscle relaxer; we okayed a thyroid test as part of the bloodwork, and it turned out that she was hypothyroid, so she was prescribed a thyroid medication as well. We were told to keep her confined to an area no larger than 4'x4', so we bought a puppy pen that size and set it up in the middle of the kitchen floor. It quickly became apparent that she couldn't stand well on the vinyl floor and kept slipping, so we moved her puppy pen to the middle of the living room carpet. Shortly after that, she started having accidents in the living room, when she'd been housetrained completely since she was ten weeks old and had never had an accident. She started pacing around and around and around, always circling to the right, and she seemed lost and confused. She didn't seem to know her name, where she was, and who we were. Frankly, she acted like a stroke patient, and we thought she might have had a stroke at some point when we weren't observing her; since she'd had to sleep in her enclosure, it could well have happened some night when we were sleeping. And the mental symptoms kept getting worse. Her behavior became very asymmetrical and she developed a great degree of ataxia. After conferring with her regular vet, she referred us to a veterinary neurologist, who said that Raven definitely had a lesion of some kind in her right forebrain, but what kind, he couldn't tell. He started a course of treatment in case the lesion was caused by an infection; if it were, it would have greatly improved before now. Instead, she continued to get mentally worse.

We took her to her regular vet on Saturday for an urgent appointment. The bottom line, she said, is that there was no dog home, and we'd only seen momentary flashes of the old, exuberant, happy Raven over the prior large part of three weeks. When she bit me yesterday when I attempted to give her a cookie, it really sank home: our Raven wasn't going to come back.

Her spirit had already largely walked on. It was time to send the little bits of her that clung to her body along with them, and to let our girl go to the Rainbow Bridge where she'd be happy, healthy, and tail-wagging once again with her beloved brother Quinn and Uncle Bonehead by her side.

This afternoon, at a little after noon Pacific time, Raven walked on. She had a seizure as we held her so her vet could administer the final mercy, and we sang her through her crossing, which happened in sacred space. Aji had sent some wonderful smudge sticks for us to smudge her with before we left home, and we cast a circle and held it raised as we held Raven and sang her home.

This house is without a Flatcoat for the first time in over twelve years, and how empty it seems without the girl who stole our hearts when she was only four weeks old. I cannot say we will adopt another; we may look into a rescue. Raven marks the third Flatcoat out of three that we have lost in midlife, when she should have had many happy, healthy years ahead of her, lying beside the bed or next to a roaring fire, secure and at peace as she aged. Instead, the only retriever left here with us is Bitty, and without at least two retrievers, the house echoes in its emptiness.

Raven left a gift for us as she walked on. When we got home, there was, in our bedroom, a faint but noticeable sweet scent of a healthy, happy dog.

Charles here...

Gods, not again, not again so soon after the last ones, so soon that loss upon loss piles up like Ossa upon Pelion. Too soon for our hearts to have healed.

Too soon.

We had been hoping for that very very slim chance that this was indeed something medicine could treat, an infection or I don't know what else. That's why we brought her home last Saturday instead of granting Raven the gift of passage. And she did show occasional flashes of being there, of being at home in her body. But those faded over the next two days.

By Sunday she was no longer able to maintain her house training. She was walking into corners and staring into nothingness, as though looking for something that wasn't there — herself, perhaps. I don't know. Sunday night she nipped at me while I was trying to administer her pills, and River's said she did the same on Monday as well.

That morning we agreed that she wasn't getting better, wasn't going to get better, didn't have any quality of life whatsoever, and that keeping her body alive was only hurting all of us. I spent a few minutes with my manager to tell him what had been going on and asked whether today or tomorrow (Tuesday or Wednesday) would be a better day to take off; today was the preference, and so we made the necessary arrangements.

The only thing sadder than the drive to the vet's today was the drive home, and the heavens opened as if the gods themselves mourned Raven's passing.

This house seems so empty now. This was the only home Raven ever really knew; other than her first seven weeks, she spent her lifetime here. A lifetime we had hoped would have been much fuller, much much longer: frolicking in the meadows; suffering through being washed by our littlecat, Vyonne; being at our sides to console us when the inevitability of age took Bitty from us; growing old and grizzled herself, and eventually passing beyond amid the company of another generation of loving Flatcoats and Tollers.

We give dogs food, shelter, and love. In return, they give us everything they have.

Too soon, too soon. Our little girl is gone, and my heart is breaking.

Originally posted to Kitsap River on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 05:37 PM PST.

Also republished by PWB Peeps.

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