It was hard to sleep last night, because Piper died last evening, around 10:20 p.m.
I knew it was coming. I'd even made an appointment for the fateful event to take place this Friday at 11:30 a.m. Besides Friday, the only other day this week that Shawn was expected to be in town was Wednesday, and our vet was not going to be in on Wednesday, so Friday it was. But then it happened on Tuesday night.
Piper has been failing for a very long time. I'd always say, "Piper's going to die soon," and the rest of them would laugh at me. I guess soon is a relative term, but I knew what I meant.
It was surprising that he survived the move to Illinois from New York, but he handled that better than certain others (Schubert, for example).
Piper had a way of always being happy when he was with me. Period. Nothing else mattered very much. He didn't much care where we were, or whether there was a thunderstorm, or anything, as long as he could be with me. He'd hop up and scratch at my leg to be picked up, and I would scoop him into my arms, where he would melt against my body in a way he only did with me, and nobody else. There he'd sit, in my arms, licking the back of my hand, looking around at everyone else with smug satisfaction.
He followed me everywhere. My tiny white shadow. As he got old and lost his reflexes, sometimes I tripped on him. I'm so used to feeling for him with my feet as I walk around the house, it feels strange and empty to have him gone, like sticking your toe out to feel a river current that isn't there.
When I was sick in bed with the flu a couple of times, Piper would not leave my bedside, not even to eat or drink. Laura had to bring his food and water up to my room and refresh him.
The first time my parents met him was one of the few times they came to visit us. For some reason we were not able to be home at the time they arrived, but we had arranged a way for them to let themselves into the house. They were concerned about how the dog would respond to them. We told them not to worry. When we caught up with them, Piper and my dad were fast friends, and my dad remarked on what a good bark Piper had for such a small dog, but also said, "When we came inside, he was so excited to see us, he practically licked us to death!"
Speaking of his bark, Piper was a particularly verbal dog, with a lovely melodic and surpisingly deep bark. He both barked and talked (verbalized with funny little gutteral noises). Actually, he growled a lot, too, especially at Shawn and Jonathan. He could really let you know what he thought about things. He lost his hearing many years ago, though, and stopped talking. His bark became a low, harsh monotone and he couldn't hear us speak to him. We figured he went around wondering, "Why doesn't anybody ever talk to me anymore?" Once in awhile a sound would get through to him, and he would take note, sit up and look around. I figured out that he could hear me if I clapped sharply, so we went to a system of clapping rather than calling, and he learned to come to me, sometimes quite eagerly, when I clapped for him.
He knew that water came from the kitchen faucet. He knew all the kids' names and when they had been asked to do something (such as feed him). He could hop across the room on his two hind feet, spin in circles and roll over. He knew he got a puppy treat as a reward for going outside and relieving himself, so he learned to ask to go out about 12 times a day. Shoot. Those were the glory days.
Once we realized that Piper was missing from the house (this was back in New York). I tore through the neighborhood, calling for him desperately. At the intersection of Pinegate and the inner-more Choke Cherry, I saw four mini vans pulled over around all the corners. I was sure he had been struck. Forcing myself forward, I found all the vehicles sitting with their doors open, and a kind man out of his car, slowly trying to approach an intact Piper and help him to safety. Piper was standing befuddled in the middle of the street, but then he saw me and ran to me, jumped into my arms, and all was well as I thanked all the kind and careful people for preserving his life.
That was one of his many escapes from death. There was also the time he ate Shannon's entire Easter basket full of chocolate, foil and all, and survived about ten more years.
There was also the time he had to go to Cornell and almost have an amputation. By the grace of God, the surgeons were off duty for the weekend, so they gave him an IV antibiotic to keep him alive despite the necrosis. By the time the surgeons were back in the saddle, Piper's tissue had come back to life and the amputation was averted, saving us about $7000 that we were not convinced we were going to spend.
Piper wasn't the most kind or service oriented of dogs, but he was so endearing. Most people who dog-sat him for us went out and got a little dog of their own shortly thereafter. Finally we found a family that was happy to sit for him and not buy one of their own, and Piper had many happy spa trips to their beloved home while we went to the beach in NC. They let him sleep in their waterbed with them!
His demise was slow and sad. The glory days passed, and he lost confidence, coordination, hearing and sight. At the end, he couldn't even really find a treat if it dropped to the floor when I gave it to him. He had a little shaggy goat look about him, and he was thin, so thin and frail with fragile bones and heaving hips. He was covered with bleeding warts and his hair was falling out. But he still loved me, still knew when I was holding him, and that made him happy. Also, until the very end, he enjoyed his breakfast with great delight.
Almost a week before he died, he fell down the stairs. This was very odd, because he never even tried to go on the stairs. And he was always happy to be on the same level that I was on. (I spent a great deal of time carrying him to where I was, after he would awake in a different location and bark to be reunited.) The day he fell, he was upstairs with me and I was working on my computer. I heard a scuffle and a falling down the stairs. I wondered if Schubert, who routinely goes up and down, had slipped, but then I heard Schubert barking and I knew it wasn't him. I ran to see, afraid of what I would find. But there was little Piper, at the bottom of the stairs on the foyer rug, standing, slowly walking in circles and gingerly shaking his head.
I had to leave that weekend for a retreat in St. Louis. Piper was so small and wilted in the hallway as I carried out my baggage. I went back and stroked him very gently. He was so bony, you had to pet him very softly. I stroked him and whispered to him, even though he could not hear me, and I left.
That little guy stuck it out and stayed alive until I got home. Once I was home, he even rallied a bit. After not eating while I was gone, he ate some scrambled eggs, bits of pot roast, and chicken scraps for me. He was having trouble breathing; his lungs were congested. I gave him a diuretic we had on hand but had not been using due to other previous factors.
Yesterday, his last day, he had a pretty good day. I took him out many times, because the diuretic necessitated that. It was a lovely springlike day, and Piper seemed to enjoy the sunshine and the grass beneath his feet. Even on that last day, he had his graceful, prancing trot, and he lifted his feet high and turned his nose into the wind.
It was becoming a pattern, and I should maybe have been more aware of it, that he would get confused and incapacitated after the sun went down. That was true yesterday as well. The windows darkened and he became restless, uncomfortable, disoriented. Little Piper, little disheveled, dirty-faced tiny man who used to be so pretty and fastidious. He couldn't get comfortable. I tried to keep him near me. In the old days, he loved to sit in my lap, but lately he had been uncomfortable unless he could stretch out on a flat surface. So recently Schubert has been sitting in my lap while Piper stretches out somewhere nearby.
Schu was in my lap, and Piper was trying to get comfortable on the floor. Then Piper stood up and wet a little bit, and suddenly moved quickly to the back corner of the room where he never goes. I picked him up and hurried him outdoors, not knowing what to expect. He fell pitifully in the grass, struggled up, and stumbled around in confusion. Shawn came out to watch him, and I went inside to clean the carpet. I think Piper may have been having a seizure. True to his always fastidious nature, he virtually emptied himself outdoors before coming back in to die. Of course, it was totally after-hours for all vet services by then.
We set him in his crate in the family room with us and tried to watch a basketball game. I think it was the Minnesota Gophers. Shawn felt bad for Piper and lifted him out to join us on the sofa. Piper was cognizant enough to lurch from Shawn's lap, across Schubert, to my lap. I wrapped him back up in the towel and held him close while he gasped and struggled for breath as I tried to massage his chest gently and offer some relief. Finally he lay down in my lap, exhausted, and fell asleep, breathing a little easier.
I sat still with him in my lap until I needed to get ready for bed. Then I tried to rise as slowly and quietly as possible, but he woke up and looked around. I carried him up to the hallway and saw myself holding him in the mirror of the half-bath. He still looked very cute, that little white face with the dark eyes. I was wearing a white fleece hoodie, and he was wrapped in a white towel, and it was quite a calm and soothing sight. Shawn gave him his medicine one last time, and I carried him up to put him to bed in his crate in our room.
As I placed him into his crate, he resisted against me. I let him go, and he struggled away, down the hall to our bathroom, lurching into my closet on the way. He was flailing and falling, flopping in odd directions. I scooped him back up, and he was quite limp. Covering him with the towel, I put him back into the crate and called to Shawn, telling him that I was afraid Piper was really, truly, actually dying.
Beneath the towel, Piper twitched a few more times, but he seemed pretty peaceful. Shawn came and checked him. He was no longer breathing, but his heart continued to beat for a little while. Then he was still. It was the end. So quiet. Such a breathtaking empty void in the room.
We waited a bit, unsure what to do next, letting the strangeness in the room settle.
We cleaned Piper up, wrapped him back in the towel and placed him in a cardboard box. After consideration, we determined that it would be best to keep the body in the cool garage overnight, rather than in the house.
We waited until morning to bury him deep beneath the pines out back. Shawn had to dig the hole in a blizzard, and I thought how nice it was for Piper that he left while the weather was still warm, that his last memories were of sunshine and grass beneath his feet, that he didn't have to go out into the cold wet snow this morning.
It was hard to sleep last night. It is a sad time. Death is not pretty, no matter what, even when the time is right and the life has been long and good.
There is much to be thankful for. He was a good dog. He loved me. I was his hero, and he thought I was perfect. His adoration was constant and unconditional. May his rest be peaceful and complete.