Rage, Rage Against the Rising of the Light

A Harris's hawk calls out from atop a blooming saguaro in the moments before the sun rises above the distant peaks along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

A Harris’s hawk calls out from atop a blooming saguaro in the moments before the sun rises above the distant peaks. I’m guessing it did rise, a heavy cloud cover blanketed the desert so the sun hid its face most of the morning. Perhaps the hawk was staying in touch with another hawk on a nearby saguaro, or perhaps like me it was protesting the earlier and earlier rising of the sun. My alarm went off at 4:15am that morning!

Distraction

A silhouetted Gambel's quail sings atop a granite rock before an orane sky at Sunset Vista in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Trixie has wanted to play endlessly since Ellie died but as we played the other morning she got distracted first by a tiger whiptail then by a Gambel’s quail feeding and calling out just below the windowsill. I can’t say I blame her, a week ago I had my route planned out but spent so much time watching this Gambel’s quail singing as the sun was about to rise that I changed my plans and hiked closer trails to take advantage of the early morning light.

The Young Samwise

Our cat Sam in February 2012 sticking his head out of the heated cat bed in my office

Sam in early 2012 enjoying the heated cat bed in my office. He was our youngest pet at the time but is now our oldest. He’s been the least affected by Ellie’s death but that’s a relief, the deaths of Scout and Emma hit him hard so I’m thankful he’s taking the absence of the pup in stride.

Morning Face

A male Gila woodpecker perches on saguaro buds with his face covered in pollen on the Upper Ranch Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Thankfully I managed to get up at 4:30am on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and was on the trails before sunrise, as that is how I met this Gila woodpecker shortly before the sun crested the hills behind me. Most of the saguaros old enough to bloom don’t have flowers yet but are putting out buds that make handy perches. Some of those buds have bloomed, however, as evidenced by the pollen covering the front half of his head.

The Marcus Landslide

A view at sunrise of three saguaros growing atop the Marcus Landslide in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

According to the signs along the trail, the Marcus Landslide occurred 500,000 years ago, which is before we moved to Arizona. The landslide itself was only discovered in 2002 by a couple of graduate students who named it after a geology professor who died while leading students on a field trip. The estimates are that the original height of the area was 4100 feet (taller than any of the other McDowells) and that 25.8 billion pounds of debris fell 1300 feet and spread out over an area 4000 feet long and 1650 feet wide. It’s a bit unusual in that the slide spread out over a much longer area than the height of the fall, making the resulting landslide less obvious. In addition to the scenery I love the trail because of the wildlife, it’s a fantastic spot for seeing phainopepla in the winter and with all the boulders I’m hoping an excellent spot for lizards now that they are out of hibernation.

Ellie at the Last

Our dog Ellie appears to be smiling as she relaxes on the artifical turf on her last evening with us

While age had slowly been taking its toll on our 15 year old pup, it was the last six weeks or so she declined the most, which unfortunately meant she only got to spend a month with us in the new house. The first week here was difficult due to her getting confused, especially at night, due to her senility and not understanding where she was. She figured it out after we paced the hallways back and forth many times, going inside and outside, until it became familiar to her and she settled down. We got a patch of artificial turf for her since there was no grass at the house, it gave her a comfortable place to go the bathroom (when she could make it there in time) or even just lay down and relax.

An overhead view of our dog Ellie as she rests on the blue washable rug in my office

One of Ellie’s back legs (the one she didn’t have surgery on when she tore a ligament in her younger days) had been bothering her for a while, she compensated with the other until the end when putting any weight on her back legs was difficult. The tile in particular was slippery for her, both in the rental house and the new house, so my wife bought a variety of washable rugs and yoga mats to line the hallways for traction and make messes easier to clean in the rooms.

She started having accidents in the house that last month, at first she’d poop from the effort of having to get up, but that wasn’t hard to clean up. Her stomach started getting upset at the end though and she’d have diarrhea, and at the very end started peeing when she couldn’t walk at all, where the washable part of the rugs came in very handy. It was exhausting for my wife and I but after Scout and Emma died young it was an honor to nurse her through the end of her life while she was still enjoying her days.

Our dog Ellie appears to be smiling as she looks up towards my wife on her last morning with us

Her last full day with us was one of my Friday’s off so I was able to spend the day with her. She didn’t want to walk at all that evening so I carried her out to the turf. She enjoyed that little spot and lay down and rubbed her face on it as she used to in the grass. She was panting as she often did at this stage, which I knew made her look happy in pictures, so I went in and got my camera for what I worried were going to be my last photos of her. The biggest problem we were facing was that her appetite had been off and despite my wife trying a variety of foods, she wasn’t eating enough to survive. She could eat more if I hand fed her, in the first picture you can see a few light colored bits of food on the turf in front of her from pieces that fell off my hands, but it still wasn’t enough. Her spirit was still strong and I wanted to capture that in the pictures, to remember that even though her health was failing, we had some good times during her month in the new house.

The next morning we talked with her vet who had been so helpful in her care and all agreed it was time to say goodbye. She had been able to walk a bit that morning, when I went to take a shower since she always wanted to know where I was my wife helped her up and supported her as she walked across the house to the bathroom. Mostly though, as the night before, she wasn’t able to walk even if we helped her, so I carried her where she needed to go. My wife said she didn’t even try to get some uneaten cat food in one of the bowls, a sure indication of how much her appetite had fallen. She was pretty worn out but would raise her head like this and watch us as we moved about the room, she was such a sweetheart to the very end.

Our dog Ellie rests on a yoga mat on her last morning with us, it was the last picture I took of her

This is the last picture of my sweet pup, I hadn’t really wanted to take these pictures but I knew they would bring me comfort later on. I could barely even think about camera settings but after verifying the pictures came out OK, I put the camera away. I had half an hour left with her before it was time to carry her to the car and spent that time stroking her fur and kissing her forehead and letting her know how much I loved her. I did the same after carrying her to the room they had prepared for us at the vet’s office, I’m so thankful we were both there as we said our final goodbyes, as being with us was all she ever really wanted. She ate a few charcoal treats (one of the few things she never lost an appetite for, even at her most senile the pup always remembered when she was due a treat), then died peacefully after getting the sedative and injection that stopped her heart.

Thanks are owed to Dr. Lopez and her team at Scottsdale Hill Animal Hospital, she was instrumental in making Ellie’s last year a great one. It isn’t easy managing the aches and ailments of such an elderly dog but she worked with us to map out a strategy of care that gave Ellie such a good quality of life for so long. I hadn’t actually met Dr. Lopez until I brought Ellie in that last time, we had talked on the phone but she and my wife had worked closely together to manage her care.

And a special thank you to my wife for doing so much for Ellie during that year, especially the last months when taking care of her became a full-time job, it’s a tremendous strain both physically and emotionally. We loved Ellie with all our hearts but that doesn’t make it easier, rather it makes the sacrifice worthwhile.

A close-up view of our dog Ellie on her last evening with us as she rested on the patch of artificial turf in the backyard of our home in Scottsdale, Arizona

After she died I found an expected connection to the pup. After we got home, especially the first couple of days but even the first couple of weeks, I endlessly paced about the house. I wanted to do something but I didn’t want to do anything. It helped me sort through my feelings as I walked about but I had to laugh as I thought about how I was now pacing as she had her first week here. She because she didn’t know where she was, I because I knew she wasn’t here.

She was the best dog ever, my sweet pup, the best.