The Everlasting Dawgstopper is just one of the nicknames we gave Dawg, or Kidawg, over the years (her real name was Kitty, but her personality was more dog-like). We also called her Long Dawg, Gray Girl, Orange Toe, Crazy Lady and more.
When she came to us, she was a skinny stray. She would stand outside our front window, paws on the window frame, talking to us. We offered her food and she stuck around. We didn’t know if she was lost or abandoned, so we finally took her to the animal shelter, hoping her owner would find her.
By the end of the week, no one had claimed her, and the thought of this quirky kitty being stuck in the shelter saddened us. So she became ours. We have no idea how old she was when she arrived, but she was already an adult. So we always just added on a year to however many years we had had her, and this year we called her 20.
Her “mow” (or more technically “row” or “raah”) was crabby and demanding; she was constantly talking. Sometimes she would stare intently at us and tell her stories, and sometimes she would just talk to the wall or the air. We could tell she was happy when she would open her mouth but no sound would come out — the “silent mow.” There was a dignity and intelligence about her that was fascinating, an almost human quality. She made intense eye contact. I almost expected to walk in one day and find her reading a book.
The queen of the house was slow and thoughtful, an old soul her whole life, rarely playful. We started calling her an old lady when she was still young.
She loved being close to her people, and in the evening you would most likely find her on one of our left shoulders, occasionally giving a sniff and a lick to the closest ear. One favorite sleeping spot was wrapped around my husband Rudy’s head on his pillow or just taking over the whole thing.
We wouldn’t have said she was “sick” until just a couple of days ago. But she was breaking down in mysterious ways. One day she became dizzy and disoriented, but that cleared up. Then her hind legs became weak, but that cleared up. Eventually, her rear right foot became paralyzed and lost sensation. We wrapped it daily to keep her from rubbing off the skin as she dragged it behind her. It was when the doctor ordered the X-ray of her leg and spine that we discovered the seemingly unrelated mass in her lung.
We had realized she would no longer be able to get into the litter box without help, so we bought XS doggy diapers for her. At first she only wore them overnight, but after several accidents it became obvious that we would need to diaper her 24/7.
Still, it was never a problem. She was the calmest patient; in fact, she starting putting her head down at diaper time, acting like it was a spa treatment. She took the most recent development of syringe feeding with aplomb, and barely protested the subcutaneous fluids we were administering to keep her hydrated. She began to need more rest as she maneuvered around on her three good feet, then her condition declined rapidly in the last few days as we waited for test results on the lung mass.
On Monday, she still was able to climb the doggy steps we had put next to the bed when Baby was sick last year. On Thursday, we were still talking about trying acupuncture to improve her mobility. She had lived with chronic renal failure for five years and this condition was stabilized.
Friday morning, though, her breathing was raspy and labored. She was barely responding to us and so weak she couldn’t even lift her head. Rudy brought her to bed and lay her down next to me, in her favorite morning spot. As I petted and murmured kitty talk to her, she kept lifting her head to look up at me. I wondered if she was trying to tell me something, but didn’t want to believe she could be ready to go so soon.
We decided to take her to the vet for a few hours as I had a training to lead and I wanted her to be monitored in case her condition worsened. I didn’t know what I would find when I went back three hours later, but I did expect to have another chance to be with her.
I was wrong, and like everything else she ever did in her life, she took charge and decided it was time to go.
She rarely purred and she never made “bread doughs,” as we call it. Too dignified? Probably. She had incredibly long whiskers, the longest of which was a single thick white hair. She had an orange toe and a matching orange spot over her eye that gave her a slightly concerned expression. Her head and feet were silky like down, but her “undercarriage” collected mats like a sheepdog. She had the sweetest face, sparkling green eyes and, in her old age, the stinkiest breath.
I wish I could have another 20 years with her. It was a privilege to have such a loving and special character in our lives, our Kidawg.
— Lisa Braithwaite is a public-speaking coach in Santa Barbara and author of the Speak Schmeak blog. You can follow her on Twitter: @LisaBraithwaite.