Two days ago, we learned that Hayden, our beloved chihuahua, has kidney damage. There are things we can do to help her retain enough kidney function to live out the rest of her life before her kidneys fail. This is very encouraging because it means we can do preventive care rather than simply engaging in palliative care. However, there is no guarantee our measures will work. Serious illnesses like this take their own course. Sometimes intervention can’t change that course.
Hayden has done so much for my husband and me since we adopted her just under two years ago. I tell people she saved my life. They think I’m being hyperbolic, but I’m not. We adopted Hayden in part because we knew dogs provide excellent therapy for people with depression, anxiety and other chronic health problems. Now that we have her, I never feel alone. By that I mean I never move into an emotional state in which I am completely inaccessible, one in which I don’t know how to reach out to anyone for support, even myself.
Hayden tethers me to this world — and to her heart, my husband’s heart and my own heart. Each day, she shows me how to be gentle, playful and kind. Because of her, I feel more open. I trust the world more and want to fight for it more passionately. In her eyes, I see the beauty of all living creatures, and I understand the need to protect the environment that supports us all.
I still have so much to learn from Hayden, but right now I need to turn my attention to supporting her to the best of my abilities. I need to remain in the moment so that I don’t impose my own suffering on her. I don’t want my knowledge of her illness to cloud our time together. I need to remember that if, at the end of the day, Hayden has had a good day, that’s all that matters. At the same time, I must think about the future so my husband and I can intervene now on Hayden’s behalf. I can’t just be in the moment or her future could be compromised.
I have a lot of learning and growing to do in order to meet this challenge and be the caretaker and companion Hayden needs me to be. I hope I can do for her a fraction of what she’s done for me. Right now, she’s taking a nap and looks perfectly content. It’s hard to believe there’s anything wrong with her. Earlier, she ran and barked in her sleep. I like to imagine what she might be dreaming about: perhaps a warm day in the park, chasing squirrels up trees; or maybe a scene from her life before we adopted her, a place she only returns to in her sleep.
A train moves through the city; its hollow notes ride the air. This is a dark day, a cold day. Rain pads the windows like fingertips. Even the birds seem to be complaining about the weather in curt and muffled tones.
I’m going to join Hayden now. I will lie by her side and breathe with her. Measured in breaths, even a short span of time feels nearly infinite. I will count every breath and remember that each is a miracle, one we all share.