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  • Christine Geschwill

When It‘s Your Own Dog

At going on 17, you know, sooner or later, the end is coming. It could be next week, or next month, or it could be 6 or 8 months from now. But it’s never tomorrow.

On January 20th, I woke up, much like I do every day. And like I do every day, I waited for my senior girl, Grace, who has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, to wake up naturally. So I waited, and when I finally heard her stirring, I got up, picked her up to carry her downstairs, and put her down, outside, in the grass, to pee. Only then did I realize something was horribly wrong. As I placed her down, on her own 4 feet, she fell forward and literally face-planted, and then proceeded to pee, and poop, while she lay there. So I picked her up and tried to stand her up again, and, again, she fell forward right on her face. It was then I realized she’d had a stroke. Her entire left side was affected, but mostly, it was her left front leg that was most affected. It was like she was a rag doll. The leg was completely useless. And like any dog parent, I panicked. I picked her up and brought her in the house. And then I cried. When I finished crying, for the moment (I cried a lot that day), I called her vet. They weren’t open yet, and as I listened to the recording I realized it was her surgery day. I left a message and hung up. And then I just sat there. She didn't appear to be in any pain, or significant discomfort, just disoriented. More than usual, that is. So I started to make their breakfast. Yes, I have another dog, who needed her breakfast, even if Grace didn’t.

I tried feeding her, with a spoon, and she did eat, a little, but it was clear she was having difficulty controlling her mouth. And a few minutes later she vomited it up, while I sat there, holding her, so she wouldn't vomit all over herself. Shortly thereafter, the vet called. As could have been expected, with a full day of surgeries ahead of her, the best she could do was offer to have me drop her off and she'd look at her when she could find the time. I 86’d that plan right from the get go. If this was going to be her last day, there was no way I was going to let her spend any part of it alone, in a kennel, in the vet’s office. We made an appointment to bring her in the following day, and I proceeded to cancel all my appointments for the day. I was going to keep her as comfortable as possible, and spend every second of that day sitting on the floor, by her side. A couple of friends stopped by, and both agreed she didn’t appear to be in any pain and was not in any kind of distress.

She slept. A lot; and slowly, but surely, as the day went on, she began to recover. By early afternoon she was regaining SOME control of the front left leg. She still couldn’t hold herself up, but it was an improvement. Thank goodness I’d invested in a support harness several months ago to help with the stairs. It was worth its weight in gold that afternoon. Later on she was able to sit up and hold herself up in a sitting position; and by dinnertime, she was able to sit up in front of her bowl and eat. When we went to bed that night, I was cautiously optimistic she was going to make it.

The following morning she was able to stand in front of her bowl and eat her breakfast. Our vet agreed that a stroke was the most likely diagnosis, but she was literally fully recovered by the time the vet saw her at 9 am. So I took her home. We’d dodged a bullet. This time.

So what does this have to do with photography? As a professional photographer, I have lots, and lots, and lots, of beautiful portraits of my dogs. In fact, it was Grace who inspired me to become a pet photographer in the first place, almost 15 years ago. As I realized she was beginning to decline last year, I reached out to other professional pet photographers, looking for someone to take some portraits of us together. Best decision I’ve ever made. And I’m so glad that I did it when I did. Had I waited much longer, the Cognitive Dysfunction would have made it very difficult for her to follow any cues. I cherish every one of those photos. But now, now, I feel the need to record her last weeks, months, whatever it’s going to be, and so I’ve committed to getting at least one beautiful picture of her every week, until the end.

So, last Friday, and 9 days after her stroke, I took the first one. This week I took our traditional Valentine’s Day portraits. Next week I’ll take another. Until her last day. Which most certainly won’t be tomorrow.

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