|Haifa, age 12, Maine|
On the first day of 2016, I had to say goodbye to my rock, my Haifa dog. She was just 17 days shy of her 13th birthday, and three months shy of celebrating four years in our family. Haifa is the dog who convinced me of the joy in rescuing animals, and especially the love of senior dogs. She was nine years old when we adopted her.
In 2010 we were living in Brazil, and we had lost our yellow lab Chopp to laryngeal paralysis at Christmas time. Our chocolate lab Caju, then 12 years old, went into mourning. He moped around for four months before I decided that we should adopt an older dog to be his companion. I didn't think Caju would appreciate a puppy, but I was somewhat worried about a rescue dog since my kids were still young (five years old) and I thought of the risks of a dog with unknown aggression issues. I decided to pursue a senior labrador.
After talking with the vet, I sent a message to Brazil's largest labrador breeding kennel. The owner called me later that day to express her shock that I wanted a senior dog--she had never been asked that before. She said she would think about it, then she sent me a note later that week saying that she had three retired breeding females, one of each color, and all available for free.
I went online and looked at each of those beautiful females. Then I got to Coffee Haifa (you can see the link here) and noticed that her grandfather (Power of Love) was also the father of Caju (my 12 year old lab). Crazy dog generations. It was fate: we had to adopt Caju's "niece".
Haifa came to our home a week later, and she was in shocking condition. Dirty, confused, half-deaf, exhausted. For days she slept and lost her fur. She lost almost all her fur within two weeks. I have to give full credit and love to my husband BH for not making me give her back. She was ugly--a teat hanging almost to the ground and a giant growth on one paw. But she wagged and wagged with that stubby tail, and light came into her eyes when she saw me.
|Haifa, 2012, after operating on her leg. Joanopolis, Brazil|
Slowly she came to herself. Her head came up, her fur grew back, we operated on the teat and the growth. She played with Caju. Caju came back to life. We were going to rename her Daisy or something happy, but in the end she stayed Haifa. We once asked the old kennel why she was named Haifa and they couldn't remember. She bonded with me and would never be far from my feet. We took her with us to our weekend house in the country or to the farm in the interior of São Paulo state. She didn't care where she went as long as she was with us. Her tail wagged even when she could not hear us (her deafness became stronger with age). She was the happiest dog on earth--there were no bad days.
Caju died in June 2014 of old age, then Haifa came with us to the US (story is here). She slowed down, eventually not walking much-- just a sniff around the front yard, or a stroll to the bus stop. I drove her twice to the trails at Lincoln conservation--she saw the beautiful lake, the wooded trails. She developed laryngeal paralysis, she suffered from tiny strokes that would make her fall over spontaneously; she got bladder stones and UTIs that were unstoppable. But she still clickety-clicked on her long nails to greet me at the stairs in the morning. She wagged her tail so hard that it would hurt if you were in the way. She pawed me for scratches in the morning, grrrrring with happiness.
She went downhill quickly when I traveled for three days in New York for the holidays. My amazing neighbor had to pretty much carry her outside to do her business--first Haifa lost use of her back legs, then on the day I returned home on December 31, she could not stand even on her front legs. She stopped eating. We stayed home on New Year's Eve--me knowing in my heart that she would be leaving us the next day.
In the early afternoon of January 1, I took her to Blue Pearl vets in Waltham. They could not find anything completely wrong--but she was breathing like Darth Vader due to her laryngeal paralysis and could not walk. I declined an MRI for her. I declined to think of surgery on the old girl. Steroids were not possible due to her bladder issues. It was time to let her go.
We went to the lounge where you say goodbye to your pets. Rugs and sofas, and a little remote with a button you press to call the vet who will put your dog to sleep. I put the Girl from Ipanema music on my phone--olha que coisa mais linda, mais cheia de graça. She was not full of grace, but I will say that everyone did smile when that girl passed by. She was love itself.
It was just me and Haifa. I cried and cried while she wagged at me and gave me a big slurp on the chin. I pressed the button. It was over quickly--first a sedative for her to sleep--she quickly dropped her head to sleep as if she were thankful for the rest. The vet hugged me as I cried. I went home to tell two devastated little kids. Coal, my other dog, has not left Haifa's bed until today. Today we are all a little better.
And Lord Byron's best poem echoes through my head several times a day. The heart must pause to breathe...and so it did...
So We'll Go No More a Roving
So, we'll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.
Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.