I lined up patiently with the other 9 puppy owners in the empty parking lot behind the Sizzler. We all chatted excitedly about our young pups and the high hopes we had for them in these training classes. My Mocha was going to be a superstar. I was going to teach her how to be a great dog. How naive I was to think that she would be the only one learning. Mocha was my first dog I was able to have as an adult and I wanted to do everything right with her. I didn’t realize that “right” was not a single set of rules. I learned that sit only meant sit if I really cared about making her do it. Otherwise, sit meant slam your butt down really quickly, spring up to get the treat and then carry on with whatever you were doing before the treat and that word appeared. I learned patience and consistency. If “sit” was what I wanted then “sit sit sit sit” or “sit down” or “c’mon don’t you want to sit for mommy” probably shouldn’t be what I say to her. I learned to pay attention or the leash that was dangling lightly in my hand as I chatted with the gal next to me might be trailing behind Mocha as she chased an errant squirrel in the next moment. I learned to be calm – that a dog who is running the other direction after an exciting squirrel will not be eager to come back to a screaming mimi. However a mommy lightly jogging the opposite direction despite all senses wanting to run towards her could be more interesting.
The biggest lesson Mocha taught me was how much I could love another being. Raising a puppy was hard and I threw myself into it with everything that I had – crate training and walking and playing and going through lessons and involving her in every aspect of my life, including occasional accompaniments to work. I set rules for the people who interacted with her so that she would learn to be wonderful with everyone. I read books on how to raise a good canine citizen and talked to everyone I knew who had well behaved dogs. I don’t know how you couldn’t love a being that you focused so much positive attention on. I had learned that if you say your dog’s name in a loving way every single day and never said it in anger, then they would always associate their name and you calling to them in a positive and happy light. There is no word I’ve probably used more in my life than the word Mocha. When I was self employed,her face was the logo, and she accompanied me on vendor visits and marketing calls. Many people commented that, if they could have a dog as good as Mocha, they would consider getting a dog. I learned that I could take some credit where it was due and shared that, while she was definitely a good dog, she was well behaved because I put a lot of work into it and continued to put a lot of work into it. In hindsight, I wish that I had applied some of those lessons I learned in my relationship with her to my human relationships…
Don’t get me wrong, Mocha certainly had her moments. She loved getting in the trash. We learned to put the trash out of reach. She occasionally chewed up shoes. We put them in a closed closet. She continually broke into pantries, food bins and closets to try to offset the lean physique we always aspired to for her. We upgraded the child locks and containers that food was kept in. Eventually she seemed to have no vices, only because we had discovered and corrected for all of them, not because she no longer craved trash or shoes or food left out.
One night, around the time she turned 10 we were sitting in the living room watching tv. All of a sudden Mocha started twitching and then flailing and screaming and frothing. We were terrified. This lasted a couple of minutes and then she lost her bowels and lay still. When she got up just moments later she was disoriented and could hardly walk. She walked into a corner and then couldn’t back herself out. This lasted about an hour during which time the two of us in the house took turns walking with her and frantically searching the internet for what just happened to our baby. I called the emergency room and they informed me that it sounded like a seizure. We could bring her in if we wanted but they noted that if she wasn’t still seizing and appeared to be returning to normal, we could bring her to our regular vet in the morning. That we did after a long and sleepless night – first appointment of the morning.
She started on some anti-seizure medication and we did not have another episode for about six weeks. This time the seizure lasted longer and the disorientation seemed more severe. After that seizure, Mocha started randomly but obsessively walking in circles that she didn’t seem to be able to break herself out of. Back to the vet. This time we were referred to a specialist at VCA Specialty Animal Hospital. Our doctor flew down from Northern California to San Diego every other week and was one of the best in the industry. We were lucky to get him. He spent a long time chatting with us about her symptoms and carefully looking over her general health. After numerous tests, we all sat on the floor in the exam room with Mocha while he gave his verdict – cancer. And even more scary to us – brain cancer. Our options were limited and none of them would save her, only help her live a little longer and maybe with less pain. Money was not an issue as we had just taken out a loan to do some home repairs. Mocha’s life meant more to me than a new fence or dishwasher. We simply took out a United Miles card and charged any of her expenses with the happy phrase “we’re charging miles for Mocha”.
Over the ensuing year, her seizures became more frequent. One side of her body weakened to the point where, after a seizure, our cat Tobee would walk under her and allow her to lean on him to stay up. After recovery from an episode, we would often find Tobee curled up around her head as if to protect her pain from the world. Tobee had arrived on our doorstep as a stray just a week before Mocha’s first seizure. He had instantly bonded with her and had only a passing glance for other cats in the home. We firmly believe that he was sent as Mocha’s angel on earth and he nurtured her as diligently as any of us. More and more often Mocha’s seizures would start and piggy back on one another endlessly. We often had to rush her to the hospital to get a shot for them to stop. She lost control of her bladder, her bowels and slowly, her mental faculties. We slept on the floor with her many nights and restructured social engagements and work schedules so that she was never left alone.
In one very memorable appointment with our specialist he told us something that will always stay with me. He said that in this age of modern technology, we are able to make decisions that artificially extend a being’s life. If that being had contracted this level of illness in the wild, they would have lived the course of the illness and gone to die alone, generally months or years before when household pets are allowed to pass. Because we choose to play god and extend their lives (usually for our own benefit because we don’t want them to be gone), then we also owe them the humanity to decide when they have suffered enough. We are responsible for both their life and their death – both of which we must make humane decisions for.
We made the decision one day that Mocha’s next seizure would be her last. Mocha seemed to barely comprehend the world around her, had stopped showing interest in food or play or even getting up most days. We called the hospital to let them know that the next time we came in, that would be our decision – and then we waited, sick to our stomachs, lacking in sleep and pained in our hearts. Two weeks later, we were sleeping on the couch next to her when the seizure started at 2 a.m. We heard the tell tale twitching that grew in intensity to full flailing of her limbs and head. We heard the moaning and soft whimpers. I ran to comfort her. I know that they say that during a seizure they don’t perceive anything but no one could ever tell me when that perception returned and I never wanted her to come out of that and not know where mommy was. The seizures rolled one into the next and we had to take advantage of small gaps in between to wrap her in a blanket and put her in the back seat of the car. We called the hospital on our way and they had a gurney ready for us. We steeled ourselves to inform them that which we had decided – the hardest possible words to come out of our mouths. They were a night crew, well-intentioned but not aware of the painstaking time we had taken to come to this decision. They argued with us that they could save her, that we didn’t have to put her down, that it was just a seizure. Meanwhile she lay next to us seizing violently. Finally I screamed “Just STOP the seizures! Stop them now and then we can discuss this!” They raced her to the back and we sat for a painstaking hour longer before they were able to get the seizures to stop. During this time they had called our specialist (bless him for taking a call at 3 a.m.) and he had let them know of all we had done for her and that our decision was based in love and in reality. They let us into the room to say good bye and I sobbed just like I’m sobbing now as I write this. I cupped her tired face in my hands and kissed her up and down her stressed white face. I apologized that I couldn’t do anything else and then I let her slip quietly away. At least she would have no more seizures to fear.
I learned a lot from Mocha. I learned about love and I learned about loss and I learned that we, as pet parents, take on an enormous responsibility when we commit to caring for another being – that they count on us during every part of their lives and they count on us to treat them with humanity and caring and even to help ease them into their forever.