Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Life Lessons

As we began homeschooling last month, I never thought Leah would end up learning a serious life lesson only a couple weeks in: how to understand and cope with death. As most of our followers know, we had to say goodbye to our beloved dog and family member, Hud.

We made the decision to end his suffering less than one week after being diagnosed with kidney failure, only six weeks away from his sixth birthday. Hud hadn't been himself for awhile, though we attributed much of that to anxiety over going outside after a nasty run-in with a yellow jacket nest in early July. Little did we know. I brought him to the vet in mid-late August, after a week-long bout of vomiting, where it was believed he had a case of acid reflux or an ulcer. Less than a week after that appointment, he was barely eating and became extremely weak when he walked or got up and down. Something still wasn't right. I brought him back to the vet, where blood was taken and it was determined that he was in kidney failure.

His decline was rapid after that. He spent a couple days on fluids at the animal hospital and was returned home to us for Labor Day weekend. He didn't eat a bite of food, barely drank any water, and was clearly in pain. We returned to the vet that Tuesday morning where they ran a few more tests, administered additional fluids, and referred us to an ultrasound at another veterinary clinic. The news there was what we had feared: it was a chronic condition and he had, at best, a 20% chance of survival with additional treatment. We knew what we had to do. We brought Hud home for one final night with us before our vet made a house call the following morning.

I talk about this here, on Leah's blog, because, well, he's always been a part of her life. Hud was slow to warm up to our new baby girl, this loud little creature who "stole" our attention. He was never mean to her, never nipped at her or stole her toys. He oftentimes simply left the room to nap in a quieter place, especially if she did throw a tantrum or have a crying outburst. Yet as the years went on, he gave in. He sat patiently while she pet him and hugged him, he began giving her "kisses", and of course, he benefited from her excitement to give her buddies some treats. :)  If we were playing outside and Leah took his soccer ball to play with, he let her have it. He was always gentle, always a gentleman. This past spring and summer, Leah showed off what a good arm she had in throwing tennis balls, which Hud loved to catch as Leah bounced them off the side of the garage.

When we received the initial diagnosis of kidney failure, Dan & I tried our best to prepare Leah for what was coming. We explained that Hud was very sick, that his body was hurting, and that the doctors may not be able to make him better. We used the words death and dying, as opposed to him "going to sleep" because I read that kids can get confused, thinking that if they go to sleep, they won't return either. Leah listened to what we were saying, repeated things back to us, and seemed to have an understanding. Still, she didn't truly grasp the emotional weight of what was happening until that day. Dan explained to her, "After today, we won't see Hud anymore."  Then, it clicked. Once our vet arrived and events got in motion, Leah ran to her playroom bawling. I ran after her and she sadly exclaimed, "I don't want to say goodbye to Hud! I don't want to lose him!" My sweetie. I hugged her and held her in my arms, telling her to let it out, that it was OK to be sad and to cry. Dan was with Hud during his final moments while I consoled Leah. What an awful day, what a heavy lesson I hadn't wanted her to learn and to experience so young.  Still, she has handled it remarkably well and I am proud of her.

Not surprisingly, she's grown much more lovey and attached to Dodge. She's always loved both dogs but for the longest time, she seemed to favor Hud, the "bad boy" who paid no attention to her. Ha. Dodge has always been an easygoing, loving soul and I think she always knew she could have his attention if she wanted it. Hud was the challenge. Well, now, Dodge is making up for lost time. Leah is always hugging and petting him, talking about how much she loves him. We took Dodge to bath day at the vet last week; when we arrived to pick him up, Leah said, "I just want my boy back." So sweet! Dodge is helping us all through this, I think, and we're trying to aid him with the loss of his friend as well.

It's been exactly two weeks to the day that we said our final goodbyes to Hud. We miss him terribly, though we appreciate every moment we had with him. I, for one, will be eternally grateful that he showed me how to love unconditionally and how to be a parent. He was the first living creature I ever cared for, one who depended on me, and who allowed me to make many mistakes. Though Dan & I became a family the moment we said, "I Do", Hud really solidified that and showed us what that meant. He was our first friend here in Georgia and he will always be a founding member of our little family. Hud Buddy, we love you and we thank you.

Oct 20, 2006 - Sept 5, 2012