|January 23, 2022||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
Have you ever wanted to say three things all at once and didn’t know where to start? That’s exactly where I am this morning.
Should I start with “She was happiest in movement,” and then write an Ode to Tess, transition to why I’m losing ML, and finally tie both of those losses together with some profound statement about how losing some things in your life aren’t about the thing, but instead the represent letting something else even bigger go?
Or, should I make a joke about how so far this week I’ve lost a dog, a horse and I can’t wait to see how the next 49 1/2 weeks of 2022 go?
Or, I could write about how both Tess and MerryLegs insisted that I adhere to perhaps the two most important pieces I’ve ever written. In the end both asked the question of whether I was willing to live by what I had written the most passionately about – A Good Death, and my insistence that a healthy, lovely, talented horse that isn’t earning their forever home be allowed to do that somewhere else before they used up the best of their years.
I don’t have the energy to craft today. I can write vulnerably and honestly, but I can’t make it beautiful or funny today. Let’s make a deal. I’ll start somewhere and then I’ll continue on and by the time we get to the end perhaps everything that needs to be said will be said.
Tess Derbyfield. March 2011-January 2022. The Underbaked Brittany Dog, Snarfer of All Things, Luck Dragon, Vet School Dog, Child of my 20’s, Smarter and more kind than any dog ever.
She was happiest in movement.
It’s why I never got the picture I wanted. The one I would turn into a portrait some days. Watercolor with lots of white space, her head slightly turned, eyes bright and alive with a happy panting smile.
Her love of movement, freedom, and food is why I let her go now instead of waiting another six months. Or maybe another 12. Or longer.
I had already waited a year. Waited for something else to get her than whatever was taking her brain away.
In the end she was a dog robot.
You know how in humans dementia makes them mean or just lost and confused? Tess was the latter.
It started out pretty innocent.
I joked that now that she had the wisdom to know that death was off the table, what wasn’t worth the reward of counter surfing?
But it was part of a subtle change, marching towards the end.
She didn’t really look and move like an old dog even at 10+ years. But if you knew her, you knew she hasn’t been quite right for the last two years. It was hard to put your finger on, but even my good friend that house-sits the dogs a couple times a year brought it up about 18 months ago.
“I almost called you. What is up with Tess?”
I wish I knew.
She started having strict obsessive routines. She couldn’t hear me but her her hearing was fine. She started eating soap. Her appetite was insatiable. But she was confused when her food bowl was set down. I had to encourage her to eat.
She tore paper. Doubled down on tipping trash cans. Started seeking out and shredding books. Looking at me with dilated eyes, lost. Confused. Didn’t want to be confined. Couldn’t stop moving.
Giving me alert signals for things that didn’t exist. And when I tried to help finish the loop she was requesting, by showing her that it wasn’t there she just got stressed and confused and started a different robot dog program.
I had to stop running with her a few years ago because she just looked crippled afterwards. We switched to walks and pain meds as needed, but then about 6 months ago even the walks had to stop because she would go into respiratory distress afterwards, despite clean X-rays and bloodwork.
In the end she asked me what I was waiting for. She was ready. How much did I really believe in what I had written in the Good Death post? Was I going to wait until there was nothing left of Tess in those eyes? When my hand was forced and there was pain and distress? It didn’t matter that she was eating and drinking and moving and still potty-ed outside. Everything she valued in life was gone.
I’m losing MerryLegs too.
No, she’s not dying. I’m selling her.
But I’m surprised how much it feels like a loss akin to death.
In the end she is the right horse at the wrong time.
She’s an incredible trail horse. She excels on technical scary trails. Basically bomb-proof. If I was doing endurance right now, or horse camping, or spending on my weekends and days off riding on trails she would be perfect.
But, I don’t live next to trails. Boring orchards and levees and an incredible arena are my day-to-day riding areas. A bored ML is an unhappy. I don’t want to ride an unhappy horse. I had hoped that I could make the arena interesting enough for her (polo!). But after six weeks of tune up at the trainer, my trainer agreed with me. Let’s sell a horse that is the perfect age to start endurance to a person who is riding trails.
I knew she would likely never be my main polo horse. Making a polo horse is a not a project for the novice polo player – which I mostly definitely am. At the most I had hoped she could be my practice horse. Stick and ball, short work, drills…. which would require her to do the things I need to practice, with repetition. You know what this horse hates? Repetition.
I can’t do that to either of us.
Ten years ago I would have uprooted my life for this horse. Done endurance, made the time for trails.
The decision not to do this and sell her is a very stark reality check of how my life has changed, and along with Tess, is a final goodbye to one of the happiest decade+ in my life.
The only reason I’m riding right now is because I can turn the six-year old child loose at the stable and ride while indirectly supervising her. I can’t condition for endurance the same way. Because I’ve never lived next to trails, I’ve always conditioned by riding in the arena and riding relatively tame boring canal/orchard/levee trails. And then spending ALL my weekends and days off trailering out. That won’t work for this horse and for my life. I’d have to give up everything. Polo, my career, my family relationships, my running, all other hobbies. The cost is too high.
So I’m selling a horse.
I’ve never done that. They’ve either died, earned a forever home, or been leases that ended. I’ve never sold an animal that was **mine**.
While compiling a history for her sale, I reviewed old blog posts. We had so much fun when we got to be on the trail. I look at the pictures and blog posts from those rides and I can’t remember a single time she put a foot wrong.
But when the trainer called me to discuss “what to do with ML” I realized I didn’t miss her while she was gone these last two months. I was hoping that maybe she would need even more time at the trainer’s, even though it costs me more than 4x my regular board to have her there. Playing polo and occasionally hopping on Farley (who is a firecracker right now) has felt so right.
I feel guilt and sadness and relief for finally making the decision.
In the end, ML asked me the same question as Tess. Am I really committed to standing by my stated values? Many years ago I wrote about rehoming horses that weren’t the right fit. Let them prove themselves and let them earn their forever homes while they are young enough to do so.
She hasn’t earned a forever home with me. If I make it to retirement and I move from the valley, maybe I’ll need a horse like her. That’s more than ten years away. She can’t wait. I can’t wait. I knew in my gut three years ago this wasn’t the right horse for “where I am” right now.
In both cases saying good bye to these girls also means saying good bye to something larger.
For the first couple of days I mourned Tess I realized that I was mourning the Tess of 5 years ago. The happy smart dog that was the reflection of my soul in so many ways. Then I was mourning what she represented – vet school, pre-kid, pre crushing student loan debt, pre chronic illness. My life is wonderful now but it will never be the same as it was back then. Without her, dead after living a full dog life span, there is no denying that time has moved on. With her at my side I could pretend that ten years didn’t matter.
I finally found peace when all that remembering of our “good years” brought into sharp focus of just how much she had changed in the last 2 years. She truly was robot dog. No longer Tess. She hadn’t been Tess for a while. And I had made the good decision.
In ML’s case it would have almost been easier if she had died. Leaving endurance behind would have just “happened” instead of being a choice. By selling her I feel like I am acknowledging that if endurance happens again, it will be in a different part of life. I chose other things over endurance and that still doesn’t feel good. But, I find peace in that I’m not dumping a problem horse. She’s an incredibly trained horse with many months of professional training over her life, low mileage, and no “trauma.”
So, as I sit with that decision to give up endurance and sell ML, it too feels right.
In the end, it turns out it’s just me and Farley, just like always. Everything has changed and yet nothing.
R.I.P. Tess. Best of luck ML. You were both dearly loved while you were here.