The Last Snowfall: Harley’s Goodbye

NOTE: This blog was written primarily for our family members to keep vivid some details of our beautiful dog’s life. If you choose to read, may you be blessed by the unique love God created in our furry ones that blesses those who own and care for them. God has put animals under human dominion and we must be good stewards of these beautiful creatures (Genesis 1:26; James 3:7). Be encouraged to rescue a pet who needs a loving home as we did Harley. So many sit in shelters awaiting one of two fates: A loving heart of rescue or euthanasia. Here is a good start: ❤️


Image result for Day Three and I step into another morning without her, careful again to place my foot just right on the floor so she won’t yelp in the quietness of the wee hours while the rest are fast asleep, moving past the empty bed below – a new one bought for her not long ago. Who knew this would happen so fast? Our Harley-Girl is gone.

Going through my well-ordered routine, itself upset without her, the bathroom is done – not so bad. She was never there anyway, always respectfully waiting outside the room. Now, the dreaded kitchen: Her favorite place. The happy ticking of paws is gone, the wet nose no longer brushing my leg. Everything is different now. Har-Girl is gone.

Like clockwork, Destiny appears. Our beautiful feline moves strangely through places Harley used to claim, knowing something is wrong, peeking around corners for a presence not to be found. Though the two were proof that herding dogs tend to annoy cats, Destiny was used to Harley’s imposing self and at least for now, she missed her too. I glance at Harley’s feeding area and realize I no longer need to pour pebbles into a bowl; the anxious ticking is gone. In the end, I would add water and let the pebbles sit to soften them – the lymphoma was making it trickier to swallow. Then, I would mix in a tablespoon of wet cat food for flavor, which made Har-Girl pant with glee! Now, the whole can was Destiny’s – Har is gone.

No more pill bottles and crusher on the counter – something my older son would tease Harley about: “Don’t take that, Blue!” (he called her that since seeing the movie, “RV”:)… “That’s some coke she’s mixin’ in there! Stay away from that stuff!” There were four pills total each day – two every morning and night for the last two months – one a kind of oral chemo and the other a stomach coating to prevent ulcers. It was hoped that the meds would shrink the inflamed glands, but they didn’t. The cancer started under the neck where Ed first noticed “strange balls” under Harley’s chin. In two months, those foreign masses took occupancy around her neck, atop her shoulder, under her belly and in places we couldn’t see deep inside.

Back to the kitchen. Only one fur-girl to feed now. The timing is all off. No watching for Harley to finish her dish to let her out the back door being careful Destiny doesn’t escape with her. No need to set the timer for four minutes to remember to let Harley back in. No need for so much. No more Harley.

The feeding is done – time to nuzzle in the couch with my Bible and fur girls. But, no one’s watching now. Harley would sit at attention on the floor waiting for her cue to jump up next to me. Watching me clear off her spot, arrange my blankets, and with a quick double-pat on the couch exclaim, “Okay, Harley – Up, Good Girl!,” she would jump up next to me for her love pats. The cancer hindered her speed in the end, but never her success in claiming her rightful morning spot. Destiny snuggles into the blanket on my lap, and everything is strange without Harley here.

We had just lost Tootsie – our adorable spaniel terrier – who died about the same time as my dad. I had no desire for another dog for days, weeks, months. It was too hard losing her. Then, I was on the PC one morning and an ad popped up for a pet adoption website. My curiosity peaked, and I made the Click. Instantly, several sweet dog faces stared at me. I slowly perused, knowing my scrolling would increase the likelihood of another Tootsie — different, yet the same.

Unwittingly, I had moved into another state and was now scrolling through our neighbor, Ohio. And then, I saw her. Staring up at me with big brown eyes in a face that resembled Tootsie’s was a black and white border collie needing a home. Her name was Harley – what a masculine name for a girl, I thought! I immediately sent the link to Ed and asked what he thought. “Nan, she’s perfect… but she’s in Ohio!” We asked the boys what they thought, and boom – a road trip was in the making.

It wasn’t long before we arrived at the rescue shelter and were escorted to the room where we’d meet our new dog. I completed the paperwork fast, but the wait still seemed like forever. Ed and I, our 11-year-old son Devin and 5-year-old son Dillon waited anxiously for the door to open.

Finally… there she was! Harley had entered the room on the leash of a man who Harley gotcha day! c. April 1, 2008obviously adored her. Our excited hands all reached out immediately to touch her. Though we were strangers, Harley seemed happy to see us, like we’d come back from vacation or something. We greeted her with gleeful love… Harley was already a member of the family! ❤️

We were warned Harley got sick for long drives, and going back to Michigan no surprise she did. But, Harley made it and leaped from the van on arriving to our home, as though she’d been here before. We led her to our large woodsy backyard where she rejoiced in the grassy terrain. Food and water awaited her inside, which she lapped up quickly. In an excited state, she moved around the house inspecting her new abode. And then, unexpectedly, Harley revealed an important characteristic of her breed to us.

The boys, as usual, had begun  rough-housing together in the hallway – all in good fun. But, Harley would not have it. I learned later, to her there was danger of someone getting hurt and her job was to protect. She quickly leaped high into the boys’ waving arms, barking frantically, and before they could stop Devin had been bit. Having no experience with border collies, I honestly was so mad in those moments I threatened to take Harley back. Seeing she had drawn blood from my son and not understanding her breed and triggers, I told the guys if she ever did that again, she’d be going back. I would not have it!

Time went on and we came to know Harley’s unique personality traits. As Dillon said from the start, “Mom, she really is a very respectful dog.” Respectful?! How could he use this human adjective on a dog who had introduced herself by biting his brother? …How? -By watching closely and observing her in different scenarios she would encounter, as he did with everything. Mailman approaching — long loud barks at the window. Command to come, sit — obedient response. Loud unexpected noise — bark and seek. Family relaxing at home — triangulate to the exact spot so we were all in her sight. Harley was protecting us… and as her first “horseplay” encounter proved, even, if necessary, from each other. ❤️

Ed, Devin, Dillon and I each had a special relationship with Harley, appreciating her in our own unique ways. Ed would dote on Harley as if he’d been with her his  whole life. Most of Ed’s life he had dogs, which seasoned him to their unique behaviors. He even played guitar for Harley, which always moved her to roll on her side and sometimes lift her paw onto the melodic strings. Devin was Harley’s “Commander,” as Bob in the movie “RV” was to his dog – bellowing “Come on, Blue!” as she sat at perfect attention at his feet. Then Devin would continue a conversation with her in “Commander tone” as though she was a solider 773AD039-800C-46B6-9388-36B978162BD7taking orders. It may sound harsh, but was really quiteHarley and Dillon comical. Dillon was the most sensitive to Harley’s needs, as he is with everyone and everything. He had a special bond with her too, calling her Good Girl, identifying her unique traits immediately, and spending time loving on her. As time went on, Dillon and I began calling Harley, “Cowgirl,” in honor of her beautiful distinct black and white coloring. We loved returning home to “the farm” where Cowgirl Harley and Fur-girl Destiny would await! And I had a bond with Harley as well — very deep since we spent the most time together with my home-based work and school just one day a week. I got to love on Harley from the wee hours in my quiet time, throughout the day and “put her to bed” at night on her doggie pillow like a child. She was my Good Girl.

Harley loved frolicking in the big backyard, chasing squirrels and birds and the occasional feral cat. And if there was any movement in neighboring yards, even familiar, she was yelping loudly at the fence! Good protector dog she was. But when any of the family was outside with her, she was always obedient to commands. Every spring Harley would sit submissively on the ground beneath me as I relaxed on the swing or read my Bible. When the family enjoyed the pool on hot summer days – even though our property Harley by poolhad some unfenced areas – Harley stayed in sight so we didn’t have to lock her inside. If we couldn’t see her and called her, she would responsively make her way from whatever she was exploring to the pool. Such a good girl she was.

Our older son Devin reminded me the other day that we had a scare early last year with Harley that tempted us to think she might be leaving us then. With everything that’s happened in the last couple of months I had completely forgot. One morning, I was home alone with Harley when she went to climb up on the couch to curl, but this time only got one leg up when she screamed out in pain like nothing I’d heard before. I ran over to try and calm her, looking around to see if she had stepped on something – Nothing. It was a horribly helpless feeling as her scream did not wane.

Finally – leg down, silence, ease into ball on the floor. Whatever it was had gone. And I was stupefied. What on earth was that? Maybe she twisted her leg the wrong way? Sprained something? Got spooked? I examined her, but no outward signs of anything. She got up gingerly, but then it seemed to be over. She was moving normally again, except for the couch. She would stare at it now, wanting to get up but clearly remembering what happened. One day she got up the nerve and it was like watching a slow-motion video as she carefully moved each part of her body up until she made it. Weeks went by – no more screams. Then one morning rising out of her doggie bed, it happened again. Same motion – rising up. Same unyielding cry. Same enigmatic resolve. But, now she was clearly favoring her hind legs taking the back porch steps very carefully – front legs first, then back in pairs. My heart sunk. I always remember hearing when the back legs go, so does the dog.

Harley back porchWe took Harley in and on exam, the doctor said her hips, legs, paws all appeared normal – probably no sprain, fracture or break. He gave his prediction: Harley had a pinched nerve in her back. Well, that certainly would account for the striking pain and lingering scream! Doctor prescribed rest, reduced activity and NO couch climbing, along with an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. It used to be that dogs with this condition would have two options: Expensive surgery or euthanasia. But, it turns out God made dogs amazing healing machines: Following doctor’s orders, Harley’s nerves could regenerate and she could be back to prancing around in weeks… and praise God, she was! That was about a year ago. My son Devin told me just the other day that he had prayed during that scary time that God would give us another year with Harley. And God did. ❤

It is cold outside in Michigan right now – no surprise in January. Snow melts, returns and freezes up again, over and over. The cold seems to stay in my bones even in my heated home. It wasn’t this bad in early November when Ed noticed two strange “balls” under Harley’s chin. I didn’t immediately think cancer, but I knew we needed to get it checked out. Harley’s popular doctor was booked for days – the schedulers recommended we go to an urgent care with Harley. Now, I was thinking cancer.

The guys were not with me – I rushed off and took Harley to the unfamiliar clinic myself. The strange, cold female doctor straddled Harley and with expert hands felt in strategic places through her body. Hoisting her leg back down, her long pauses and struggle making eye contact informed me before her words did: Harley had cancer, and maybe two months to live. I remember thinking Har-Girl may not be here for Christmas to gleefully rip open her stocking.

It was lymphoma, about stage II: Cancer moving through her lymph glands, starting at her neck. Those “balls” Ed noticed were inflamed lymph nodes under her chin. The doctor also felt them in Harley’s left shoulder, though we couldn’t. She said it had not progressed to the back end yet and prescribed a steroid and a medicine that would help prevent ulcers by “coating” the stomach. She said the meds would increase Harley’s thirst, but might reduce the “tumor” sizes, and that when Harley lost her appetite we’d know it was time to put her down. In hindsight, that last part is kind of a no-brainer. I was sad for Harley, but happy to get out of that office. At least now we knew what we were dealing with. Ed said we should set an appointment with Har’s regular doctor anyway to get his opinion – I agreed. As it turned out, his opinion was the same as the urgent care doctor’s, and he concurred with her prescriptions as well.

Harley’s thirst did increase on the meds, but not nearly as much as her appetite – poor girl was everywhere looking for anything she could consume. Steroids, ugh. Days went by. Her spirits were good, her energy the same. She didn’t appear to be in any discomfort – even those balls under her neck didn’t seem to bother her. We watched her outside behaving about the same. We talked together about her condition and keeping her happy as long as possible. That goal became more challenging.

The balls were growing under her neck, now almost softball size. Harley remained unhindered and spry, albeit very hungry! Days went by – crushing pills, mixing into her food, keeping water in the bowl, letting her out more often, spending more “conversational” time with her, being careful in petting. One thing that was changing was her sleeping habits. Harley used to curl up into her fluffy dog bed at night the same time I went to bed, but now she began sleeping on the ceramic-tiled kitchen floor. I think the cold tile must have felt good on her belly as the lymphoma creeped to the back. Or maybe she was “separating” herself as animals sometimes do near the end? Maybe both. It didn’t matter – Harley could sleep anywhere she wanted now. And pretty much eat anything she wanted, too!

Weeks passed by. Christmas was coming. Snow covered the ground, which was a blessing for Harley who was now going out just to eat it – something she’d never done before, but clearly was now helping her in some way. It must have felt good going down her throat, which may have been impinged by larger lymph nodes. I was now allowing her dry food pebbles to soften in water before delivering and giving her more soft dog “treats” with her insatiable appetite and knowing time was limited. We even cooked up some sirloin steak burgers for her to devour, which she was able to enjoy to the end.

Harley’s quicker breathing may have started before I realized since she was spending more time in the kitchen, but one night she returned to the bedroom laying down next to (not in) her bed on our wood floor. That night I couldn’t sleep as I listened to Harley clearly breathing more rapidly.  Hour by hour now I was thinking about her quality of life, like most pet owners in this situation, balancing keeping her going with exactly what kind of dog life she was now living.

Though Harley’s spirits seemed unaffected, those chin balls became like a huge collar around her neck and as I gently pet her, I realized her belly was hardening. It was getting closer. We noticed when we let her out now she was now lying down in the snow, seemingly content to stay there. One of the guys mentioned frostbite, but at this point it was about her being comfortable, which she was in the snow. Such difficult moments to move through, trying to do our best for our dog, trying to discern if any bad feelings she was having were outweighing the good, knowing the scales were tipping fast.

Remember The Fifth Dimension song, “One Last Bell to Answer”? Well I can’t get that song out of my head now… Marilyn McCoo oozing out the words that have changed in my mind to: “One. Last. Bell to answer. One. Last. Bacon strip to fry! One last dog to pick up after. I can’t be happy and all I do is cry. Cry, cry, no more laughter… I can’t be happy! Oh, why did she go?”

It was early in the morning of Friday, January 19, 2018 – exactly one week ago today. Harley’s breathing was horribly unfamiliar and loud. Ed and I knew it was time and told the boys. I called the vet and was told to come in either at noon or 6:00 p.m. to put Harley down: No-brainer. Those few hours seemed like forever as we tried to comfort Harley – all four of us loving on her. To the power of steroids, Harley was still alert with her appetite in those last hours. So, we fed her – sirloin burger that went down easy. And I went outside and scooped up snow for her, but she wasn’t as crazy about it being served in a water bowl! So, I put it with some water on a baking sheet and she lapped it up easy. We were doing our best, but now I just wished it all to end for her.

Just like when we first met Harley at the rescue shelter, Ed, Devin, Dillon and I were there surrounding her reaching our hands out in love. Only now, it was as she was hoisted up on the euthanasia table, still obeying commands like the Good Girl she was. The doctor told us there would be two shots – one to relax her and the other a few minutes later to put her down. We just kept loving on Harley, telling her what a good dog she was and how much we loved her and that everything would be okay. We praised the Lord for her life and putting her with us. … The doctor gave her the first shot, and before he could return with the second, she was gone. Harley had said her goodbyes to us. She loved us and was loved by us. Like the first time we met, the four of us embraced her with tears as time stood still. Harley had made it to Christmas and seen her last snowfall. She had blessed our lives – our wonderful protector and the sweetest dog in the world. ❤️657B36C0-E224-4A20-9D12-27CD57EE469D.jpeg

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