Red Vines Will Rain From the Sky

Posted by on Jan 3, 2012 | 0 comments


Sad day at my house today.  Today was the last day for Ava – our female German Shepherd.

We’re a dog family.  Always have been – even when the kids were little and still lived with us.  Now that the kids have moved out and have families of their own, our dogs are our kids.  Like many folks, we dote over our canine family.

My wife Michelle is a bit of a saint when it comes to dogs.  She wants to rescue all of them.  There are plenty of dogs needing rescue of all breeds but I’ve got her to focus on German Shepherds.  We have three – two rescues.  Well, as of today, we’re down to  two.

We got Ava from the Northwest German Shepherd rescue a little over three years ago.  She was a small but stout senior citizen who’d been picked up wandering the streets of Everett.  For all she’d been through, she still had a wonderfully unique, perky personality.  But she was in very poor health – in fact, she was in real trouble.   Her coat was matted and her skin had bad infections beneath.  We had to shave her off completely to cure her skin condition.  Worse, she had horrific infections in both ears that, left untreated, could have killed her.  We ended up having to do complete ear ablations (a process that essentially removes the entire internal parts of the ear).  Good news – she perked right up.  Bad news – she spent the rest of her life almost completely deaf.  Still, three months after we got her, Ava had a beautiful silky coat and her skin and ear infections were gone.  She was transformed.  She was happy and secure  – maybe for the first time in her whole life.

She loved to play tug-of-war with our younger alpha-male Sam.  In her best day, she didn’t really run – more of a shuffle actually.  Sam would grab a toy, Ava would bark and shuffle after him.   She was a ferocious tug-of-war partner.  She gave as good as she got.

All of our dogs are on a strict diet – no human food – but one day one of our friends told us she’d discovered that Ava was nuts for red vines.  She loved them.  From then on, we broke our no-human-food rule and we’d give Ava a red vine every now and then as a treat.  She was deaf and she didn’t move very fast, but she could damn sure sniff out a red vine from fifty yards away.  After she finished hers, she’d shuffle over and stare at me with her big, mopey eyes if she knew I’d hidden one for myself.  She wanted it and there was no fooling her.

We had three great years together.  Towards the end of 2010, she started losing muscle control in her hips.  She was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a disease in older dogs which attacks the spinal cord but shows up as a loss of muscle control.  Over the past year, she had a harder and harder time getting up and moving around.  Still, she hung in there. Mentally, she was as alert as ever.  She barked, she played, she ate well.  She just didn’t move well.   Good news – our vet says he doesn’t think she was in any pain through this process.

Unfortunately, the disease got worse.  It got to the point where she could barely get up after she was lying down (and she couldn’t get up at all if she wasn’t lying on a rug – hardwood floors were impossible).  Once she got up, she could only walk a few steps without having to lie down again and rest.  She started to become incontinent.

Through it all, though, she loved her red vines.  She’d notice right away when I got the container out of the pantry.  She couldn’t get up and come to get one so I’d toss one to her.  I got pretty good at landing them right between her feet.  Eventually, as soon as she saw me get the container, she’d look down at her feet and wait for the red vine to fall from the sky.  I think she must have thought it was magic.

Over Christmas, it got to the point where she could hardly move for any reason – even to go the bathroom, to get a drink, anything.  We decided to try and get her through the holiday by helping her around as much as we could.  Today, though, was her time.

We took her to the vet for the final time this morning, along with a handful of red vines.  Michelle drove and I tossed red vines back to Ava one at a time, all the way to the animal hospital.  She was happy.  When the vet tech gave her a sedative, we gave Ava her last red vine.  She was still happy as she went to sleep.

She’s gone now and we’re going to miss her.  I believe, though, she’s in a better place – a place where she can bark and hear and run and play.  And, with God’s good grace, a place where red vines rain from the sky like magic.  She deserves no less.

Bye, Ava.

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