I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.
– Maya Angelou
Sugar was the best dog I ever had. She was smart and gentle and loyal and happy.
I had noticed that she had been lethargic for a few days, but I wrote it off. She was old, after all, and was entitled to be tired.
Then one morning, Sugar’s legs quit working. On her way out the back door she tripped over nothing, fell to her chest, and struggled to get up. I helped her to her feet and watched carefully as she moved slowly out into the yard. As she squatted, her legs wobbled and then gave out. She didn’t even try to get up. I ran out into the yard, scooped my dog up into my arms, and carried her inside.
Sugar never walked again. The vet said it was autoimmune hemolytic anemia and it was probably too late for treatment to work. It doomed poor Sugar. I put her down that afternoon.
After she passed, I finished shooting one of my old cameras and had the film processed. One of the photos was of her, from about a week before she died. Here it is. She looks like hell. I don’t know if you can see it, but it’s plain as day to me. She had death written all over her. She needed to have been seen by a vet. But I didn’t even remotely see it while she was suffering.
I felt terrible. I had been very busy and distracted, and I didn’t see my dog’s pain. I beat myself up for a while because I hadn’t done my best to care for her.
But I know my best varies. It’s better when I’m well than when I’m sick. It’s better when I’m relaxed than when I’m stressed. It’s better when I’m unhurried than when I’m busy.
I also know that life is a learning exercise. Sugar taught me something about what a suffering dog looks and acts like.
Now I know better. For my 16-year-old dog, Gracie, I will do better.
This one is for my friend Andy, who is suffering a similar loss.
I wrote a eulogy for Sugar after she died. Read it here.