On July 12, I lost my best friend. I can’t believe it has already been over six weeks and I am just now sitting down to write down something. I suppose I have read a lot lately about people losing their loved ones and also a few other blog posts about people dealing with loss and I definitely cried when I read them but I just have not felt ready to write anything about Killian.
I got Killian my senior year of undergrad at the University of South Alabama. My last semester was during the Winter since I was set to graduate in December. One of my college friends, Corrie, and I both had to do a project for one of our HR classes in Business School. Corrie had the idea of us doing the project at the local pet store (B&B Pet Stop). I can’t remember all the details but I think it had to deal with staffing, training or something like that. The day Corrie and I went up there to meet with the management of the store; they were having an adoption event. At the time, I also did not own or drive a car so think about that as I got myself into this commitment. I remember we walked outside and there was a lady with two dogs. One was a merle color and one was black/white. They were 8-9 weeks old. I remember asking her what they were mixed with and she told me Collie and St. Bernard. I remember the dad was named “Snoopy”. I remember they lived in Hillsdale (this was the community I grew up in as a child and was a very poor area). I was immediately drawn to Killian (he was the black/white dog). I was graduating from college in about a month. Probably living on $25/week in the dorms and had no job lined up. This did not seem like a good idea. Later that day, I spoke with my Mom about it and she told me adamantly, Becky you must have a job lined up if you want to get a dog. My Mom always raised us that our pets were lifetime commitments. They are not there when it is convenient; you commit yourself to them through thick/thin. Ironically, within a few days, Wal-Mart called me and I was offered the Area Manager position in Cullman, AL with their distribution center. It was meant to be, I called the lady back who had the two puppies and adopted Killian. We took him to the vet the day I got him and I will never forget them spraying him with flea spray and literally tons of fleas just falling off him. He was maybe 10 pounds of fur or less but mostly fleas. I also had to keep him in my dorm for that last month. That was an interesting ‘cover up’.
Towards the end of December as I packed up my dorm and got ready to start my job (literally within a week of graduation, Christmas and New Year, I started my new job). I remember I had nothing. I had no bed, I had one plate, one fork, one spoon, one cup, clothes and a few other things. I had gone to Honda and used the first time buyer/college student loan to get my first car, a Honda Civic. Killian and I loaded up the car with my belongings and he was so small he slept on the top of my clothes in the back seat as we made the 5 and a half hour drive to Cullman.
My first apartment in Cullman was dicey to say the least but I was learning. It was definitely a 70’s vibe and was close to the distribution center (why I rented it). Ended up the guy on the other side smoked profusely and everything in my apartment smelled like smoke also. It was pretty awful. The first two weeks of my new job, before I got my first paycheck, Killian and I slept on the floor. I didn’t even own a couch or chair. Immediately with my first check, I went to the local furniture place and bought a bed. I could only afford a twin mattress. Killian then started sleeping in my bed, a very small bed at that. About a month or so into the apartment, I noticed that Killian was getting quite large. He was already getting close to 40 pounds and was not even 6 months old yet. Within a couple months, we were evicted from the apartment since he exceeded the weight limit. I was happy to get out of there and we were lucky to find a small duplex for rent by the receiving supervisor’s Mom.
I only lived in Cullman for about a year but within that year I also got in a head on collision with a Dodge truck one day as Killian and I were leaving Smith Lake. I would often take him up there to walk and swim. We made it out okay but the car was totaled and it took a few weeks for Killian to gain the confidence to sit in the back of the car again.
Our next journey led us up to Huntsville, Alabama. I got a job with Target Distribution. Still not financially strong, we rented a very small shack of a house in 5 points near downtown and at the foot of Monte Sano State Park. The house was so old it was originally built without a bathroom and the bathroom was an add on at the back. The roof of the shower was slanted since it was under what was the old back porch. We had a nice fenced in back yard and we were minutes from hiking trails. I worked night shift, so many days we went for hikes and walks before I went to work at night. We made some great friends there. One of whom was Jennifer who lived with her husband and dogs right around the block from us. Jennifer was with me the day we were hiking and Killian had his awful leg injury. We still don’t know what happened but the vet speculated it was a trap or old wire fencing buried in the brush that slit Killian’s wrist right down to the bone. Killian got a staph infection after the surgery was done and ended up spending two weeks in the vet. I visited him before I would go to work. One day I even got stuck in the kennel (walk in kennel) and had to climb over the gated door to get out. It took me an entire year with a payment plan to pay off his surgery.
He never let that injury slow him down. If anything, he milked it a bit and always held that paw up to show it to people. He did that well into his senior years even. He never got tired of hearing people inquire and ask him how his leg was doing. He was a smart dog. Some days before work, we would run downtown from the house and I would let him swim in the river that ran through the area by the court house. It was always ice cold. I would stand on the steps and leave his leash on him as he waded through the cool water and got him cooled down before the run back home.
After living in that house for a few years, we moved to an apartment further West of Huntsville in Madison that was pet friendly. It was closer to work and they had an onsite dog walking service.
I think the one thing I regret the most about these earlier years with Killian is I often dated men who didn’t really like him. He was not allowed in their homes. They just were not big dog people. I can’t imagine that now. I can’t imagine even hanging out with someone who would not accept my dogs. I regret that so much.
Our next big move was to Memphis. Here Killian and I went again. He was about 5-6 years old at this time and we packed up some things ourselves and the movers hauled the big stuff off in the moving truck. I found a really nice apartment near Hacks/Winchester. Brand new! Very luxurious and I made some new friends who also worked for Williams-Sonoma who lived in the same apartments. Within six weeks of living in the apartment, someone tried to kick my door in while I was in the apartment. The only thing I had going for me that moment was a big dog was in the apartment with me as it took over 10 minutes for the police to show up. It was pretty terrifying.
Not too long after that, I broke my lease and we moved out east of the city to Collierville into another apartment. During the two years I was in grad school, every other Friday, Killian went to doggie daycare at BrownDog Lodge. He loved to socialize at daycare. We lived there for about five years before I bought my first house. I had the forethought when I bought the home to get a single level home. I knew Killian would get older and the steps would not be forgiving for him. This was in 2009. Killian was already 10 years old but we still went to Shelby Farms regularly for an hour or more at a time. He loved to swim. We became regulars at the dog park in our neighborhood. I made so many friends at the dog park that are my dear friends to this day. At this time, I also added another dog to our family. That would take a novel of its own to explain but I clearly had fallen for herding dogs and had a friend who made me aware of a Catahoula/heeler mix whose family no longer wanted him. He was about six months old and a little crazy so I knew he would fit in just fine and it would be good for Killian to have companionship. I also had to exercise Wyatt quite a bit so that led to many walks for Killian so he stayed in pretty good shape for his age.
In 2012 was when Killian really had his major slippage backwards. One day, we were at Shelby Farms and on the back side walking by the lakes. He always went in the water and I just walked like normal along the edge. This one time, he got stuck and I heard a man call me and say mam, your dog is not okay. I stopped and looked and another man on a mountain bike immediately came down to join me and took his shoes off and went into the middle of the muddy lake and picked Killian up and laid him beside me. For about an hour, we sat there until I get could get him to stand up and gradually make the half mile trek back to the car. Things were not good but I was still hopeful. I didn’t realize his back was failing him so badly at this time. Soon after this, we had another episode. During the night it was like he had a seizure, he couldn’t breathe, pools of drool were coming up and he defecated on himself. Things just never went up from here. They stabilized here and there and deteriorated here and there. I lost sight of what the new normal was and held on to the hope he was going to live forever. Unsure what reality I was in. Killian had laryngeal paralysis and horrible arthritis down his entire spine. We did acupuncture the final 8 months of his life. He also took meds to manage the inflammation and pain. My life seemed normal when I cleaned up any messes he made or wrapped his pills in peanut butter. That seemed normal now. We never got to go for walks unless it was just 100 feet or so. Most days were spent lounging in his bed or on the grass in the backyard.
The day I lost Killian was definitely not expected. He had a bad week. I thought he would pull through as usual but the Friday of that week proved to be the most he could handle. He looked so unhappy and in pain. I don’t know why he hurt so badly but can only speculate it had to do with all of his existing conditions and his body finally shut down on him. I called our dog park friend, Ann, and she came over to pray with him and performed some Reiki and just listened to me. She helped me validate that he was in bad shape. I also called our pet sitter and vet and they were gracious enough to come to the house so that Killian could be let go in peace. He lay on the carpet in the living room when he took his last breath. I thought for the past year I was prepared. I even had helped other people deal with their losses and thought I could get through this. I knew he was old and sick and wouldn’t live forever. There is something about making that decision and watching them take their last breath that I will never forget. That moment is frozen in my head. The grief after it was so uncontrollable. I used to think people were crazy when they teared up years after losing a pet. I used to think they were out of control with their emotions. I am one of those people now. You never forget them. It hits you at the rarest moments. It doesn’t always happen when you look at their picture. It happens when you think about your life and the let downs, the upswings and who was there to support you. When you spend holidays by yourself, go through a horrible break up, you are miserable at your job…who listened to you? Who celebrated the good times with you?
The best quote I discovered that explains how this process feels to me is by Amy Sedaris “Sometimes losing a pet is more painful than losing a human because in the case of the pet, you were not pretending to love it.”
― Amy Sedaris, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People
Killian, I never pretended to love you and I am grateful for the love and devotion you gave me. Love, Mom