By Brenda Shoss, KinshipCircle
Cleveland, my beloved dog named for animal rights legend Cleveland Amory, died today after 5:00pm. Many of you know him as the reason “I can’t deploy in disasters or present at conferences” for the last two years.
I have this ritual. Once an animal reaches “hospice” stage, I write notes to him. I read these notes to him at his euthanasia. Part of my ritual is to share these writings with people I care about -- whether through work or personal life -- the day of death. It’s selfish really, a way I can grieve and deal with the wretched feelings I have right now.
So read or don’t read. I give you these memories as proof of Cleveland’s radiance and uniqueness.
Cleveland’s very sad Mommy,
Mom with Mr. Clevers
3/23/09, Dear Cleveland: Today they tell me you have metastasized cancer in your liver and pancreas. What the ----? You are already diabetic, blind and have Cushing's. They tell me you have roughly four weeks to live.
I haven't made your memory box yet, written your song or gathered your photos. My rituals. My heart is broken in so many pieces Mr. Clevelanders. How can I get them all on paper?
Cleveland, you could smell a car a mile away. Even after you lost your sight, you made a beeline for my car, hopped in the front seat... to drive, drive, drive...Anywhere, any time. On mom’s lap, head out the window.
Clevey Schmevey: The good boy. The quiet boy. Where did you lose your bark? Did it happen in those two years of life before I adopted you? Did someone take your voice from you? Or did you lose it in a pound on death row?
But I heard you Cleveland. And saw you...so clearly. Beautiful golden face with giant brown eyes, nestled in a crate at PetSmart. Eleven years ago. I went to buy pet food. I came home with you.
Cleveland and Stanley, 2004
The second dog: You always seemed to understand those bratty Lhasa Apsos I adore. Stanley (bless his soul) and Mandy had to steal the show. You didn't sulk. You accepted it: Cleveland, Omega Dog.
Cleveland: I never loved you any less for any second of any day. The good boy. The quiet boy. The one who never, never left my side. Always at my feet. Always in my rooms.
Everyone recalls your two-legged dance: Where did you learn your signature trick? You were so proud of it! You'd perch on two back legs with your front legs drawing circles in the air -- until you got a treat or kiss.
As a Lhasa-Poodle mix, you were my biggest guy. But you thought you were a lap dog. We drove with you on my lap, paws over my arm, behind the steering wheel. Though I never got pulled over for "driving while dog," I always wondered what I'd say if I did. I figured I'd let you explain to the cop...
I've told your story, so many times, as it was told to me: Eleven years ago, you sat on Jefferson County Animal Control's death row. Literally. In line for euthanasia. After two years on the streets, in temp homes, in and out of the pound...your day had come.
But a conscientious worker looked into that beautiful face of yours and thought, "NO WAY. This lovely dog would be easily adopted in St. Louis."
She pulled you from death, the story goes, and hid you under a table as she phoned the foster/rescue group, Pet Placement, in St. Louis. Barbara Seaborne got in her car and raced to Jeff County to save you. In fact, she later told me, she felt so guilty saving one dog because he was adorable, she rescued another ugly dog that day.
So a couple dogs escaped death the day you got your second chance.
I first laid eyes on you at PetSmart adoption days. I thought you'd been abused. You had no bark. Only a hoarse, barely audible grunt. I'm a sucker for wounded hearts. When I became your mom, you helped to heal mine.
I brought you home to an apartment inhabited by Tikvah, my giant orange cat, Stanley, mama's boy Lhasa Apso, and Rebekkah, my princess kitten. You didn't ask for much, but wanted to sleep in bed with me. This upset Stan and the cats, so I bought you a giant cushy doggie pillow. After two minutes on the pillow, you walked to the edge of my bed to dance on your hind legs. This always worked on me. You won your place in my bed and heart. We all love you so much Cleveland. I hope you know that.
Mandy and Cleveland ride motorboat and swim in the Current River, 2010
July 26, 2010: After your cancer diagnosis, you lived...and lived and lived and lived. Nearly two years later, you are with me. On the river, sitting alongside Mandy like two Red Barons. Your furry ears flying backward in the motorboat's wind. So serious, turning side to side. Smelling the exotic smells. Feeling the air. Telling me of your joy in this moment. When you are happy, my heart explodes. I cry happy tears. You lift me.
You defied veterinary science... To spend a day playing in fountains at City Park. Two trips to the Current River. Oh how you LOVED water. On that second river trip, you were so happy you humped the neighbor's beagle!
Cleveland - OCTOBER 1997 TO JULY 30, 2010: Cleveland died in our backyard, his head in my lap. He wanted to be outdoors. In the hour before his death, I brushed and groomed him from head to tail...softly pulling the bristles through his long silky ears. He liked the organic products, their smells...and the attention he got when groomed. For that hour, he stopped the hideous cries and moans. It was just Mommy and Cleveland. I felt every pad on his paws, removed tiny mattes. I cleaned vomit bits from his chin and wiped away eye boogers. Cleveland loved to be doted on this way.
Earlier this day, his liver tumor had burst. Yellow bile spilled out with his stool. The cries were no longer dementia, but pain. So we waited for Dr. Lynch under a light drizzle. Cleveland leaned into me -- warm and breathing. I read these notes to him. He stopped shaking. We waited for Dr. Lynch.
When she pulled up, I thought of her as Dr. Death and wanted to run, with Cleveland in my arms, as far as I could. That's how the mind fools you when your child is dying.
With my mom and dad on the phone with me (my husband and son are out of town), Dr. Lynch injected the sedative. Cleveland still lifted his head and looked around after 15 minutes. You see, for nearly two years -- since they diagnosed cancer -- Cleveland rallied. I began to think he would never die.
I fiercely protected Clevey. I didn’t travel. I lived my days around his insulin, gentle forced feedings, cancer meds and incontinence. The hardest part, for any parent, is the moment you realize you can no longer shield your child. You can't protect him from This Day. You can only hold him, whisper your love...and say goodbye.
I’m not religious. In recent years I've become a Jewish agnostic -- I like my Jewish identity but question God’s existence. So I don't find comfort in words about Cleveland "always being with me, in the wind, in the trees..."
I just feel this: Cleveland is no more.
I can't find him now...at my bed, under my desk, at the back door.
Instead of religion, I turn to hard science: Cleveland's liver tumor ruptured. He bled internally. His gums turned a grayish-pink. He would have died very painfully on his own, if I hadn't helped him.
Cleveland can stop crying now. He doesn't have to worry about staying around for me. My baby doesn't hurt anymore.
Cleveland, may your hair fly...ears inside out...in boat rides forever.