Steven and I said goodbye to our sweet Luna dog yesterday and our world is shattered. It happened so unexpectedly and quickly that we barely had time to digest the fact that we had to let her go before we were with her in the emergency vet’s comfort room, cradling her tiny, blanket-wrapped self, kissing her head, and telling her we loved her.
Today, right now, I’m lying on the couch with Moria snuggled against me, but the house feels wrong. Luna should be behind me, lying on her towel-covered perch on the couch arm, her head resting on her favorite poop emoji pillow or the neck hug pillow I made her a few years ago. We should hear her frequent noises: her lip smacks, her little clicks and swallows, her coughs, the odd goose-like honking sound that sometimes (but not always) came before she muked. It’s odd how you can take away those quiet little infrequent noises and the entire soundscape changes. It feels wrong. These sounds have been a part of our lives for the past three years; we have become accustomed to them.
We adopted Luna in August 2014 from our wonderful local shelter. We’d been visiting on and off for weeks, hoping to add a second dog to our family. When I spotted Luna, it was all over. She looked just like a skinnier, shaved, more pitiful version of our big healthy Moria, and I wanted to take her home immediately and fatten her up and make her healthy.
Things didn’t shake out exactly like that. The suspected case of kennel cough she brought home was actually something more serious, and the mucus-pukes (“mukes”) she dropped all day, every day, were actually regurgitations caused by what we finally decided must be megaesophagus. Luna went through a battery of tests, but it was never officially diagnosed — we couldn’t put her through any of the more invasive procedures to definitively diagnose it. It wouldn’t have solved anything, anyway; there is no cure.
So we managed it. We elevated her food and water bowls. After she ate, we held her upright (either in a front pouch or wrapped like a burrito and nestled into the couch) to encourage gravity to pull her food down. We ensured that she had pillows available to elevate her head when she rested — eventually, she would raise her head to accept a pillow as we brought it closer. We kept spray bottles of cleaner and boxes of rags around the house to quickly wipe up her messes. We had a separate laundry basket, just for her rags. It became second nature.
Despite trying to tempt Luna with the most calorie-laden, filling foods we could find, she never could keep on weight. She had a brief period when her fur came in (after being shaved at the shelter) and she was just the fuzziest little monster with the longest legs, but underneath she was still so thin. (We named her Luna because she reminded us of the thestrals from Harry Potter, and Luna Lovegood has an affinity for them.)
And then she began losing her fur. Even after she was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease last year and started treatment for that, she lost more and more fur. The doctor thought it was unrelated to the Cushing’s, more of a genetic issue. Her knobbly knees began poking us when we cuddled and her little hip bones jutted out almost scarily. But she was eating OK and she was happy, so we expanded her doggie sweater wardrobe and tried to ignore how pitiful she looked.
My brave girl. We never knew how old she was; the shelter guessed 5 years, but her teeth were so broken and in such bad shape that it was just an estimate. (We once caught her chewing on a Christmas light. No wonder her teeth were wrecked.) She was brought to the shelter as a stray after roaming one of the DC suburbs by herself. A little five-pound dog with broken teeth and a broken digestive system against the world. She was so matted that they had to shave her all the way down. We have no idea how long she was stray or how she got there. Did her previous family get fed up with her muking and let her loose? Did she escape? Was the long matted fur all from her time on the streets, or was she neglected when (if) she did have a home?
We had so few clues about her past. One day a few months ago, while Luna was in our bedroom, I accidentally slammed a door down the hall. Luna jumped a bit and crawled under the bed. Did she come from a home where fighting happened regularly? Was she the object of those yells?
Our sweet enigmatic girl took a good year and a half to truly warm up to us. For a while, she slept on top of my pillow, jammed in between my head and the headboard or another pillow I’d prop up. And then, suddenly, she started cuddling. At night she’d push her increasingly bony body up against us, her elbows and knees poking into our sides. If we moved or turned over, she’d jam herself in closer. On the couch, she’d come sit on my lap, resting her head on my laptop or my book. She began to greet us with enthusiastic jumps onto our legs when we returned, with a forceful push of her head into our hands for a pet and with enthusiastic wagging of her fur-less, rat-like tail. She followed it up with one of her lusty rolls all over the carpet, getting her back good and scratched. She must be part cat, we thought.
Nearly everyone who met Luna fell in love with her. Most people assumed she and Moria were sisters; they looked so alike, especially when Luna had her curly fur. I had to tell them that, no, they were adopted years apart, and 1,000+ miles apart. They only became sisters once we added them both to our family.
But there was something about Luna’s big bug-like eyes, her diminutive size, and her resigned fearlessness that captured people’s hearts. (Or maybe it was the way she looked just like an AT-AT. So many people, separately, commented on that. It was uncanny.)
She was a star when we brought her in to work. Everyone wanted to pet her. As she got older, she became more selective — she began nipping occasionally, to tell you she wasn’t into you reaching down and grabbing her. In the past few months she’d started getting crotchety if we tried to pick her up off the couch or the bed while she was curled in a ball. You’d reach over to her and her little lip would start to curl. Pull your hand away, and the curl subsided. Reach further, and it would turn into a tiny, chihuahua-like snarl. Go too far and you might get a snap and a tiny warning yelp. (But without all her teeth, she was pretty harmless.)
Luna had the most unexpected give-no-fucks approach to life. She would walk all over your chest and shoulders to get up to the couch arm. She regularly climbed on top of Moria in search of a resting spot. And she did everything on her own time. After we moved into our house last summer, we began letting her hang out in the backyard. But she was so tiny that she would get “lost.” We would be out there, calling her name, getting more and more frantic by the second, sure she’d been snatched up by a bird of prey or had run off for a second stint on the streets, when we’d spot her tiny head emerging from a bed of ivy or between two bushes. She’d heard us calling, but didn’t deign to show herself. But she loved the outdoors, just lounging in the sun. I’m glad she had the chance to do that.
It’s been just 24 hours and I miss her so much already. She was so sick so suddenly. Yesterday morning we woke up and Steven noticed that something was wrong. He put her down on the hall carpet and I watched her stand there, head bowed, before she tried to take a few steps and swayed from side to side before stopping. She had been through so much in the three years we had with her — the chronic megaesophagus, an abscess behind her eye, the Cushing’s disease — but I could tell this was something different and more serious.
We brought her to the emergency vet. They took her back for tests and we sat in a cold exam room and waited in silence. The vet came in and told us her blood sugar and blood pressure were both very low, and they were trying to stabilize her, but she wasn’t responding. She was going into sepsis, they thought. More blood tests showed that her kidneys were barely functioning. Even if they could bring her around from the sepsis (unlikely, and involving days of incredibly invasive treatment), they’d still need to figure out what was causing the kidney failure. Her poor little kidneys were so far gone already.
As an ethical vegan, I struggle with the concept of euthanasia, with the fact that I am literally deciding between life and death for another sentient being. But that is the terrible, awful, wonderful burden you carry when you adopt an animal. You must make the decisions for them. Luna had suffered through so much. We couldn’t keep her in pain for longer, when she wasn’t responding to the most basic treatments, and her kidneys were going. We loved her so much. We couldn’t bring her home to die slowly and painfully over the course of a day or two. So we held her and we cried but we tried to stay calm as we told her we loved her, that she was our sweet Tune, that she was a good girl.
And she was. She was such a good girl. We loved her so much.
Thank you for reading this, if you were able. And thank you to all my friends and family who reached out with words of comfort. It is such an honor to know how much she meant to so many of you.