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My sweet Milo: Preparing for the inevitable

My first baby, Milo Aaron Nicholas. He thinks he's a cat.

My first baby, Milo Aaron Nicholas. He thinks he’s a cat.

The Hubs and I hadn’t been married very long when I dragged him into PetsMart one chilly fall morning.

“Let’s just go look at the dogs,” I wheedled. PetsMart was having one of their adoption days, and I just loved to see all those precious little faces.

“We are not getting a dog, Melanie,” The Hubs said. We passed a big puppy play pen, filled with these tiny little butterscotch lovenuggets. I asked the shelter volunteer if I could pet one. She obviously saw a sucker, and told me I could even walk around with one of those golden little puppies if I wanted to. I was smitten immediately. This puppy was all ears and shakes and whippet tail and I noticed he fit right into my husband’s hand when I asked him to hold the dog for a minute. By the time we had perused the cats and dog beds, I knew the puppy would be mine. Hey, I also know a sucker when I see one.

We went back to the dog pen and started the adoption process. The woman from the shelter told us our little boy puppy was part Chihuahua and part terrier. She promised he would never get to be more than 8 to 10 pounds, which I thought was a perfect size for toting about.

We got him home and after much debate, named him Milo. Milo Aaron to be exact. My biological clock was ticking, and I was held captive by his liquid amber eyes, silky fur and puppy breath. He was instantly my baby and I couldn’t wait to dress him up and carry him in a dog purse. Milo, however, had his own ideas about what kind of dog he was going to be. He wanted to be a cat.

Milo loved to stalk bugs and butterflies through the grass, front crouched, head hunkered down, butt in the air. He slept all the time, especially if he could find a patch of sunlight to sprawl in. He also had amazing jumping skills. From a standstill, he could easily jump from the floor straight up onto the back of the couch, then proceed to walk along the back of the couch like I have seen so many other kitties do. He certainly refused to wear outfits and was having none of the purse parade.

As the years of childlessness dragged out, the more obsessed I became with him. I carried him around in my arms a lot, took him in the car even though he hated it. I made The Hubs padlock all the fence locks so no one would steal him and I was frantic when we left town, my stomach in knots about whether he was safe. Had we closed the garage door? What if he got out somehow? We lived a block away from Wadley, and Milo was not exactly a rocket scientist. I was not sure whether he would understand that he should avoid oncoming cars. Eventually, Milo began to lose his puppy cuteness and started to look like the world’s largest Chihuahua, coming in at over a foot tall and a healthy 28 pounds. His silky coat now just all prickly hair. But I loved him still.

And then we had Little Son, and poor sweet Milo finally became a dog. He spent a lot more time outside or gated into the laundry room. And before you write me hate mail, it was a big laundry room and he had a nice bed and food and water and a doggie door to the back. Once the kids finally got the hang of soft touches, Milo reintegrated into the uncomfortable role of family dog. No one took his picture anymore, and the only time he got to ride in the car was if it was a vet or groomer trip. The kids made him an unwilling playmate when they played school. He was unceremoniously kicked out of every bed in the house. Bodacious said his breath stank and his feet smelled like Fritos. She started locking her bedroom door so Milo couldn’t bust in after she was asleep. She took it a step further last year when he developed the foulest smelling gas, and renamed him King of Toots.

This year, I’ve noticed that he can’t jump up onto the bed any more. Is there anything so sad as a dog trying to scramble up onto the bed, desperately clawing at the covers only to slide down to the ground again in defeat? Little cataracts are forming in his eyes and he can’t hear anymore. He has developed Cushing’s Disease. Last week, his legs kept going out from under him, like Bambi on ice. My once agile little dog tumbled down the stairs, and we knew it was time to see the vet.

A kajillion dollars later, the vet said Milo has a huge mass in his spleen and the dose of his Cushing’s medication was too high. Milo is 15, and the vet did not think a surgery to remove the mass would be our best course. “He is an old dog, Melanie. This won’t buy him any real time. He is not in any pain, and he still seems very happy. Let’s see how his balance improves after we adjust his medication.”

I just stood there and cried. These are the kinds of things I generally leave to The Hubs, he’s a better grown-up than I am. I texted my girlfriend Posh Spice. She and her husband are true pack animals, and always have a herd of dogs. Strays, abused animals, rescues and fosters – they all have a home with them. She has lost five dogs over the last several years and her heart breaks every time.

I asked her what she thought I should do. Thinking about losing Milo, about having to let him go, is a grief unlike any I have known before.

“It is honestly the most grown up thing you have to do, deciding when to put your dog down,” she said. “You have to know and accept when they are in so much pain that they need to be relieved of it. Trust your gut.”

Right now, my gut just wants to throw up and I want to bury my head in the sand. Milo’s walking has improved greatly in just a few days and he is back to being his deaf, underfoot sweet self. We are letting him get away with murder, too. Why is something so much sweeter when you feel it slipping away? We are putting him onto the bed, letting him lay on the “good” couch pillows, his stickery hair everywhere. He doesn’t seem to hurt, and he’s eating pretty well. But I am not ready, and nothing I can do will help me prepare for the eventuality of what surely is coming. Please, oh please, Lord. Let him truly be a cat. I need him to have nine lives.

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