Memoir: Lady’s Heart by Nancy Miller
Nancy Miller lives out in the Illinois countryside near St. Louis, Missouri. She shares her home with her husband of 31 years and three exceptionally spoiled dogs. After losing her house to fire in November 2013, not much was left but they did find a slightly melted USB drive with all her writing backups. She took this a sign she should get back to work. She is the author ofCrystal Unicorns, a romantic suspense novel available in paperback and ebook on Amazon. Her current book, Shark Bait, is in final edits.
She shares her writing advice and more every Monday on Nancy’s Notes. She is also part of the exclusive OWS Design team as an illustrator.
“I doubt she know’s much of what’s going on around her.” Our veterinarian went on to explain about strokes, heart murmurs, and the effect a lack of oxygen had on the brain. “It’s your choice, of course, but there’s little chance she’ll recover.”
My best friend of thirteen years looked up with trusting eyes. “I can’t do this. Logic tells me I should let her go but I can’t do it until her daddy has a chance to say goodbye.”
Moisture gathered in the corners of Doc’s eyes. He produced a vial of pills from the cabinet. “Here, try this, maybe it’ll help. If you decide not to give them to her then…” I understood. He bundled her up and placed her in my arms.
It isn’t easy to drive a car while crying. Lady lay very still, content just to be near enough to touch my leg. I carried her in, hoping she would lie upon the blanket bed I made, but even though she could barely walk, she tried to follow me around the house. The stroke left her unable to navigate around the furniture and, as I watched, her three canine buddies took turns guiding her.
My husband came home to find me sitting in my recliner, Lady snuggled in my arms. It didn’t take much of an explanation for him to know our time with her was ending so, as the night wore on, we took turns holding her and remembering.
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Ernie had just finished telling the story of Ralph, the wonder dog, for the twenty-seventh time. At this point I was actually starting to keep count. We were still newlyweds and both grew up in households where dogs were more like family than pets. That particular Sunday found us driving past the humane society. It didn’t take much convincing to get Ernie to turn right, and unknown to us at the time, right into a pair of furry arms.
The first candidate was Rascal, an energetic pup who I found out was incarcerated due to his hyperactivity. Ernie loved him. I was a little more hesitant, after all, I would be the one taking care of him during the long months when hubby was at sea with the Navy.
“Ernie, don’t you think we could find one a little calmer. Look at that one there. She’s so sweet.”
Ernest opened the cage and a furry mass with huge eyes crept out onto the cement floor. She was brown enough to almost be considered black but when the sun shone down upon her fur the different variations in color were beautiful. Ernie petted and played with her for a moment. “Maybe we should wait.” he said as he picked the young dog up with the intentions of depositing her back in the cage. Lady had other ideas; all four legs went out as her paws locked on the outside frame. She wasn’t going anywhere but home.
We had a wonderful time with Lady. So did the vet. We adopted a little bundle of love with hookworms, heartworms, and five little bundles on the way. Yep, she was pregnant. The thought of not keeping her lasted about a millisecond and then we prepared for impending puppy grandparenthood.
Lady was my constant companion. While Ernie rode the waves of the world, we watched the television waiting for incoming news. She knew the postman and reacted with joy when a letter from our sailor arrived. We survived the Libya cruise. We huddled together when the IOWA’s turret blew up, knowing Ernie’s station lay directly below the explosion. We kept vigil as he went to war in the Persian Gulf.
She moved from port to port with us, always tucked carefully under the front seat of the U-Haul truck, and when we finally retired, so did she. Old age and arthritis were setting in. It grew more and more difficult to climb the steps leading up to the house and Ernie and I began to discuss the possibility Lady might not be with us much longer.
Then Buddy arrived, a huge pup the vet described as part Golden Retriever, part something really big. He was a slobbery, affectionate, constantly moving mass of undisciplined exuberance. Lady decided this was not acceptable behavior.
Almost overnight, the arthritis faded. Lady had a job to do, a new purpose in life. She didn’t have to watch over me anymore but there was a new rookie to be whipped into shape. I laughed myself silly the first time I heard his cry of pain and turned to find Lady standing on tiptoe and clamped on to Buddy’s lower lip- obvious discipline for a wayward deed.
Lady taught him well. She played with this pup four times her size and more than held her own. Arthritis, cataracts and bad hearing couldn’t stop her. She was fearless. Except when it thundered. When the weather turned foul, she would cower in my lap, afraid of the noise and flashing lights. I could tell by her reaction if there was need to be concerned; she predicted the weather better than a meteorologist.
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The Tuesday tornado didn’t hit but it came close enough to make the wind blow and scare the daylights out of me. I rushed for cover in the cellar. I hoped my dogs (three at the time) were safe but at that moment I was concerned with my own safety. Everything seemed fine when I came out. It wasn’t until the next morning I noticed Lady was walking oddly and held her head at an angle.
A stroke probably brought on by a clot thrown from her heart- I heard the words through my guilt. If I had just taken her with me. All her years of devotion and when it came down to a life and death situation, I wasn’t there.
The next morning Ernie went to work as always. Lady didn’t seem worse or better. I prayed, not for her to get well, but for the guidance to know what path to chose and the strength to walk down it. As her breathing became labored, I held her close. She summoned all her energy to kiss the tears from my face and I knew it was time.
My mother in law drove us to the clinic. Our vet listened carefully to her heart and prepared the hypodermic. I stooped down so as to be nose to nose with her; wanting her to know I was with her to the very end. Her tongue licked at the air between us as he injected the medication. She breathed two more times and then the light faded from her eyes. In an attempt to comfort me, the vet said, “You made the right choice. Her heart was very leaky.” I wanted desperately to tell him that, even now, there was nothing wrong with Lady’s heart.