A dog's life: Casey
A rambling by Tom Knapp

There was a big thunderstorm on the morning of Casey's last day.

Casey hated thunderstorms. They terrified her like nothing else. So, although she wasn't allowed on the bed -- ever -- my wife Katie hauled her on up. So Casey spent the next hour huddled between us, her head beneath my pillow.

She seemed fairly happy to be there with us. As I scratched her head, she looked at me with so much trust in her eyes -- it was hard to believe she couldn't actually see me.

Casey was, in her way, a replacement dog. I was still recovering from the death of Morgan, my boon companion for 15 years, in 2006 when I saw a Freecycle ad for a dog whose family could no longer keep her. The selling point was her breed: Australian cattle dog. Morgan, though a floppy-eared mutt, was primarily identified as an Aussie, too. Casey was a true-blue purebred, a blue heeler with classic lines and a gorgeous coat.

When I told my wife a cattle dog was available for immediate adoption, she sighed a little -- she's not the dog lover I am -- and said it sounded like fate to her. We met the family, we played with the dog, we took her home.

She was named KC -- short, her former owner admitted, for KC & the Sunshine Band. Now, I'll sing along to "That's the Way (Uh-Huh, Uh-Huh) I Like It (Uh-Huh, Uh-Huh)" like no one's business, but I couldn't see going through life with a dog named for a faded disco star. I also didn't want to confuse her with a drastic change.

So she became Casey. She adapted to the change so quickly, I'm not sure she even noticed the difference.

She was a high-strung dog. Casey was very protective of our house and family -- good qualities, my wife said, although she was a little too barky and growly for some folks' taste. A heeler whose herding instincts were strong, she was a bit nippy sometimes, too -- she liked to point people in the right direction, and if that meant using her teeth to keep them in line, she didn't hesitate.

It wasn't one of her better traits.

But by God, we grew to love that dog.

My wife -- not really a dog person, as I mentioned -- ran circles with her around the house and chased her back and forth in the yard. Our kids snuggled up with her on the floor or, when we weren't looking, encouraged her to jump on the couch. She and I'd walk, and we'd wrestle, and we'd have a great time.

But dogs never live as long as you hope. Morgan, whose life expectancy was about 12 years, beat the odds and survived 17. Casey wasn't so lucky.

She was drawing close to 12 when she began losing weight. And her pep. Walking became difficult. After several excursions ended with me carrying her home -- not easy when your dog is just shy of 50 pounds -- we started taking a wagon. When Casey petered out, we plopped her in for a ride until she got her strength back.

She hated it.

I thought these were inevitable signs of aging. Katie said something was wrong -- fortunately, we followed her instincts and took Casey to the vet. Turns out she had diabetes with ketoacidosis -- a life-threatening condition.

We began twice-daily insulin shots. We altered her diet. We pricked her ear for blood-sugar tests. We awkwardly held test strips under her when she peed. When she raided the fridge and her stomach began to swell, we rushed in for emergency care.

Then she went blind, a common side effect of diabetes.

Some dogs adapt well to a loss of sight. Casey didn't. She became frightened. Confused. She got lost in our house, smacking her head into walls and furniture, falling a lot.

She was miserable. Sometimes she snapped at us, not sure who we were, or startled by a sudden appearance. Her hearing seemed to be going, and her nose was never all that keen to begin with.

Our vet said it was time to discuss quality of life.

And we knew what we had to do.

But it's never easy.

We spoiled the heck out of her for her last few days. Our vet told us when it would be OK to toss out her special diet and start feeding her treats that would, in the long run, have been very, very bad for her. We brushed her hair, snuggled and gave her an abnormal number of head pats and scratches.

We weathered that last big storm.

Then we drove her to the vet, taking along her bed, which she loved to chew on as much as sleep on.

And, with our arms around her, we did what we had to do. For her sake.

by Tom Knapp
22 June 2013