Tonight the world seems a bit emptier. It seems unfair and sadness holds my throat in a chokehold.
Mila left us today, she left the backyard that she loved and all the pig’s ears and cow bones that she had strategically buried there. She left behind her best friend, Bently, who can only be wondering when she is planning on coming back. Where could she possibly go for so long alone? And why would she even consider going somewhere without him?
It was time. For the last few agonizing months we have been watching the progression of Mila’s cancer, attacking the vital spirit that just last year had her whipping around the Downes Bowl path with the speed and grace of a whippet. Last week she was bunny-hopping across the tide pools at White Rock beach. She was fetching the Kong with the enthusiasm of a puppy, and anxious for another go at it. On Friday she even put her lollygagging on pause to chase a black cat into a blackberry bush and had both of us tangled and bleeding in the brambles.
But there was an undeniable tiredness in her face. If the walk or swim was too long, she felt it the next day and walked with a stiffness that made me wince. We agreed that as long as she had an appetite, she was content and without pain. The naturopath had her on a high-protein cancer-fighting diet: Vitamin C powder, cottage cheese, yogurt with acidophilus, pumpkin, chicken, rice, eggs and liver pate. Mila had never been happier, enjoying four meals a day and as many treats as she begged for. We decided to make her last days the best, whatever she wanted, she deserved and usually got double amounts of. She merely had to look at the cookie jar, and I’d have my hand in there to satisfy her every whim. She even had half a cupcake on Gillian’s birthday, why not?
When she didn’t have the energy to walk around the block in the heat of July, it was easy to blame it on the humidity. Bently wasn’t even interested in pissing on his favourite fire hydrants and bushes. When Mila showed no interest in her breakfast, Wanda knew a decision had to be made, quickly, to let her go gracefully.
Gillian came home from work early. It’s a decision that never feels right. What if it’s just a temporary lapse? What if she just didn’t sleep well and is simply tired? What if the protein diet is working, and the tumor is shrinking? How can we be the experts on what Mila is feeling? How can we be the ones to decide that it’s her time?
She was supposed to tell us, but in a more obvious way. In a way that would convince each of us that she needed our help to go.
The vet assessed Mila thoroughly. Mila was even wagging her tail, stoic and eager to please, anxious for a pet, right to the end. The tumor that was the size of a grapefruit in May, had ballooned into a basketball. Mila would have felt like she was nine months pregnant, which explained her nervousness to jump up on the couch and bed, assuming her once-usual position. Her hind legs would give out, and her eyes often communicated how daunting the stairs looked.
We can only hope that Mila didn’t suffer. It would have been easy to selfishly decide to keep her alive longer, because that would be easier for the weepy humans she left behind.
My mind has been so full all night, of darling, comical and gentle images of Mila. When she swam across the river in White Rock and sunk up to her torso in the muddy bank—but refused to swim back. When she was yelled at by a woman in an inner tube at Hayward Lake, Mila’s head already deep in her bag of potato chips on shore.
I think of the time I was looking to buy a vehicle and pulled into a used car lot to check out a Jeep. I had taken Bently and Mila to Clearbrook Park, and they were soggy, sleepy and content in the back of Wanda’s truck. I told the dogs I’d be right back and walked around the Jeep, wrote down the mileage and other details posted on the windshield. I came back to the truck, shut the door, looked in the rear view mirror, and they were gone. The dogs were GONE. My heart was like a jackhammer, I felt like my skin was going to catch on fire. Why didn’t I lock the truck, what the hell was I thinking? They had been stolen out of the back hatch while I was looking at some stupid Jeep that I didn’t even want.
I saw two heads pop up, eyes like golf balls. “Jesus Christ!” They had been there all along, peacefully sleeping. I unclicked my seatbelt and crawled across the back seat and practically made-out with the both of them.
I bet Mila is still laughing over that one.
Tonight, as she looks down on us all in her healthy, younger heavenly body, I wonder what she remembers best. I wonder what stories she will tell her new dog friends about her days in Abbotsford. Certainly, the other mutts will be envious when she starts going on about her beach life in Spain, and her years in California. When she describes Bently, and what a hunk of a golden retriever he is, the girl dogs will all be sighing.
Wanda is sure that her mom was there to welcome Mila today–and Mila would be happy for the undivided attention. She always acted like she was free to a good home, aimlessly walking off with other people and their dogs, walking up to the front stoops of neighbourhood houses. Halloween was the worst as she would leave out the door with every trick-or-treater that stopped by our place.
I’m glad we were able to take her to White Rock one last time. It was where she felt most alive. She’d have her nose up in the air miles from the ocean, inhaling her favourite place.
She has filled my heart and stretched it to a size that can never recoil, and now squeezed it with anguish. Mila showed me the power of love between a dog and a human, the bond that knows no boundary, and the incurable ache that penetrates every blood cell and fragment of bone when they are no longer around.
I will miss her with every footstep, because she should be right behind me.
For Mila Bonneville, The Very Best Dog in the World
July 5th 1998—August 24th 2009
I hope you had the time of your life.
Best friends, Bently & Mila