I’d known Gali (given name: “Galadriel”) almost as long as I’d known the Wilsons. (Sari and I started dating in late 1990; Gali arrived the following year.) She was a great dog and we’re all really going to miss her. Gali was a family dog in the truest sense of the word. Although she was bonded most closely to Nancy, Sari’s mom, she had a unique relationship with each other family member, from Sari’s three brothers to Sari to her dad to significant others like myself.
Like a lot of people, Gali was fiercely loyal to the family and not well disposed toward strangers or others of her own kind. As a pack animal, Gali was never happier than when everyone was together. It was part of her ritual to periodically make sure the whole family was accounted for in the house by running up to each person and tapping them one by one with her wet nose. This year, Sari’s brother Dean and his wife Paisley produced a little baby boy, and Gali immediately included Kai in her accounting process.
Gali had special talents too. One was her ability to open Christmas presents layer by layer; first the wrapping paper, then the box, and then the item inside. Very carefully, just using her paws and front teeth. She could also eat corn off the cob — again, very daintily — if you held the cob for her and spun it carefully around. She could do typical dog stuff too: she loved to play in the snow; gnaw a bone; chase a ball, stick, or frisbee; take a walk by the river; and lie in front of a roaring fire. As anyone who’s ever had a dog knows, there’s nothing more peaceful than spending ten minutes petting a contented dog. Gali was particularly good at that. Even though she was a mutt, Gali cut a handsome figure, with her silky fur and elegant snout. Most of all, she was a loving, intelligent pooch, and was a key bond in cementing the closeness of Sari’s family.
After many years of perfect health, Gali started showing her age a bit in recent years. (14 is pretty old for a mid-size dog like her.) She developed arthritis and had a bout of dizziness and stumbles. Then a couple of weeks ago, she developed pneumonia. When she didn’t get better and started to lose her appetite, the Wilsons brought her back to the vet. Last week they diagnosed her with lung cancer.
The cancer made it difficult for Gali to breathe, and her decline was precipitous. She still wasn’t eating much, and they had had to give her medication to keep her hydrated. By this past weekend, it was clear she wouldn’t last much longer. Because of the Columbus Day holiday, everyone (even Sari’s brother Warren, who’s in college at Cornell) was gathered upstate, so the whole family got to say goodbye. Remarkably, on Saturday once the whole family was assembled, Gali seemed to rally a bit. She drank water and even ate some spaghetti with meat sauce. But Saturday night she slipped on the wet driveway and had trouble getting back up. Her breathing became more rapid and shallow. I was afraid she wouldn’t make it through the night.
Sunday morning she was still alive, but weaker than ever. She could barely stand. Everyone — Gali most of all — realized it was the end. One by one, each family member spent some time with her, just lying with her or petting her. Then we drove to the animal hospital, with Sari’s mom cradling Gali’s head in her lap the whole time.
Rather than trying to move Gali, which caused her pain, we decided, with the vet’s permission, to do the euthanasia procedure right there in the back of the car. Gali was as comfortable as she could be, surrounded by her family in a place she was familiar with. (She loved car rides.) At about 1:15 pm, the vet came out to the car, shaved her hind leg, and administered the shot. Nancy held her the whole time as her breathing slowed and her heart stopped.
It’s a cliché, but Gali died with great dignity. There are no words for the power of that moment, or the sadness that we all felt, and still feel. Fortunately, we were there together, and there were many embraces and shared tears.
At the end, I sat with Gali’s body for a while just to let the experience sink in. Not being a religious person, I have trouble visualizing death. Most of all, I have trouble believing that someone is really gone, that they’re not coming back. I guess I need to accept that for me at least, the loved ones who have passed away (my childhood dog Dojo, my grandparents, my college friend Jacob Zimmer, etc.) live on forever in my memories. That’s the only afterlife I know, and I see Gali there right now…
[Gali, recumbent and happy, 2003.]
[Gali, opening her present, X-mas 2003.]