Kora: Losing Someone You Love

I didn't know that loss could be this heavy.

Everyone talks about the loss of a loved one as this absence, this hole in your life or your soul, but how is it that something can be so much heavier & harder once it's gone? Loss & grief are inescapable in life, eventually you will find them & they will drag you down & those weights will never get any lighter, so the only choice we have is to grow stronger in order to carry them.

The Story of Me & My Dog

My Best Friend Kora

I met my best friend Kora in 2013. We did everything together – hiking, eating at our favourite restaurant patios, hung out with friends, visited my parents. She greeted everyone with a smile & a wag of her tail. Kora was my dog.

We met when I first started working at the Atlanta Humane Society. She was a 10-year-old mutt with big, brown eyes, a purple tongue, the softest black ears, & strange, wiry hair that stuck up between her toes & hung in scraggly strings from her belly. Our best guess was that she was a Shar-pei/Lab mix & it was as good as any other.

From the moment I saw her I was in love. I've always had a soft spot for senior dogs. They are perfectly content to lay on the couch all day & get belly rubs. Who can argue with that lifestyle

Every day I went to visit her in her kennel. It got to the point where she recognised me on sight & would paw at the door until I came to say hello. For everyone else she just laid in her bed & wagged her tail, she only got up for me.

When I finally had plans to move out on my own, the first thing I did after getting keys to my new apartment was adopt Kora. I signed the paperwork, loaded her into my car & drove off into the sunset. I had my dog, I had my own place, I had a job I loved – it was one of those moments in life where everything was going right & the opportunities felt endless.

Life With Kora

Life carried on as it always does. I hit a few bumps in the road. Romances came & went. Job promotions too. My roommate & I had an unlucky run in with some frozen outdoor pipes & had to make an emergency move.  Two years went by.

I was cleaning in the kitchen of our new apartment when I heard this high-pitched yelp. I came into the living room & found Kora chewing on her bone, wagging her tail, probably hoping for a treat. Then, as she kept gnawing there was another yelp & she dropped the bone.

At first I didn't think much of it. She was old, it was probably arthritis, or maybe she'd cut her gums while chewing. It happens...But it kept happening & so I made a vet appointment.

That's when they discovered the heart murmur.

From there, as often is the case with the elderly, no matter what their species, everything went downhill very fast. Soon we were ordering tests & x-rays & trying different medications. She couldn't chew on her bones any more, her jaw hurt too much. The medication made her tired & she began to drink & pee excessively, she was having accidents all over the house when she never had before.

Then she had trouble breathing. Fluid was filling her abdominal cavity, slowly putting pressure on her lungs. We drained it once, it helped only for a few days. I had no specific answer for what was wrong with my baby, but the bills were piling up & I work with animals for a living – I knew what was coming.

In my head the process for euthanasia is very simple. I've witnessed & assisted with it dozens of times. It's quick, it's peaceful, & it's kinder than many of the ways we let our fellow humans pass away.

I stayed with her & held her close as the vet injected the medicine. We were laying on her favorite blanket in a quiet room at the hospital. She licked my face, wagged her tail, I begged her not to hate me, & then she was gone. I was completely crushed.

Losing My Best Friend

The months that followed her death are like a grey blur in my memory. Everything is washed out & dull, I guess that's because that's how I felt. I constantly picked at the memory of her death, like a scab, reliving it over & over. I think a part of me wanted the hurt, because all I had left of her was that pain.

 I remember at some point I put her dog tag on my keyring so she could still go with me everywhere. It's still there. There was never a point where I thought to myself, “This is it, I am starting to heal.” The days just kept carrying on & I was swept up with them.

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Then one day this couple walks into our lobby. The wife clung to her husband's arm, on the edge of hysterics, while he was using everything he had to keep his face calm. They had a 13-year-old beagle with kidney disease who had taken a turn for the worse overnight.

Carrying On

The woman was inconsolable. “I've never had to put a pet down before!” she told me. “How do we know it's time? What if it's not the right thing?”

“Why don't you bring him in & we'll discuss your options, okay?” I suggested.

They got him from the car & he came waddling in with his droopy eyes, a few extra pounds from age, barely able to walk, but his tail kept wagging. He was happy just to be with his people. We spread out a large fluffy blanket on the lobby floor & they sat down with him between them, lovingly scratching his ears. I thought about my own struggles with Kora, trying to think of what I would have wanted to hear.

“There is never going to be a time where you will be with 100% okay with this decision,” I said. “Because we're never ready to say goodbye.” I told them about Kora, how on the day I put her down I spent a solid hour or more at the vet's office wavering on what to do. I told her that even though it still hurt & I still cried, I knew I'd done the right thing, because we make the toughest decisions not for ourselves, but for those closest to us.  I walked them through the process, told them that he would be treated with all the respect & dignity of a family member, because he was one.

We carried him to a quiet room in the back. I held his arm just like I did for Kora, stroking his ears & kept telling him what a good boy he was. He went peacefully.

They came to see him one last time & left crying, holding each other.

About a week later, the woman came back. She said, “I just wanted to come & thank you. I wasn't in a good place to at the time, but you really helped me understand. When you told me what happened with your dog, it just made it...not hurt less, just made it easier some how. Like I wasn't alone.”

Helping others who were going through what I went through is how I found the strength to carry the weight of my own loss.

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