I wake up in the middle of the night and listen. His labored breaths are troubling but it’s the silence that gets me out of bed. I go over to him, kneel down and put my hand on his belly. Still breathing. “I love you Kee.”
Eleven years ago, we got the call from Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). Jack’s name was finally off the waiting list — he was getting a dog! Dan and I had planned a trip to Spain, but we weren’t going to miss the opportunity, so we rescheduled our trip and a few weeks later Jack and I headed to Long Island for two weeks of training. We came home with a new member of the family, Keegan.
Keegan had been trained for two years to help people with disabilities. First by his puppy-raiser family, The Parks, and then by a team at CCI. He had been taught over 40 commands and we had rules – piles of rules – about how to care for him at home and how to care for him when in public. He was not a dog with a vest bought off of Amazon. He was the real deal. Beautiful, brilliant, well-behaved and kind.
For the first few years as a Torrey, Keegan traveled with us and joined us on countless doctor’s visits. He would help distract us during blood draws and comfort us during difficult nights. He even spent a week with us in the ICU following a massive seizure. He was always there to do his job — he was Jack right hand man (dog). But as the years went on Jack required less companionship while doctoring and Keegan got to simply enjoy his role as Jack’s best friend. A role he took seriously and did brilliantly. He also became my sounding board, confidant, and therapist. I can’t imagine the last decade of my life without Keegan at my feet.
In January we were at Keegan’s annual visit when his veterinarian found he had lost some weight and had several suspicious lumps. The veterinarian ran some tests and a few days later we got the call that Keegan had lymphoma. At thirteen years old we all agreed that intensive treatment would be too difficult for him and were simply prescribed some steroids and pills to help with comfort. “Take him home and give him extra love.”
For four months we have been giving Keegan extra love. He’s enjoyed more treats than he ever (CCI was strict) and more long evenings being surrounded by people petting his beautiful coat. The progress was slow at first but the last few weeks he has deteriorated quickly. He’s having some trouble getting up off our slippery wood floors, eating is hit or miss, and the breathing is at times uncomfortable to hear. And, when it goes silent, my heart misses a beat.
This weekend we are going to Block Island to see PopPop and Sue — and Dodger, their beautiful lab. A trip to the beach to see his best dog buddy is our goal for his last chapter. We are worried about getting him in and out of the car and worried about having an emergency while we are up there, but really hoping we can make this work.
We want to be as kind to Keegan as he’s been to us. We want him to know that he is loved and having this goal of a last trip to Block Island is somehow making us feel like we have a little control during this awful time. We don’t want Keegan to suffer any longer than he needs to, but if he can just make it a few more days, we can make a few more memories with our beautiful four-legged friend.
They need to make dogs that live longer.