- MYSTERIES OF MISTY
In July of 2015 I parked my RV at City of Rocks State Park in western NM; in the adjoining lot was a van. The woman was outside cooking on a hot plate (they lived in the van), and a beautiful black and tan German Shepherd lay quietly at her feet. As I began to unhook my travel trailer and settle in, I spoke to the woman and of course complimented her on her Shepherd. Within five minutes, she offered to give Misty to me. I’m a startled believer in such chance encounters. I’ve had Shepherds most of my life; each one showed up uninvited. They graced me with years of companionship, and then in failing health required that I make the agonizing decision to put them down. I’d lost my last Shepherd two years earlier.
The lady in the van first explained that her husband was very ill, was going into hospice, and she couldn’t take care of him and Misty, and that he only had two weeks left. We agreed that Misty could stay with me for the next four days, and we’d see how it worked. I stressed they could change their minds, but that I had to leave in four days. They explained they’d had Misty since she was a puppy and that she would be 11 years old in December, 2015. That was hard to believe, as fit and spry as she was.
The wife spent a lot of time in my rig over the next few days (I lived in a 32 foot travel trailer with two slides; they lived in a black van.) The following morning she said, “I’m the world’s worst liar. Greg is sick but he doesn’t want to go into hospice. So he’s going to kill himself.” After 10 years as a trial lawyer followed by 10 years as a judge I’ve developed a good poker face. I said nothing but thought, “Easy, Laura. You don’t know his situation or how you would handle it.” But then she added “And I’m going with him. I can’t bear living alone.” It was harder to keep a bland face with that comment.
And the conversations kept getting weirder. I felt like I’d fallen into the Twilight Zone, in this remote desert spot. Over another cup of coffee, she told me it was important that Misty live with me because “I don’t want to take her with us because she has too much life left in her.”
During another talk, I asked what was wrong with Greg: “Oh, he hasn’t been to the doctor. “ — “What! Then why did you say you have only two weeks left??” She replied, “You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to plan something like this.”
To put it mildly, I didn’t know how to deal with all of that, nor did I know what to believe. They were giving me the creeps, and I wanted to just run away, with Misty, in the middle of the night. But I’d told them I’d leave on Friday, and I very much wanted this particular black and tan, now sleeping on my couch, to be safe. I knew from my days as a judge, that if I called law enforcement, the couple could readily discount any concern that they were a “threat to themselves or others”, and I would only succeed in “flushing” them – and they’d leave WITH Misty, to do whatever they chose. I called a retired Methodist minister; I talked with a friend who is a psychiatrist. I had long candid conversations with the wife. And Misty stayed with me, on a trial run, until Friday, my set departure date.
Finally Friday arrived; filled with dread and confusion I took Misty outside and told Greg, “Here. Misty is yours.” I had spent sleepless nights, bracing for whatever weird story would come next. Yet the Husband replied, “No, Misty is yours.” The wife hugged my neck and said, “You’re an answer to our prayers,” The two of them left on a long walk; I hooked up the RV. Misty and I drove away. I haven’t seen or heard from them since.
For two and a half years Misty and I lived in an RV, making trips from Florida to Arizona and parts in between. With Misty as a formidable companion always by my side, I felt secure. “I can do anything.”
A year and a half after I began traveling with Misty, I had a medical issue at the age of 69 for which my cardiologist recommended a service dog. I wasn’t interested in buying a service dog; one German Shepherd in a 27.5 foot motorhome was enough. Misty was the smartest Shepherd I’ve had and in good physical health. I contacted a service dog training school in Tucson, AZ. Though Misty was “too old” to go through the school (four years is their cut off age), they referred me to one of their trainers and we went to work, after hours. Misty took to service work in ways that startled both me and the trainer. She had an unflappable demeanor, was very bright, and totally food motivated. I swear she would have done a double back flip for a treat, if I could help her understand what I wanted.
In the first of many adaptions that will be required as I age, I also traded in my 32 travel trailer and big diesel truck for a small motorhome with no slides and a miniature truck to tow behind. I call it my little old lady motorhome.
Between her good looks and calm demeanor, Misty was the poster child of good will. She was particularly fond of children, and gently let tiny strangers pet and poke.
Misty also had a way of knowing when a grown-up needed a special dog fix. One day when we came out of Wal-Mart (she was on-duty, wearing her superwoman red cape that read “in training”), she stopped as we approached a man standing between the parked cars. He spoke quietly, “I had a German Shepherd.” I responded, “Yeah, they’re great dogs,” and took a step. Misty didn’t move. I paused, a bit confused by Misty, for her whole focus was on the man. She wasn’t tensed, just intense. He said, “My dog was looked just like her.” I trusted Misty and her instincts; I said, “Free” and she moved to him. He buried his hands in her fur and dropped his head. Then he added,” I had to put my dog down last week.” His wife was standing behind him; she caught my eye and quietly mouthed “Thank you.” After a few quiet moments, he stood up and walked away.
Though Misty remained alert and so very good looking, in August, 2017, she began having trouble with her hips (a common problem for German Shepherds). The vet said it was arthritis and we began an extensive (and expensive) Rx regime. When we left NW Florida in the motorhome early October, she was fine though still not back at the top of her game. By early November, we were back at City of Rocks SP in western NM – a place we both loved, and the place she had first come to me.
November 3, I took Misty to East Lohman Veterinary Clinic in Las Cruces, NM, for her monthly Adequan injection; she was slowing down but still in control of her world. But when we went to Albuquerque to visit friends for Thanksgiving, she drug her left rear foot on the sidewalks to the point the toe nails bled, a lot. I dialed back her activity level even more but she was soon dragging both rear feet; she couldn’t tell where her hind legs were, so they would get tangled up or slide out from under her at weird angles. She was noticeably worst when we left Albuquerque.
I didn’t want to take her to a stranger, though Dr. Ross was certainly not the closest vet. It was only miles, so I made another appointment in Las Cruces for November 30. We were back at City of Rocks and drove into town early to meet friends for lunch at Rudy’s, a popular BBQ place in Las Cruces. Misty came in with me, wearing her superwoman cape that says “In Training.” She lay on the floor of olfactory heaven and took a pill wrapped in my roasted turkey breast. Again, people bragged on her – how pretty, how smart, how calm. But the BBQ was hard for me to swallow.
Soon we were at the vet’s. Dr. Ross sat on the floor beside Misty, going through the neurological tests I’d watched before. But in less than four weeks, the results were very different. With compassion, patience, and professionalism, Dr. Ross explained Misty had rapidly progressive neuropathy, and there was nothing that could be done to help her. She stressed that Misty was not in pain, and said there was no reason to do hip X-rays, give her the Adequan shot, or continue her on the pain meds. I leaned against the steel exam table to brace myself, and Dr. Ross gently rubbed Misty as she talked. She explained that soon, Misty would fall down and be unable to walk. She would lose control of her bowels and bladder. I asked for a time line, and she said a month at the longest, perhaps a week, or that she could fall the next time I let her outside. She emphasized that the decision was completely mine and gently added, “I can put her down now, or you can wait as long as you chose. I had a dog with progressive neuropathy, and I waited till he fell and couldn’t get up. Then I put him to sleep. It’s your decision how to handle this.” I finally found enough air in my lungs to speak, and the words came from that deep place – a strong place where love lives. “I don’t have your skills set. I can’t put her down in the middle of the night, or the middle of the desert. And I have a bad back. I can’t pick her up when she falls.” I stood there with no clear answers, watching Misty through clouds of tears. The room was quiet; the vet was not hurrying me. Finally I could speak again, “I don’t have it in me to put her down today. I want to take her home with me, to say goodbye. But this is Thursday, and I don’t trust the weekend. Plus, I’m 85 miles from you. I’ll bring her back tomorrow.”
Misty and I drove back to City of Rocks State Park, and the bad jokes began. I asked what she wanted for her Last Supper; we agreed on lots of rotisserie chicken and home-made chicken soup on top of a little kibble. Our only goal was to insure she didn’t get an upset stomach. She wondered why we hadn’t started this Last Supper routine months ago. Friday morning she happily inhaled her Last Breakfast – a repeat of the menu from the night before. Then just after sunrise, we took the Last Walk, up through the rocks. Her ears were on full alert; the adrenalin was flowing as she hurried hither and yon, pulling on the leash, convinced she could catch those darting rabbits if I’d just turn her loose. As we turned to go back to the RV, a pack of coyotes began to sing. Misty’s coyote angels, calling her home.
Then we got in the truck and headed back to Las Cruces. I’d packed her a Last Picnic of yet more rotisserie chicken and we left early to stop at a city park near the vet. But as I made the turn, there on the corner was a Pet Smart! Misty’s all-time favorite place. So we skipped the park and went to Pet Smart. Misty walked up and down the aisles, smelling every bone and bag of dog food within nose reach. Twice. But then it was time to go.
At the vet’s office, Misty and I were led into a room with a soft blanket on the floor, and I began to parcel out yet more rotisserie chicken. As I sat on the floor beside her, Dr. Ross gave her a shot that relaxed her and then injected the lethal dose in her artery. The process is …. more than words can convey. Soon the vet nodded and said, “She’s gone. You can stay as long as you like.” I got up, shaking my head and responded, “No. I have to go now.” Then I leaned over and buried my hand in her still warm fur and looked straight into the vet’s eyes, “You won’t find a better one than this.” I left through the back door and sat in my truck until the sobs subsided enough I could see and drive.
Back at the RV, I began to clean house. The next day, I took laundry – mine and Misty’s – to the Laundromat. I came home to an RV that was too clean, too quiet, too empty.
Two days later I went with Dyana, a friend from Las Cruces, to the Pink Store in Palomas, Mexico. I bought very large, very bright paper flowers and a vase, because they make me smile. Then I bought a Day of the Dead ceramic tile; it’s a very happy dead dog. I bought it because it makes me laugh.
Four days later , I drove away from City of Rocks without Misty. Someday soon, I’ll come back to our favorite place to scatter her ashes. City of Rocks, where I found and lost Misty.
In the meantime, I have outrageously colorful flowers on my table and a ceramic tile of a very happy dead dog. I believe Misty is happy – laughing over memories of olfactory heaven in a BBQ place, great last suppers, rabbits, coyotes, and even a last trip through Pet Smart.
Misty wasn’t in pain. I still am. And she’s worth every tear. The mystery of love.