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Archive for July, 2019

I’ve been putting off writing this as long as I can, but I can’t procrastinate any longer.

Calantha was put to sleep on June 18th.  My sweet, quiet, loving, dog-daughter, my dog-soulmate.  Her passing was extremely easy and peaceful for her, thanks to Lap of Love, who specializes in home euthanasias.  Easy for her, which was the most important things.  Geoff and I will never be the same.

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They Lived To See The Dawn, A self portrait with Calantha, © Sarah Allegra, sarahallegra.com

If this seems sudden, it was sudden for us too.  In May, I had another round of nerve-blocking injections when I started noticing that she was drinking more water than usual.  This was followed by a few accidents inside the house; something that she hadn’t done since was being house-trained as a puppy.  Alarmed, I sent Calantha to the vet with Geoff, where he Facetimed me inside the exam room since I was still in too much pain from my procedure to get out of bed.  After a lot of testing, we found out right after Memorial Day Weekend that she had kidney disease, which I’d suspected from her symptoms.

Her kidney values weren’t horribly high, but they were elevated, and I felt better after hearing what they were.  We changed her diet to a kidney-specific one, which she even liked at first; something pleasantly surprising from my girl who has always thought food was pretty optional.  We got into a schedule of putting her outside more frequently and around the clock which almost got rid of the accidents inside.  She seemed to be doing pretty well.

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She’s about a year and half old here.

And then, it all fell apart.  She stopped eating the kidney food, her old food, and essentially all food.  She would occasionally eat McDonald’s hamburger or cheeseburger patties, with Geoff making runs over there every other day or so.  We went to the specialty, fancy-food pet story, the regular pet-food store and the grocery store, getting about one of every kind of wet food meant for dogs.  We bought her a rotisserie chicken.  We got her canned tuna, canned chicken, meat-flavored baby food.  I was spending 6-7 hours every day hand-feeding her from at least a dozen open containers of various food, people- and dog-food, and it was just barely keeping her alive.  She was on several nausea medications, which helped a little, but not enough for her to want to eat.  We tried an appetite stimulant, but it only made her ravenously hungry without making her actually want to consume anything.  She would come into the kitchen with me, stare at me with huge eyes, begging “Please, Mommy, I’m hungry,” but when I’d offer her the thing she’d asked for, she would sniff it, then sadly turn away.  It was absolutely horrible for everyone

She was suffering.  I knew the end was coming, much, much sooner than I’d expected from her initial kidney values had led me to believe.  One night, close to the time we put her to sleep, I found her laying on the couch.  I sat down next to her and said through my tears, “Calantha, I need to know what you want me to do.  Is it time?  Do you want to keep going?  I don’t want to call it too early, but I don’t want you to suffer either.”  And very, very clearly, I heard a voice in my head that said, “Please don’t let this get any worse for me.”  It did not sound like my voice.  It sounded and felt like hers.  I knew it was her.  So I called the at-home euthanasia vets and made an appointment with them.  It was the least I could do to honor her wishes after all the years of love she’d given me.  This was only six weeks from her original diagnosis.  Like I said, it happened fast.

I scheduled her appointment about three days from when I made the call to give us a little time to fully say goodbye to her.  We went on her favorite walk route every day.  I got what food down her that I could.  Geoff made countless trips to McDonalds and other fast food places to try and tempt her into eating.  I stopped the appetite stimulant since it was only making her feel ravenously hungry without actually making her eat.  That seemed to help her feel a little better those last few days, though of course not enough to call the appointment off.  We spent as much time with her as we could and made her as comfortable as possible.

Cal Plant Bed 2

She went out of her way to say goodbye to the dog-friends she saw on her walks.  One morning, we were starting to walk back up our driveway home when she stopped and wouldn’t go any further.  I looked around and saw one of her dog-friends across the street.  I looked at her and willed her to tell me what she wanted, and I felt that she wanted to say hello to her friend.  So we crossed the street and I let them greet each other.  When they were done, I started to bring her inside again, and, again, she stopped.  This time, two other dog friends of hers were walking up the street, coming our way.  We waited and she said hello to them as well.  There was one particular dog she’s always liked, a yellow lab named Bodhi, that we didn’t see any of her last days, but we saw all of her other close friends and she got to say goodbye to them.

No matter how much we didn’t want it to come, the day of her appointment arrived.  Unlike the last few days, she seemed agitated and didn’t settle down after her walk.  She kept asking to be let outside and went to the gate to bark, something she hadn’t done in days.  I was having a minor freakout, wondering if I was doing the wrong thing, if she was trying to tell me she didn’t want to go ahead with her appointment all of a sudden.  Then, I went to the gate to bring her inside so her barking wouldn’t annoy neighbors and I saw it.  Bodhi was being walked across the street.  She wanted to say goodbye to him.

I went inside and got my shoes and put on better clothes than the PJs I’d been wearing, but by that point, Bodhi was back at his house.  I didn’t care very much how much of a crazy dog lady I sounded like; Calantha had made her wishes known to me and I was going to to my damnedest to honor them.  So we walked down to his house, knocked on the door and I asked if Calantha could say hi to Bodhi, explaining that she’d seen him walk by and wouldn’t settle down after that.  They were very kind and indulgent and let us in.  I was trying very hard to keep myself from falling apart, but I finally got out that she wanted to say goodbye to Bodhi because this was her last day.  Bodhi’s parents are wonderful people, and not only immediately believed me, believed that this was Calantha’s wish and that I had interpreted her signs correctly, but were so kind and caring to me.  They threw their arms around me and hugged me tightly, not minding as I cried on them.  They empathized, pointing out the urn of their previous dog’s ashes on their fireplace mantle.  They were so gentle and loving to me in that precarious moment, I will forever be grateful to them.  Calantha seemed to be done saying her goodbyes to Bodhi, so we walked back home, while I tried to keep it together enough to just put one foot in front of the other.  When we got home, Calantha hopped up on the couch and settled right down.  No more going to the gate to bark, she was at peace and ready.  She had let me know what she’d wanted to do, and now that it was done, she dozed until the vet arrived.

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Calantha with Byron as a baby

The vet was a wonderful woman, probably about my age if not a little younger, and the first thing I noticed was that she was wearing a The Last Unicorn baseball cap.  Since that’s such an important story to me and I’ve always called Calantha my Unicorn Dog, I knew it was a sign that we were doing the right thing, and that she was the right vet to do it.  She had also recently lost one of her own dogs to kidney failure and reassured us that we were making the right call at the right time for Calantha.  She had familiarized herself with Silken Windhounds and seemed to understand Calantha’s personality right away, speaking about how she was “a sensitive girl within a sensitive breed.”  She was absolutely wonderful and perfect.

I’d planned on having a couple readings during her ceremony, which started by allowing her to eat something she’s wanted her entire life: a whole can of cat food.  Cat food can very easily cause pancreatitis in dogs (she was on the verge on being hospitalized for it once after getting into some cat food) so even when I was desperate to get her to eat anything, that was still the one thing she wasn’t allowed.  But now it didn’t matter, so she got to eat a whole can and she loved it.  It had clearly been worth the wait.  Then she received her first injection, which was a sedative and pain killer combo.  It hit her pretty hard and fast, and we all helped her up onto her favorite spot on the couch.  While the drugs ran their course, we pet her and I read her two poems, She Walks in Beauty and Stanzas to Jesse by George Gorgon Lord Byron.  Her name is an indirect Byron reference (which I won’t get into here since this is already going to be long) and I felt like she’d come into the world with Byron, she should go out with him.  I managed to read them without having to pause to sob too often and by the time I was done, she was perfectly relaxed and out of all pain.  She looked so peaceful.

The vet let us take our time, and when we were ready, She gave Calantha the final injection.  She went very quickly and quietly.  I knew she had left her body before the vet confirmed it, listening to her heart, because I felt her nuzzle the back of my neck as she made her way into the afterlife.  I wanted to keep some locks of her beautiful, incredibly soft fur, so I took several clippings and the vet made a paw print for us.  We helped carry her body out of a stretcher to the vet’s car where she was carefully arranged and strapped in so nothing would harm her body.  We got her ashes back exactly four weeks later, which I arranged on my vanity along with all my other unicorn figurines and stuffed animals.  A fitting place for my Unicorn Dog.

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She got a little wet running through sprinklers at this park, but clearly had such a great time that she didn’t mind.

Geoff and I wondered what sort of ceremony we could do that would help us feel closure over her death, and finally decided on walking her favorite route down the block and back with a bouquet of flowers, leaving a flower at each favorite spot that she’d stop to sniff, potty or otherwise engage with.  We ended up getting two bouquets since she had a lot of favorite spots; a dozen of the palest pink roses and what ended up being camomile flowers.  I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t scattering anything around that would be toxic to any cats or dogs who came across the sprigs, and those were both beautiful and safe.  It took about a week for me to work up the emotional strength, but we did our walk one morning and didn’t encounter anyone else.  The street was littered generously with roses and bunches of little white camomile flowers, which was comforting to see.  I went inside, but Geoff had to run over to the post office, so he walked back out to his car.  As he got to the end of the driveway, he saw one of our neighbors, the mom to one of Calantha’s dog friends, walking with another woman and they were pointing at the flowers and clearly discussing them.  Since Geoff was there, they asked if he happened to know who had placed the flowers around the street and why, so Geoff was able to let the women know it had been done for Calantha and that she had crossed over.  They were very sorry to hear that, but thought the flowers were a lovely tribute to her.  It was very nice for me to see them every time I’d leave the house.

It’s been very strange to not have Calantha here with me physically.  She is with me in spirit all the time, I feel her constantly.  Occasionally I get dream visitations from her that leave me with the most profound and unexplainable sense of peace.  I know she is alive and well and waiting for me.  I believe she will even come back as another dog for second round with us, as she told me in a dream, but that there will be a different dog that we have first, to share our love with another soul before she comes back.  That is comforting, but it doesn’t stop the frequent sobbing, the wondering of what the point of living without her is, the incredible trial of existing day after day after day without her physically by my side.  She has been with me for 14 years, since she was 10 weeks old.  Almost every major event of my adult life was with her by my side.  Her loss is devastating.  This has been a big challenge to my already existing clinical depression.  I don’t think I’d have made it if it wasn’t for the frequent signs she makes sure I see, the dream visits and the knowledge that she’s happy and at peace just on the other side of a door I can’t quite cross.  But I know she’s there, waiting for me.

calup

As I tried to force myself back into a normal routine, I began working on an image of the lovely Aly Darling that I shot quite a while ago.  I wasn’t consciously aware of why I chose it, but the roses now remind me of the roses I left out for Calantha, so I suppose that probably is at least part of the reason.  It also feels very peaceful to me, with a gracefulness and beauty in Aly’s pose which reminds me of Calantha’s effortless beauty and grace.  It was a soothing image to work on, which is what my soul has needed.  It needed something lovely, graceful and easy to start with before I get back into heavy editing.  I’ve also had the raw images sitting on my computer for so long, I feel quite bad about it (sorry Aly!) and that was good for me too, to finally get it worked up.  Thank you, Aly, for your wonderful posing and for being a part of my healing process, even though neither of us knew this would be a part of it when this was shot.

The Soul of the Rose

The Soul of the Rose, model Aly Darling, © Sarah Allegra, sarahallegra.com

I took loose inspiration from a painting by the same title by John William Waterhouse, my favorite Pre-Raphealite painter (and also just favorite painter).  It’s not at all meant to be a replica, it just gave me a starting place with the general idea of the image, the pose, the mood, the tone.  I do believe his is still the stronger image, but he is a master painter and very famous, after all, so I don’t mind being second to him.  🙂

Part of the reason I wanted to post this (and also why I didn’t want to post this) was to share the extremely sad news about Calantha’s sudden passing.  How does one even live without a Calantha??  How does everyone else in the world who didn’t have a magical, unicorn dog do it every day?  I have no idea.  But I also wanted to share the less sad news that for the month of August (at least), all profits from any sales of any prints, any items from my Red Bubble shop, anything I sell at all, will be going towards a fund I’m raising to pay for a Calantha memorial tattoo.  It’s going to be beautiful, in the Art Nouveau style of Alphonse Mucha.  I think that’s the most fitting style for a portrait of her.  This is going to be part of my healing, to have her on my skin forever.  But tattoos aren’t cheap and her treatment was expensive (and worth every single cent), so I’ll be saving up for it.  If you’d like to contribute and get something pretty from it, help yourself to anything in my Red Bubble shop!  Or get a limited-edition, fine-art print made from the highest quality papers and inks  (if you don’t see the image you want listed, just ask me; it’s almost certainly available, it just takes to much time and money to list every single image I create on Etsy).  Or, if you’re feeling extra generous, you can just donate directly to my PayPal account here.  Please feel no obligation towards doing any of this, but if you would like to help this step of my personal healing process happen, I would certainly appreciate it!

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This image will be the basis of my tattoo.  It sums Calantha up beautifully.

With my birthday coming up in slightly less than a week, I have never been less excited for one to come around.  A big part of me feels that there’s nothing to celebrate without Calantha here to share in it.  But I know she would want me to be happy, would want me to eat yummy vegan food and cake, and that she’ll be gently pawing me in spirit for tidbits.  I’m trying to be excited about it for her sake, but I’ll be honest, I cried a lot yesterday after putting in an order with the vegan cake-baker.  It’s going to be a hard one this year, but thankfully Geoff and my family are all very understanding and letting me take it all at my pace and not urging me to have more fun than I feel like I can endure right now.  It’s probably going to be a sucky day.  I’m going to ask Calantha for extra signs and dreams as a gift from her to me, as that’s all I can imagine wanting right now and maybe that will make me feel different.  Time will tell.

Thank you for reading this very long post, and thank you to everyone who has cared about and loved Calantha.  I do have one more image of her that I started, oh, a few years ago, but it’s MASSIVE, and it’s going to take a long time to finish.  I tried working on it for about half an hour one day, began sobbing and it took several days to pull myself out of the extra-deep depression just that threw me into, so it won’t be coming right away… but it will eventually.  It will be my last love letter written to her while she was alive in this world.  I have many other photos of her which would be used in future images, but I’m not ready to even think about that yet.  What I have on my plate right now is more than enough.  I’m taking it all one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time or even five minutes at a time.  This will not heal quickly, no matter how many tattoos I get of her, how many images I create with her beautiful form.  There will always be a Calantha-shaped hole in my heart.  But she is worth it.  God, is she worth it.  I would go back and have her a thousand time, even knowing exactly how it would end.  I love her.

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The Lady’s Doing, A self portrait with Calantha, © Sarah Allegra, sarahallegra.com

I’m sure there will be more posts about her in the future, but this is more than long enough for now.  I will leave you just with this quote that she nudged me to re-read from the book version of The Last Unicorn, of Schmendrick talking to Lir:

“Your true task has just begun and you may never know in this life if you have succeeded, but only if you fail.  As for her, she is a story with no ending, happy or sad.  She can never belong to anything mortal enough to want her.  Yet be content, my lord.  No man has ever had more of her grace than you, and no other will ever be blessed by her remembrance.  You have served her and loved her.  Be content and be king. … It cannot be ill fortune to have have loved a unicorn.  Surely it must be the dearest luck of all, though the hardest earned.

She is my unicorn.  Always.

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The first time I held her, 14 years ago.

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