The night of February 7, 2003 was a cold one. We'd had snow a couple of days before and I was just about ready to crawl under a warm comforter with multiple cats for the night. I needed to let the dogs out before we all headed to bed, however, and when I opened the door leading down from the back porch into the yard, both dogs ran down the stairs.
I still don't know exactly what happened. Perhaps Honey, the small dog, got tangled up with my larger dog, or perhaps she slipped on a patch of ice on the stairs. It was dark, and I heard--rather than saw--her fall, bumping against the steps and the railing and landing hard with a thud and a yip. And then there was silence.
I could barely make out her form at the bottom of the steps. I ran back into the house for a flashlight and yelled for my son to come help me. I got there first, and Honey was lying on her right side--shivering, drooling and unable to move. I think I'll always be haunted by the look of fear, shock, pain, and panic in her eyes.
Within 5 minutes we were enroute to the emergency vet clinic, fifteen miles away. Honey was on blankets in the back seat, where she whined and struggled to move. At times she would make no noise at all and we feared that she was slipping away.
When we arrived at the clinic and carried her in, the vet took a quick look at her and gave her an injection for pain and another that would sedate her a little. They did a series of xrays on her neck and spine, and while there was no obvious fracture, Honey still could not move and she had no feeling in her legs or tail.
The vet said that I could take her to a university in the southwestern part of the state that has a special veterinary program for animals with spinal cord injuries. They could do advanced tests there, and also surgery. She warned me, however, that there was no guarantee that surgery would help, and she said that I'd be facing a cost of at least a couple thousand dollars. The other option--if there was no improvement by morning--was to euthanize her, to end her suffering....
We carried our broken little dog back out to the car to start the cold drive home in the middle of the night. She was calmer, due to the sedative, but she whimpered and cried--which had me in tears, too.
As much as I love my animals, I was realistic: I simply didn't have the money for extensive tests and surgery at the university--especially since there was no guarantee that it would be successful. I gently put Honey in her bed when we got home and prayed that she would be better by morning.
My younger son and I talked about euthanasia. While it was difficult to think about, I told him that it was probably the kindest and most loving thing that we could do, given Honey's total paralysis. I knew that we couldn't let her suffer, and I rationalized that she wouldn't even feel the injection since she was paralyzed and without feeling.... And if she went to sleep and that was it--well, then that would be it. On the other hand, if she went to sleep and her spirit was released from her broken body, then that would be okay, too.
I also talked with Honey, telling her that she could hang around here (in spirit) if she wanted to, but that she would also be free to explore whatever came next for little puppy dogs at the "Rainbow Bridge", a special place--"just this side of heaven"--that the spirits of much-loved animals are said to go.
With tears streaming down my face, keys in hand and decision made, I got ready to pick her up and take her to the vet. But then I just couldn't do it. "What if....?" I thought. "What if she could somehow get better?"
Earlier in my life I'd dealt with another seemingly hopeless situation when vets advised us to put my horse "down" due to an injury that wouldn't heal (Miracle at Easter). His ultimate healing was so stunning and so miraculous that it turned my whole world and belief system upside down.
And so I decided I had to wait. I knew it would be harder to consider euthanizing her in a day or a week or a month if there was no improvement, but I knew that I had to give her a chance and a little more time to get better. I asked for prayers for Honey from my online and "real life" friends and also talked with a friend who is a Reiki practitioner.
As Honey lay immobile in her bed (which was right beside my bed) or on the plastic bags and blankets by my computer, the cats became her constant companions. Kian, my male sealpoint Siamese, was especially concerned about her.
Kai, my male flamepoint Siamese, would sit beside Honey, too, keeping her company. I was surprised to see them take such an interest in this little dog!
The cats watched as I gave Honey her pain medication and used a syringe, at first, to help her drink water. They did their best to "cover" the inevitable floods and messes that (sometimes) made it onto the pads that I had scattered everywhere.
I think they rejoiced with me when Honey pulled back her paw one night when I pinched it--she could feel something!--and I hoped that was a sign that more improvement would occur.
Kian and Kai became even more involved in Honey's care.... They would bathe her head and face with their rough cat tongues, and then they started doing something that amazed me: They would place their faces against Honey's face and rub along the full length of her body, purring and purring. Again and again I watched as they went through this ritual. I wasn't sure if I was witnessing some sort of healing massage or what, but they did this repeatedly, and I got chills, thinking of them having the intelligence--and the skill and desire--to offer healing energy to a little hurt dog....
Within a couple of days, Honey was able to lie in a more upright position, gaining better control over her head and neck.
And on Wednesday, February 12, 2003, when I came home from work during my planning period to check on her, I found her leaning against my bedroom door--but standing on all four feet with a big doggy grin of accomplishment on her face! The next day she took her first unsteady steps since the accident.
She continued to improve, and on March 30, 2003, a little over seven weeks from the time that she was totally paralyzed, I was able to capture a picture of her frisking in the snow!
My vet was amazed at how well Honey was recovering, and said that there was hope that she'd make it back all the way. I told her about Kian and Kai's involvement in her healing, and to my surprise, she said that it did sound like the cats were purposely trying to heal and to comfort Honey. She went on to say that there are so many things that we just don't know about animal communication and intelligence and love....
Is Honey completely back to "normal" now? No. She still is a little awkward when she walks, and she still falls sometimes if she tries to run too quickly.
But by April she was able to climb up the stairs inside the house, and by early June she was able to go down the stairs inside. (I avoid letting her go down the stairs from the porch--they're more steep and narrow than the ones in the house.)
Honey seems happy. She doesn't seem to be in any pain, she's back to being my "velcro dog" (following me room to room), and she and Kian, her primary feline healer, are closer than ever!
I often think about the morning that was nearly the last morning of Honey's life. All of the "logic" said that euthanasia was the right thing to do, but as I look at her now--barking at groundhogs, playing with the cats, and looking up at me with trusting eyes--I'm so glad that I decided to ask "What if....?" and wait for an answer.