Luka took a long time to die, four or five years at least. She left a large part of herself behind when the first blood vessels burst and bled into her brain. The freezing winters of 2010 and 2011 caused her body to collapse under the weight of the arthritis that had been threatening her hips for half a decade. She disintegrated further with time, losing her hearing, control of her limbs, her balance. Her eyes became two deep watery wells. Only on occasions would her true self flicker beneath the vacant lids.
One morning I arrived downstairs to find Luka in a heap on the ground, her limbs splayed, eyes fixed in an open stare, completely still. I kneeled down beside her, put out a hand for a final goodbye caress. Her face twitched at my touch, however. Her eyes flicked open and she looked at me, some part of her original self still present in that stare.
If she could have spoken, she might have said, “Not yet.”
This scene repeated itself over the years. I grew to expect to find Luka’s dead body when I woke up, when I arrived home. I grieved for the loss of her more than once.
Luka was the progeny of a beautiful black pedigree Labrador and a local farmer’s sheepdog, whose boisterous appetite had marked the end of her breeder’s plans to raise a litter of expensive purebred pups. We considered several of the ten puppies that presented themselves to us when we were choosing, but Luka threw her soft black bundle of a body on top of the entire heap and demanded to be seen. We chose her because she chose us and because of the four white paws that danced beneath her as she ran. She sat on my lap, crying, for every moment of that first drive home.
Luka was joyful and friendly puppy, but she was also aggressive and demanding. During that first year, she ate her way through three table legs and an armchair, tore the hems off several items of my clothing, and objected with sharp little growls to every effort to stop her climbing onto the sofa. My efforts to train her seemed hopeless at first, but then, with the abruptness of a switch being flicked, she turned into the obedient, gentle, energetic creature she would be thereafter.
That is the Luka I remembered after she finally lost all remaining control of her body less than a month ago and I watched a vet’s injection achieve the release she had resisted for so long. I remembered her bounding excitement at the use of the word “walk,” which she recognized even if it were spelled. How she would accompany anyone for a walk, her joy at the experience trumping any loyalty to family or home. I thought of her chasing sticks or tennis balls or stones, returning them in endless succession. I can still feel the dampness of the saliva soaked objects she would bring back at repeated intervals and leave on my lap or beside my hand, the soft nudge of her muzzle as she asked me to throw them again.
When she slept, even when her body was twisted and worn and useless, Luka would dream of chasing. Her front paws and haunches would twitch and her mouth would open and release the tip of her pink tongue. She was happy.
Luka clung to life with characteristic tenacity, and for those who knew the young dog, it was painful to see her during her long decline. Every now and then, however, the spark that was Luka would appear through the vacant fog in her eyes, and I knew she was still there. She was there right up until the moment when the injection took effect. Then she was gone. Free. Chasing sticks through eternity.
I’ll miss you Luka. Goodbye.