I've thought over and over about how to start writing this post, trying to come up with something succinct and eloquent to capture how I'm feeling and everything that's happened. I can't. What I can say is: our beloved Casper died this past Saturday, June 17, 2017. We miss him so much. We will always love him.
Grace and I are overwhelmed by the weight of our grief, but I also want to emphasize right away how much PEACE we have felt over the past few days. Peace when it doesn't make sense; inexplicable peace. And we are so, so grateful for the life of Casper and for each other.
Naturally, many people have wondered what happened. Friends in LA had seen him just a few days before he died, and they didn't notice anything wrong. Neither did we. Though the memories of his last days are still extremely confusing and painful for me, I want to share them here because I know that people are curious, which is understandable.
On Wednesday, three days before he died, we saw that there was blood in his urine. But otherwise, he had no symptoms. I noticed it first, while Grace was at work. I immediately called the vet, even before I told Grace. The vet said that it was troubling but not an emergency; we could come in the next day for an appointment. We did, on Thursday evening, and they said he looked otherwise healthy but they took some urine and blood samples to do some testing. Maybe he had a urinary tract infection or a kidney infection, the vet thought. We told them that we were supposed to go out of town the next day (with Casper), and we asked whether we still should. They said yes, absolutely. We should continue normal activities. I'm not including this detail because we blame our vet in any way. It just gives context for why we would go out of town when our dog was showing some signs of health issues.
So on Friday, June 16, we drove to Joshua Tree. We had rented a cabin down a dirt road to enjoy a quiet getaway for my birthday, which was the 17th. Casper snoozed in the back of Grace's car on the drive, and when we got there, he sniffed around curiously and enjoyed the large amount of land to roam off-leash. We noticed he was a little off; he was still peeing blood, and his back legs seemed weak. We also got a voicemail from the vet telling us that the test results had come back, and his kidney, liver, and proteins levels were a little high, but that they still couldn't tell what was wrong based on that. We tried to enjoy the desert and stay calm and love on our sweet pup.
In the evening, we decided to order some pizza from a place in Joshua Tree that we really like. As I mentioned, our rental house was down a dirt road, so we had to drive to go pick it up. Along the way, we took a wrong turn, and we ended up careening down what was essentially an ATV trail, terrified. The sun was setting and we had no cell service. Casper was in the back of the car, wondering what on earth his mamas were doing. We eventually made our way back to safer ground (at one point, I had to get out of the car and direct Grace as she backed out around some boulders . . . again, terrifying), and we decided to ditch the pizza idea. We just headed back to the house, shaky and exhausted. As we hopped out of the car, we saw the most gorgeous purple sky. I pulled out my camera and snapped some photos of Casper against the backdrop. We didn't know it, but that would be his last sunset, and those photos were some of the last we'd take of him. We will cherish them forever, and we are so thankful for the wild series of events that led us to that perfect moment with the sunset and Casper. We even played a little fetch. He was a bit lethargic, but he still enthusiastically tried to bite apart the stick we threw for him. We're so glad we got to do that one last time.
That night, we just hung out and rested with Casper. He was cold, and we wrapped him in a blanket. We couldn't really get him to eat, even when I cooked him an egg and put it in his food bowl. I actually don't remember that much of what I was thinking that night. We were worried about him, but we definitely hadn't given up hope. But I do remember lying down on the floor beside him and crying hot tears into his neck. He would always get nervous when we cried and try to comfort us and lick our tears away, so I held my breath, not wanting to upset him.
The next morning (my birthday), I woke up around 5:45am to Grace opening the door of the cabin to let Casper out. A couple minutes later, she poked her head back in--"I need you. Casper can't walk." I tore out of bed and out the door. He was weak, his back legs falling out from under him. But we held him up, willed him to walk, and encouraged him. He eventually was able to go to the bathroom. Maybe his legs are just sleepy since it's early, I thought. We took him back inside and lifted him up and put him in the bed. He and Grace fell back asleep instantly, both of them breathing heavy and deep. I stayed up, said some prayers for Casper, and took some photos of that sweet last nap. Again, we didn't know for sure that any of these things were the "last." But as time went on, we kind of knew. By around 6:30 or 7am, I was pretty sure this was Casper's last day on this earth. But I clung to hope at the same time.
Around 8am, Grace and Casper woke back up. 8am was also the time that the vet in Joshua Tree opened, as well as our vet in West Hollywood. I called them both, seeing if there were appointments available, explaining how things had progressed, and asking what to do. During this time, a lot of confusion and panic set in for me, as I found that no vets--even the emergency ones--had any availability for hours, and we were hours from home. Shaky, I called vet after vet--Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, Yucca Valley, LA. I know now that we weren't meant to find a vet, that sweet Casper's last hours were never meant to be spent in a place where he'd be scared or uncomfortable. But I felt helpless. While I was on the phone, Casper started showing some telltale signs that the end might be near. Gasping, crying out, and not being able to control some bodily functions. Shaking and shuddering. It was so scary (and I'm crying again as I write this). But Grace and I looked at each other and we knew what to do. Today was going to be one of the worst days we had experienced, and we wanted to go home. We love Joshua Tree, but we didn't want to be out there far away from everyone we knew. Grace stayed by Casper's side while I packed up the cabin as fast as I could. I put on clothes, and then I went to Casper's side. Grace ran out to get the air conditioning going in the car so that Casper wouldn't have to sit in a hot car while it cooled down. Once we were packed up and the car was ready, we had to get him to it. I should mention that he was completely paralyzed at this point, other than breathing and blinking. He couldn't lift his head or neck or stand up. I scooped my arms under him and carried him to the car. I don't know where the strength came from, because I'd never carried him that far before and he was a very meaty boy. Much later, I would realize how many muscles I pulled and how sore I was from that journey with him, but I wouldn't change a thing.
In shock and filled with adrenaline, we set off toward LA. It's about a two and a half hour drive. We wanted to take him home, and we prayed out loud that he would make it back with us. I sat in the back of the car with Casper, cradling him, and Grace was in the front seat, driving with her left hand and reaching around with her right to hold his front paw. I stroked his face, telling him every minute how brave and strong he was and how much we loved him. Somehow, I didn't cry. I didn't want him to think we needed him to protect us. I wanted him to know we were okay and we would take care of him. We could tell he was in pain and his breathing was shallow. As the minutes passed, I told Grace I didn't think we were going to make it home with him, and we started telling him that he could go, and we would be okay, and he had been such a good dog. I could feel his little breaths on my arm until they stopped, and I told Grace, "he's gone."
Grace was amazing during this. She drove safely and steadily to get us home. After Casper passed, we still had about 2 hours left to LA. We just drove on, and I held him the whole time. We talked and said all that we were thankful for. We prayed for his life and his spirit. Even then, we felt peace washing over us, knowing that he was no longer in pain. While we were in the car we called our families and some of the people who knew him, breaking down each time, but knowing that this was only so hard because Casper is SO loved. Once we got back to LA, we drove straight to our vet, and they knew what to do and made it easy for us. Then we had to drive home without our dog and start mourning and celebrating his life.
The rest of that day was pretty surreal. I kept getting happy birthday texts from people who hadn't heard the news, which was so sweet but also so emotionally confusing. We had asked our families and a couple of friends to begin spreading the news, but we decided that we were going to share via social media to cut down on the lag time and hopefully avoid having to say the words out loud any more that day. We both used photos from the sunset pictures I had taken the night before, and we held hands and pressed send at the same time. A little while after that, the vet called us to talk about what might have been going on with Casper's health. Based on how everything happened, it's likely that he had some kind of cancer in his organs that caused something to rupture, like his spleen. The details aren't super important to us. While we're shocked that he's no longer with us, we know that grasping for answers about his death won't change anything. We are choosing to focus on his life.
The love we have felt from our families, friends, and even strangers in the days that followed is impossible to put into words. We've had friends show up unannounced on our doorstep for hugs, knowing we'd probably say no if they asked, but knowing we needed it. We have more food than we can eat. We are putting flowers in blender cups and cocktail shakers because we ran out of vases. We even had a friend offer us an already-paid-for vacation to Yosemite. We have been absolutely covered in love and support, and what means the most is that Casper generated that love. Seeing it in physical form has been so sweet. He multiplied the love in our lives exponentially, and we will be forever grateful.
One thing that has been really helpful is hearing from people that have been through this type of loss before. Grace talked to her amazing grandparents, who have been married for 72 years (!!) and have had dogs for the vast majority of that time. We also got some great advice from Grace's cousin Mary, who went through a devastating loss of her dog of many years. She really emphasized that we should mourn him properly, and we have been focusing on doing just that.
On Sunday morning, our first morning waking up without him, we drove to our favorite beach in Malibu. Grace's dad (who is an Episcopal priest) wrote us a beautiful prayer for Casper that we read out loud on the beach, along with some readings he sent about loss and animals. We wrote Casper's name in the sand, with a backwards "E" because that's how Grace always wrote cards when she signed them from Casper to me.
We had a gathering of friends later that day, and we laid out photos of Casper, his favorite toys, a can of salmon and some string cheese (his favorite foods), his leash and collar, etc. We were surrounded by people all afternoon, and it really lifted our spirits. People told stories--some that I had never even heard--and brought their own photos, some that I'd never even seen. The fridge was overflowing with food that people brought us. I cried on a lot of people (literally) that day. It was such a true picture of community. Grace said a few words that I want to summarize here: because so many of our friends in LA have moved here from somewhere else, we're all each other's family out here. And Casper was the family dog.
We are grateful for a lot of things, more than I can capture here. One of the biggest ones is that Casper was with us when he died. He didn't like going to the vet. He loved road trips. That he passed away while we were in the car, surrounded by mountains, not in traffic, is beautiful. He was surrounded by love until the very end. I can't even think about this happening on a weekday while we'd been at work and he was alone. What a beautiful gift. He left us in the car, but he will always be in the car with us. On every trip. On the road to Alaska. He will never miss a single one.
And while I think a lot of people see it as especially tragic that this happened on my birthday, I honestly don't think of it that way. June 17th tends to be beautiful, no matter where in the world I've spent it. I've always been blessed with a warm, late spring/early summer, blue-sky birthday. And I'm so glad Casper got to feel and see that on his last day on earth. I love Casper so much, and for my birthday this year, I got to see him and kiss his snout one last time. I'm thankful.
It's also not lost on us how lucky we are to have each other. I have never felt closer to Grace than in these past few days. I feel like we are two peas in the same pod of mourning, and our thoughts and words flow effortlessly between us almost telepathically. We will look at each other and just know what the other is thinking, finishing each other's sentences about memories of our sweet boy. We have been on the exact same page on every decision we've had to make and every step we've taken. We aren't taking any of that for granted.
Another thing we are so grateful for is that we still feel Casper with us all the time. We know he's resting easy and sleeping in SO late. We still feel his presence in big, powerful ways that are almost hard to believe. It gives us so much joy, confidence, and purpose to know that he's watching over us and right beside us.
I have a pretty unbelievable (but true) story to illustrate this. Starting on Saturday night, one of the few things that has brought us comfort is watching old episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race. Whether you're a fan of this particular show or not, I have a feeling that a lot of people can relate to the experience of re-watching "comfort food" TV when you're down. We used to always watch the show with Casper on the couch beside us, so it's special in that sense as well. It's such a positive, uplifting show, and we already knew the winners of each season, so it was really nice to watch something with no surprises and no sad moments.
Well, on Sunday night, our first full day without Casper, we went out to run some errands, one of our first times leaving the house. As we drove back to Grace's, with the sun setting, we saw none other than RUPAUL CHARLES IN THE FLESH parked just up the street from Grace's house!!! He was sitting in his car, just looking serenely straight ahead like he was waiting for someone. He had tinted windows, but his driver's side window was rolled down, so we could see him clearly. We are huge fans and would have always been thrilled to catch a glimpse of him around the neighborhood (Grace and I both live in West Hollywood, so it's not the strangest place to see an LGBT icon). But for it to happen on our first full day without Casper, at a time when we're watching 10 episodes a day to comfort ourselves, was truly divine. We instantly knew that Casper had sent him to us; that Casper had seen how sad we were and knew how much it would cheer us up to see RuPaul. We drove by twice just to make sure it was really him, and it was. We could not believe it. We felt waves of peace crashing over us, knowing with so much certainty that Casper was in heaven, looking at us and smiling his little grin, feeling very pleased with himself for pulling off such a big surprise.
A question that naturally comes up is: what will become of "Have Dog, Will Drive"? I started this blog just weeks ago with the intention of sharing my travels with Grace and Casper. But just because his earthly presence has left us doesn't mean that he won't be with us on our road trips and adventures. I promise not to turn this into a blog of ghost dog sightings. But I will keep writing. And I want to still share what we learned about having a dog like Casper in the hopes that it can help someone else adopt a pet like him.
Finally, a HUGE thank you to all of the people who have supported us near and far. We will still be leaning on you going forward, and we can't thank you enough. We love you, and Casper loved you. He loved unconditionally and indiscriminately. Elderly people and babies, friends and strangers, people we met who were living on the street or in abandoned buildings, neighbors whose names we never knew but who knew Casper's name and would call to him from across the street with a huge smile on their face. We are going to try our best to love like he did going forward. He makes us so proud, even still.