Piper, a canine Covid collateral casualty

Piper, a Canine Covid Collateral Casualty


(Update: my 14 year old dog died today, 5/13/2020)

It’s not the best day. My dog is either being put down, this very minute, or it has already been done. All I have been told is that it will be sometime this morning. Either way, I am respecting my Mom’s wishes, by not being there, with her (she adopted Piper six years ago,) or helping be there for Piper, our beloved lab.

My mom is 88 this year and has been observing a strict quarantine regimen to avoid the virus, in southern Maine, my home base, where she lives alone after my dad died. She has been toughing it out, at home with Piper, avoiding all physical contact, while the virus has picked up in her county, which is second highest in Maine. My daughter lives near her, and also my sister and brother in law, but she has kept herself ‘under glass’ and has rarely left the house.

It was not in the plan to be so far from my mother at this vulnerable time. I had moved back to live in Kennebunkport, the year Piper was born, after living away since my early adult years. A year after we moved, just 3 miles down the road from my parents, my husband came down with cancer, and he lost the battle to it, in 2010. Piper was there for us all, during his long illness. She was therapy dog for me, after that.

I moved away from the Port, in 2014, but was there while my dad was losing his 12-year fight to Alzheimer’s. Piper was a comfort to him, and I was often there, helping take him to his group once a week.

Piper accompanied us, and it helped my dad, a yellow lab lover, that she was coming with us on the ride in the truck.  She helped ease his anxiety over leaving the house and my mother. He would talk to her the entire way, saying the same things, and, each time, always getting her assuring response in dog kisses.

When my dad died in early 2015, she was there for my mom, until today. She has been a comfort for many people.  In recent years, my boyfriend Bob and I have been close enough to keep connected with the family, including Piper, from my new home, upstate, in “Downeast.”

I was at my mom’s house when I got the worst flu/virus of all time in early February. I visited my older daughter and son, and daughter in law, for a week with them in Seattle. My daughter had just recovered from getting ill with a serious virus of some sort, in January.

When I returned back east, I went down and stayed at my mom’s, while on a work tour, covering the primary in nearby New Hampshire for the primary. I also went to be there, because we were concerned about Piper’s failing health.

It also was a chance to see my younger daughter, who originally was Piper’s first human mom; she was there at her birth in Vermont. Not realizing that I was most probably incubating a virus, I got together with her, and we played cards, did puzzles and went out for lunch. She is the owner of an adored black spaniel named Jackson, one of Piper’s pals.

I came down with the flu at my mom’s and due to our cautionary measures, my mom did not catch it from me. I was able to get through the worst of it before traveling back home. My daughter seemed to have caught it from me, but it was not an overly severe case.

Piper seemed to be her usual older self, managing to bump out the front door onto the rubber mat that cushioned her first steps outside. I was pretty sick, so my last days with her were not focused on goodbyes.

Piper was an Orvis dog, literally. She was born, near the Battenkill, in Manchester, Vermont, from a black lab mom who had babies in a previous litter who were featured puppy models in the Orvis catalog.

Piper was a picture-perfect lab and was possessed of an ideal temperament. She had a fondness for jumping, early on, but, like all labs, she settled into her role and became a wonderful companion, always up for a walk, or a ride in the car. She was always smiling her lab smile if you took some time with her and brushed her coat. If you did not mind, she would grant you a face lick, no matter what she had been eating, alas!

She had the classic affinity for stuffing toys in her mouth and walking around with them, like an osprey circling with its prize fish. At one time, she managed to carefully bring a duck egg in her mouth, from the back pond of our house, to the kitchen, without one crack in the shell, just to show that she could be trusted to retrieve.

I must add that she did like to steal used tissues from the trash bin, but can you really fault a dog for harmless habits? I look back, remembering her eagerness to please, her love for us, and see an unblemished soul.

She had a relatively long life: in human years, each year times 7, she would have just made it to 100.

Piper had a narrow brush with death, several times: twice she came down with heart worm and my mom had to carefully nurse her back to health. She had severe vertigo but recovered from it last year, when it seemed that she was done.

With our other dogs, two “sister” dachshunds, she managed to get “porcupined” on a few occasions, which were not dangerous- but her face was covered- and it cost many human tears trying to pry them out.

She ran off the property with them once but found her way back home-it was early Spring and I suspect the doxies were at fault. Piper was probably trying to go fetch them back. Such small transgressions!

By happy accident of temperament, Piper had more restraint than the usual lab, although you could tell she wanted to go farther, even when her legs would not let her. It was hard to see her go out into the field and have trouble getting up once she got herself out there. She just wanted the freedom she cherished.

You can’t really blame Piper for anything she ever did. She was a better “daughter” than I could ever be; she  was, appreciably, the kindest “sister” if you counted her as one of the “daughters” of my mom. Certainly she was the best dog, and she had some very fierce competition for that honor.

Her near fatal accident happened in 2011, when Piper was in the back yard, and she was alone, standing in shock for hours, while impaled on a spiked fence post. She had tried to jump over, and instead of getting her back leg over, she got her inner thigh skin wrapped around the point of the fence.

I was away and it was my boyfriend who tried to unwrap her and then had to go back to get a razor knife to cut her twisted up skin to get her off of the post. She managed to stay on all three remaining legs. I do not know how either of them managed that horrific surgery. It still makes me shudder.

Piper lost the skin, despite our efforts, but we saved her leg thanks to a gifted surgeon, who used 109 staples and a tummy flap with skin transferred to her leg, nipples and all. It was remarkable that she completely recovered. She was needed, you see. We couldn’t do without her.

I so want to tell her one last time what a good dog she is, how much loved she has been. It isn’t enough, it isn’t nearly enough.

I knew we would be able to safely leave her with my mom, when we took off in Calypso, our sailing vessel, to “cruise the southern seas” for a while, and it was a match made in heaven. Piper was not a boat dog, she was a landlubber.

Piper was, however, an ideal partner for my mom; aside, that is, from the need to sweep twice a day to pick up hair that Piper voluminously shed, her only fault, but not one she could help. Her character was faultless in all other respects.

I do not know how that dog deserves to die like this. I wish she was not in pain. I wish she could continue to last for longer, but the back leg gave out finally, and she could not get up yesterday. She was crying last night, my mom said.

It must be heartbreaking for her, but she can’t pick her up and we can’t help or our “germs” would be on Piper. It’s not fair that she could be the means for carrying a virus that could kill my mom. The ways this virus is penetrating our lives is unimaginably nefarious. It takes a dog’s last days and keeps family from being there and surrounding the animal with the love they so richly deserve.

Can I mention again that I hate this virus and the costs we have borne in its wake? I wish I could see her and hold her paw as she leaves this existence.  Piper epitomizes the “heart of a dog” quality, which we “dog lovers” bond to so fiercely, and that makes it so unbearable when we try to cope with a dog’s death.

I say this, and then realize that it has done this, this virus has been this way for people with their loved ones, the world over. How can we cope? How can we bear this? I know, somehow, that we will. We must have the heart to care for others; we cannot forget cannot that the deaths are real, the anguish is terrible, no matter how the numbers are worked.

There is always a way through, nevertheless. My mom will manage, she is stable and tough, and has a good friend network. I need this virus to get done with its dark work. My ability to withstand not being able to hold my dog, and my mom, and be able to grieve our dog together, is nearing an absolute end. I must be able to be human again, our family must be able to gather together.

We can’t avoid the deaths of our earth animals. Although we are all going to die, it is how we die that matters, and how we protect our rights to life and death.

To die, able to go when it is time, as it very much was for Piper, and to die with dignity, which she has had, and to die with those she loves surrounding her until the end…these are needs we must protect.

We must fight for the ability to have those who loved us be able to touch and care for each other and remember us in a circle of remembrance. For me, these things will have to wait, but not for much longer. It is growing intolerable. I need to hug my mother.  I can’t stand that she is going to have to suffer through more isolation, bearing this on her own.

Piper would not want it either, but she can’t help us anymore. My caregiving dog, I hope there is a place worthy of you to cross over to.

Goodbye Piper. You are, as someone kindly said to me, crossing the rainbow threshold. I dearly wish you well. You carry so much of me with you. Thank you.