Updated: Sep 5, 2021
To love is to do, to feel, to become. Love is not passive, or still. Love is continual movement and change and growth—continual choice, continual promise...
- Marisa Donnelly, "Love is a Verb," Thought Catalog
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve watched my foster dog’s quality of life decline. Cornbread, a tiny Miniature Pinscher, was found wandering the streets of Julian, California in the August 2020 heat. Only nine pounds, blind, in kidney failure and with two deformed front paws, he was desperately bouncing from barrier to barrier seeking food, water and shelter.
When Frosted Faces Foundation agreed to rescue him, I volunteered to drive to the shelter and transport him to safety. I found him confused, but energetic, racing around despite his physical limitations. He had no tag or chip, so the shelter named him Cornbread.
“Really? Why?” I asked.
The officer smiled. “When they brought him into the lunchroom, someone was eating cornbread.”
Three weeks went by after I dropped him safely at Frosted Faces, and I couldn’t get Cornbread out of my mind. He was considered a hospice dog, one with a short time to live. His kidneys were failing, which required a special treatment that I knew how to administer. I raised my hand and said I’d take him and keep him for the rest of his few remaining days.
Well, this dog decided early on that he wasn’t going anywhere. He learned the placement of objects in my house so quickly, by one week in he could navigate to and from his outdoor potty spot- which he chose himself- to his food and water bowl and his favorite bed. He ate voraciously, slept a lot, and entertained himself by basking in the sun.
It was odd how he never showed or demanded affection. Never nuzzled against my leg, licked me. He rarely wagged his tail. He kept to himself, occasionally joining my two other dogs under the dining room table while I ate, hoping for scraps.
As what we thought would be simply weeks of life stretched into a year, Little by little, he slowed, stumbled more, and fell victim to that horrific curse of all living things—dementia. He’d cry when he couldn’t find his favorite blanket, which sat in front of him at his feet. He’d circle around and around, bumping into things he’d always avoided before. And his kidney disease marched on.
On August 26th, a trusted at-home euthanasia vet visited my house, not for the first time, sadly, and concurred that it was time for Cornbread to rest. Crying, I told the vet how I had no idea if he’d felt my love, knew how treasured he was. When I stroked his head, did he feel something? Did belly rubs, ear nibbles, chin scratches tell him how much I cared? Pressing his little head against mine so we could dance to music cheek-to-cheek-- did that say "love" to him?
She sighed. “We don’t know his history. If his past was full of being hit, or yelled at, or bullied, he would never have learned how to give and receive love. Maybe love to him was just not being abused.”
Never learned how to give or receive love.
As the vet injected the solution that would stop his heart, I lay down next to Cornbread, who was all tucked into his favorite bed, and I quietly felt his soul leave his body. When he was gone, I saw a look on his face I had not ever seen before, not once in my year of loving him.
The greatest act of love I could perform didn't involve pets, or treats or toys, changing his diaper or giving him his meds.
I let him go.