Willow passed away peacefully in her sleep in the early morning of Tuesday, September 6th, 2022. Her advanced kidney disease had taken a huge toll over the last three months. She was eating far less and drinking far more. She hated her new prescription Renal Care food with a passion (we tried a couple) and I started drizzling the gravy from cans of “Extra Gravy” cat food on top of her food. She usually would lick the gravy and spit out the kibble. We tried two different Rx appetite stimulants and neither made a noticeable change. She lost 20 pounds since her first diagnosis in early February of this year. She was slowly starving herself to death. I made the hard decision to let her eat what she wanted (which would hasten her death) and give her only palliative care so she could be happy in her remaining time. Soon enough though her diseased kidneys caused her now depleted body to fill with those unfiltered poisons and her end-of-life downward spiral officially began. More often than not she would vomit what little solid food she had eaten. I started to feed her maybe an hour before bed so she could sleep with food in her but, every morning when she got up to have some water, she would immediately vomit up what food had not been digested. For a few days I called that a win that she had gotten some calories into her system. I had trouble sleeping because of her stomach growling day and night. Her breath and body both smelled of “death” and she had increasing bouts of coughing up phlegm and bile.
Knowing her time was short I did a daily test to see if today would be the day. We’d go on a morning walk and see how she did and since I had Rayo with me (who we had rescued off the streets of Baja in 2018) she seemed a little more peppy and even had a go at a rabbit one morning although it was the sloppiest, lamest attempt she’s ever made and wrecked her for the rest of the day. A few mornings when Rayo and I would start the walk she would take ever more coaxing to get off her bed and join us. Eventually she refused all attempts to get her to go on the walks so Rayo and I would move off a short distance and see how she would respond when we were out of visual range. A few times we would turn around and see her standing there watching us but making no move to join us. And then, on her last two days alive, she didn’t get up at all and I just knew she had come to the end of her road.
On the morning she died she woke me up at 3:15am with a coughing fit and eventually vomited up phlegm and bile. As I was cleaning it up she did a combo cough/fart. I laughed and gave her a pat and was rewarded with a tail wag. Feeble but heartfelt. We both went back to sleep. At 5:15am I woke up again because Rayo was having a bad dream and was barking and growling in his sleep. As I woke him up, rolled him over and pulled him from the foot of the bed towards me, my elbow bumped one of Willow’s rear feet which would normally cause her to move it out of the way. This time though it didn’t move and in fact was quite solid. And then I realized that her toe pads were cold and she was dead and in rigor mortis.
Those last days were happening about 19.5km (12 miles) away from Black Rock City during this year’s Burning Man up in the Calico Mountain Wilderness below Mormon Dan Peak.
Rayo’s mom was at Burning Man and dogs are not allowed so we took him with us on this last adventure.
I had known this time was coming and so had prepared a grave at another site up near Skull Meadows above Fly Ranch. Early Tuesday morning Rayo and I drove Willow’s body over to that recently prepared grave. I laid her on top of one of her favorite blankets, filled in the grave and then covered it with the rocks I had moved to dig the hole. There is no marker and nobody standing right next to it would even know she is there. I have GPS coordinates and a Pin dropped in my mapping app to mark the spot. People who might possibly visit her grave and pay their respects have those coordinates.
Rayo’s mom also knew Willow would probably not survive to the end of Burning Man and so wrote her a letter and attached it to the Temple which was subsequently set alight on Sunday evening.
The note went up in flames along with thousands of other wishes, photos of deceased loved ones, letters of regrets or loss and other items that people are emotionally attached to but need to come to grips with or let go of.
In the morning all that was left was the star-shaped scar on the playa which was quickly scrapped and shoveled clean.
Rayo’s mom also captioned and posted that last picture on her Instagram
In the 12 years or so that I had her we accomplished a lot in our project to find Willow as many new and fun experiences as possible. According to our map Willow visited 646 distinct places with me through 3 Canadian Provinces, 12 states in the Western US, the width and breadth of Baja California as well as untold more unmapped places such as family and friend’s homes and cabins. Over those years and along those many miles Willow met a lot of people and charmed every one of them. She met hundreds of different animals and charmed most of them. She was a capable and gentle ambassador for her species and she will be missed.
Adventures With Dog is not dead. For now it is on a bit of a hiatus as I go through the grieving process. I have already spent much of my time since she died playing dog uncle to a select few close doggie friends that all knew and loved Willow which has helped ease me into this new (but temporary) dog-free existence. I am also enjoying not having to share the bed with a perpendicular sleeper who was a world-class grunter/groaner/snorer and farter. I am amazed at how much extra room I now have in the Tacoma without all of Willow’s support needs (beds, food storage and bowls, toys, treats, ramps, blankets, poop bags, coats for rainy or cold weather etc) except it has really messed up my tried and true way of loading it all in the truck, Tetris-style.
I will not be rushing out to get a new puppy…
ever (I broke that rule), and I certainly would never buy a dog from a breeder/pimp. When the time comes and I feel ready for a new canine companion I will either find one in need on the side of the road, on a reservation or in Baja and if that doesn’t work then I’ll talk with the fine folks at my local animal rescue organization and pick one (or more) hard luck cases that need a new, exciting start to their lives.
Until then, please give your furry loved ones an extra bit of attention in remembrance of the lovely creature named Willow.