A dog, death, and dragonflies.
Back in mid-April I wrote here about our dog Angus (“A dog, love, and living in the now”) .
At the time I was uneasily anticipating going to the veterinary clinic to take Angus back, as I had discovered a new cancerous lump since his second surgery to remove one in January. As of my April blog we’d thought, due to its fairly quick regrowth, that we would not do any further surgery. But two weeks later decided in consultation with our vet, to give it another go, as it was still fairly small. She operated on May 3rd.
It was much more extensive this time, with a large incision to remove the lump and more tissue around it to give it better margins, and then a second, longer incision down his inner thigh to create a flap of skin sufficient to cover the other incision where so much was removed. He came home groggy with meds and rows of staples and a couple small tubes protruding slightly for the incisions to drain. My poor sweet boy.
In only a few days this remarkable senior pooch was eager to get back to the woods to chase rabbits. The pain meds must have been really good! We had to restrain him however, and limit him to brief, gentle walks for a couple of weeks until he could heal and have the staples removed. But soon enough, as we approached summer, he was off and running again. We’d hoped that enough had been removed to stave off regrowth for much longer this time, and were happy that it was apparently not a cancer that was metastasizing to other organs, it was at least fairly localized as far as they could tell.
Periodically I would run a hand gently over his belly to scan for lumps as he slept, splayed out on his back, legs wide apart, toes in the air. It seemed all clear. But by the summer solstice our hearts had fallen. One day I was towelling him off after a romp in the woods, and as I patted underneath his groin area as he was standing I was horrified to find a substantial lump under his skin, hanging down, much bigger than the initial lump that had ulcerated. “It” was back, and growing quickly in only about 6 or 7 weeks.
We visited our vet again and, all of us so disappointed, resolved we would let it be. It seemed unlikely cutting this one out would’ve solved the problem, and it was too much for Angus’s comfort and quality of life, and for us too, for him to be having surgeries every 6 or 8 weeks.
We took home some pain meds to keep him comfortable and enjoyed the glorious hot summer.
Most of the time he seemed fine, although after his daily runs through the bush he’d go straight up to our bed when we’d get home and crash for a few hours. Normally he had spent more time beside or under my desk, or on the sofa. It was an unusually hot summer, mind you, and perhaps some of his fatigue was due to that fact, as Angus tended to mind the heat.
As summer gave way to fall and our other dog Alfie was clinging to the air-conditioned comfort of Edward’s office in the adjacent addition, it was just Angus and me for most of our woods walks. I noticed the bunny chases were fewer, and he spent more time close to me on the trail, no longer focused on his own agenda, but stopping and looking back at me if I paused, as if to say, “C’mon Mom.” I was paying more and more attention to him too, “lovin’ him up” , enjoying all the kisses and snuggles I could.
When I was younger I had never imagined I would like “dog smell”, but I had grown to love Angus’s, and would inhale him as I nuzzled his velvety ears and head. I think I probably mentioned in my other blog too about how I loved his big toes, how amazing I thought they were to be able to carry him all over the crazy terrain of the forest, full of rocks and stumps and fallen trees, some mucky swamps, and lots of thorny blackberry brambles, and that he could return home, pads smooth, mostly clean, and uninjured.
And as much as I wanted to enjoy the silence of our woods on our walks, where I’d often go to my sacred circle to pray or give thanks or ask for guidance, I grew to love the enthusiasm of both Angus and Alfie in their never-ending frenzy over squirrels, with not a hope in hell of ever catching one.
As I am always “looking for signs” in nature in answer to my questions, I take note of unusual encounters with birds, bugs, and other creatures. Dragonflies and damselflies (I confess I am not sure which are which) are a special delight, having many symbolic associations with illusion, transformation, changing habits, and being a bridge between emotion (associated with the element of water) and spirit (associated with air). So I spent many hours over the summer photographing them around the pond. I would call to them as we neared, and most days in late summer I’d see one or two red or reddish-brown ones (which I now know to be cherry-faced meadowhawks), sometimes a skinny bright blue one called a bluet (a type of damselfly),
and occasionally a large black one with black and white wings (a 12-spotted skimmer!)
Angus Dog had spent lots of time patiently waiting for me near the culvert where the pond flows under the trail, as I tried to get close-ups of these creatures, using my macro lens to get a view of their amazing faces with giant eyeballs. The red ones were the most cooperative and became my “friends”, posing at the tip of long grasses or shrubs, or landing on a rock. I got so I could coach them onto my hands too. I enjoyed their funny faces and the stained-glass quality of their delicate wings.
The huge black and blue-patterned ones I believe are called “Canada Darners” continued to elude me. They would zoom by as if to tease, and then dart away and hover over the water, moving from place to place and never landing on a stem or stone for me to capture an image. Always in constant motion. The closest I got was a zoomed-in crop of one hovering over the water, missing the beautiful details of his colouring.
As Angus’ tumour grew and his gait became more awkward, adjusting to it’s size, he paused to wait for me more and more and stayed pretty near for our walks. I enjoyed the closer contact with him, but it was bittersweet knowing our time was getting short and at some point we’d have to make the dreadful decision to euthanize him before he was in too much pain as our vet had advised.
And I also felt bad noticing he wasn’t always doing his usual circuit back to the house. Normally once he got back to the pond he would go off trail to the left, through the trees, trying to stir up a hare in a particular spot…often succeeding. Then it would be “yip! yip! yip! yip!” and we could follow his location by ear as he traversed the bush, crisscrossing the trail. Sometimes I would just stop and wait quietly and hear a slight noise as the hare would emerge leaping across the path, Angus, and sometimes Alfie, in hot pursuit…but often ending up going in the opposite direction!
Hare always had the last laugh, and Angus would return home tongue dragging, but he seemed happy enough. He always looked like “I almost got him this time!!” rather than defeated.
The time finally came, just over two weeks ago now, when we felt it was “time”, as yet another lump had emerged in a spot on his leg. Thanks to an opioid painkiller, Angus still could enjoy a short run and a good plate-licking, which made it more difficult, but we didn’t want him to be suffering or get injured, and then have to make a decision in a crisis. The vet advised, in her wisdom, it was the humane thing to do.
Of course, on the appointed day, November 1, we took him and Alfie for one last woods walk together. He stayed with us to the end of the trail, and then, returning to the pond, he took off on his rabbit run. We waited…and waited…and called, “Anguuuus! Angg-guuuuus! Come!!” No response. No yips. I had to head back to the house because the vet was going to call when ready to leave the clinic for our house. About a half hour later, Angus returned, tongue dragging. Five minutes later the vet called. On her way.
As I do to honour significant events, I burned some sage and asked for the space and us and Angus to be blessed. I created an altar on the coffee table beside the sofa where he would lie. I had some healing crystals on a bed of autumn leaves and pinecones collected from our special spot in the woods. Rose quartz for love and compassion, amethyst for healing and connection with spirit, selenite which clears negativity, and a tiger’s eye for courage. I lit a candle as a symbol of the spirit or light within each of us. And put out a little plaque I have of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of nature and animals.
It felt too awkward to ask the vet and her assistant to listen to some readings I had selected, I think they wanted to just do the business without getting too involved. But it was difficult for all of us, we were all in tears by the end. So after she left I read aloud some poems and prayers. We needed to honour Angus in this way.
The next day we took a walk together with Alfie into the woods.
I glanced at Edward as we walked down toward the pond and blurted, “you look suddenly more handsome than ever”. He looked perplexed, saying half jokingly “must be these red eyes of mine,” which he had from tears shed for Angus. He said, “I looked at my face in the mirror this morning and had never seen myself look so vulnerable.” “That’s it, “ I replied, “the vulnerability…. that’s why I think you’re more handsome…it’s removed a barrier.”
Having Angus as a pet had opened my husband up to being able to play again. He’d not had a dog since he was a boy on the family farm, where dogs were more for guarding livestock than as pets, and slept out in the cattle barn, even in those 30 below Alberta winters. When I first wanted to get a dog the response was, “Okay but he’ll sleep outside”. I held that I wouldn’t get one if he was kept outdoors. By the first night Angus was in our bedroom.
On this first day post-Angus we arrived at the pond, and five dragonflies (the cherry-faced meadowhawks) descended upon us, at the usual spot where I’d photographed them this summer, although normally I’ll only see one or two at a time. This time they showed up like a “flock” all fluttering right around us as if to greet us officially. These were the ones I’d seen most often and spent hours photographing.
I was so delighted to see them again as I thought they’d be gone for the year, being the 2nd of November. They hadn’t been around in the past few weeks as it was colder and grey. But the sun came out that day and it was quite warm, and there they were.
A couple meadowhawks landed on my back and shoulders, perhaps attracted to the neon green of the jacket I had on. Then one landed on Edward’s jean jacket, over his heart, he noted, and I snapped some photos.
“Pick him up” I said, and he coached it onto his hand, as I had been able to do many times before. I put my finger in front of another one who climbed on, and I snapped again.
On the way back to the house we went up to our labyrinth and Edward stood by an apple tree nearby while I walked the three-circuit path. I asked in my head for a sign from Angus that all was well, that he was there in spirit. I had hoped to find a feather, as a friend had told me to look for one in her card reading that morning. We did see both a eagle and a hawk when we were at the pond, but they were so high and heading away as to not seem significant.
I knew that five dragonflies flying around us had seemed a pretty good sign as it was. As I’d mentioned, Angus spent more than a few hours over the previous weeks waiting patiently for me to shoot “just one more”.
As I walked the labyrinth Edward was startled to “hear” beside him what he described as a kind of snort, like Angus would make when looking in holes for mice. He thought it must’ve been Alfie, but she was too far away to have made a snort he could hear.
Just as he told me that I said, “Well, I asked for a sign from Angus that he was here, and one of those big black dragonflies that I can never photograph flew through the labyrinth and away!” And then I held my hand to my ear and laughed aloud as I heard the clear message from Angus, “That’s your hare!” alluding to the hare he always chased but could never, ever catch.
Thank you dear Angus. That’s perfect. May there always be a hare for you to chase in the afterlife, and a dragonfly for me to chase in this one. After all, it is about the journey, not the destination, right?
As for the symbology of dragonflies, here’s what one site I found said, that actually mentioned red ones in particular like the ones that surrounded us at the pond:
(On a page about Transformation:)
“…. Dragonfly is the metaphor for our own transformations out of the depths of our emotional dramas into a place of freedom. A place we could equate to going when we depart this world. Thus, the red dragonfly may emerge around death with the soothing message that this transformation will carry us to freedom and eternal love.
[…] Native Americans perceived dragonflies as the “souls of the dead” so a dragonfly visitation around a loved one’s death could well signify the loved one’s soul taking form in the spirit of dragonfly. It offers the assurance their soul is free.
When we consider the color red and its meaning, particularly in relation to it as the color of the Root chakra, we find the significance to be deeply linked to the Earth. The Root chakra is associated with our basic survival needs, resources, stability, security and all manner of grounding spirit energy into both the body and the Earth. The color red is affiliated with our passions and strong emotions around heat, fire, anger and love. Thus, the color red represents a strong connection to this material world and our emotional experiences along our life journey. When we depart this world, we let go of all our earthly and emotional attachments. To witness a red dragonfly around death is a comforting reminder that in our letting go of material and emotional trappings, we are being set free.” (From: http://anniehorkan.com/red-dragonfly-symbolism-transformation-death )