Lettie came to me in December of 2018 as a Christmas foster. She was ancient when I met her–probably thirteen or fourteen. She was adopted the day before I was to get her, but she scavenged a bag of cookies in her new home, and promptly decorated the carpet when her treats didn’t agree with her. Back she went to the shelter, and home she came with me.
Lettie’s universe consisted of food (not unlike mine). In her eyes, I was the provider of food. She had no other use for me. She hated to be picked up or held. She thought snuggling was for sissies. She liked to take a walk, as long as it ended in treats. At dinner time, she stayed on my heels until I delivered her to a crate with her bowl of goodies.
She snored, she wheezed, she coughed, and she peed where-ever and when-ever the urge demanded. She was extraordinarily capable of standing right in the space I was about to step into, nearly causing me to fall on a number of occasions. Even with all that, I loved her.
When Ike came home as a seven-week old wild puppy, Lettie was the only one that would even acknowledge him. She would lay on the floor and fuss at him as he cavorted around her. She taught him boundaries. She helped me raise him.
Lettie’s hindquarters were never strong, but over the last several months, they failed her on a regular basis. X-rays showed arthritis and deterioration. My vet and I worked together to find her relief. The rest of the dogs did not help as they inadvertently knocked her over just by breezing past her.
Lettie fell probably ten times a day, plopping down to the earth, sitting for a second, and then pushing back up to go on her way. She never lashed out. She never grunted in pain. She never gave up. She picked herself up and went on about her business. She showed a level of grace that left me in awe. She had to hurt. It had to be exhausting, but on she went without one sign of a problem.
Around Easter, this year, she hurt her back leg coming out of a crate and was lame. I thought that was the end, but she stabilized, and in Lettie fashion, with no show of pain, she marched on.
In early July, she started to fall more frequently. She started having episodes where she couldn’t catch her breathe. Then she developed a tilt to her head, and her spine became ridged. Still, she marched forward. And then she lost her appetite.
On July 15, I took her to my vet. She did an exam and offered to try steroids, but she felt that Lettie either had a brain tumor or a blood clot had broken loose, causing the head tilt and cognitive issues. I hadn’t really noticed the cognitive problems at home, she went through her motions by rote, but there at the clinic, it was clear that she was not present.
I weighed the options. I guess I will never know if I made the right decision by Lettie, but it seemed time to let her go. The one thing her life centered around, food, seemed to no longer hold interest. When she fell the last few days, she didn’t bounce back up, she just laid down like she was too tired to try. We sat under the trees behind the vet clinic, Lettie in my arms, my tears dripping down on her.
As the drugs slowly entered her system, I had this sensation that all the beagles I had known were there with us. Betty Beagle, my first and long time best beagle friend, was very present; Jake and Ollie were with us in that moment too. Lettie peacefully left me, guided by some new heavenly friends, to start her next adventure.
Lettie, thank you for showing me what grace truly looks like. Strength and tenacity were your trademarks and you wore them both well. You showed me what it looks like to get up from stumbles and falls without compliant or self pity. You just kept going, head held high, for as long as you were physically able, and even as your body failed, you stayed true to yourself. I am not as graceful as you, but I will remember your lessons and do my best to make you proud, great teacher. Godspeed to you, my little Lettie.