I’ve been sifting through my memories of 13 years of my life with Mina pretty much non-stop since she died three months and two weeks ago. Mostly, I’ve written about the good memories of our life together, and most of my memories are very good, but there’s one that stands out as very bad …

We were living in Denver, Colorado for about 18 months in 1999-2001. We lived in Littleton, a suburb of Denver, for the last year of our stay. We had a decent, little apartment across from Clement Park and a short walk to Columbine High School. Mina and I took our morning walk in Clement Park and we spent Sundays at an off-leash dog park down the road – Chatfield State Park. I had a park pass and we’d go off early every Saturday or Sunday morning so Mina could run around and play with the other dogs. We’d been going there for several months so we knew some of the regulars, both human and canine, and generally had a good time.

We were there on a weekend in August, 2000 – I can’t remember if it was Saturday or Sunday – having our usual good time. On the way into the “dog training area” (it was used to trained hunting dogs, of all things) we saw a black snake slither past us into some tall weeds. I should’ve taken that as an omen and turned around and gone home, but Mina loved running around for a couple of hours and I couldn’t deny her that pleasure.

It’s funny but I have photos of her at Cherry Creek State Park’s off-leash dog area, but none of her at Chatfield, that I can find. It wasn’t a very pretty place, mostly free of grass with only a few trees, but there were two ponds that many dogs would swim in. Well, not Mina. She never liked getting her feet really wet. She’d walk down the steep sides of one of the ponds and sniff the water and tease the other dogs who were chasing sticks or floating balls, but she’d never get in that water.

I brought water for her to drink and a couple of biscuits, and Mina would chew the biscuits as she trotted around meeting friends and making new ones. She never sat still on these weekend visits to the off-leash park, but she was exhausted whenever it was time to leave. I know she really enjoyed being free to run around and be an unabashed canine.

That afternoon we left by the same route as always, past the larger of the two ponds and down a slope to the parking lot. Mina was ahead of me, as usual, and I was about to call her back to put on her leash when she encountered a young man and his German Shepherd. In a flash I heard Mina scream and saw her leap back, as if she was thrown, about five feet into the weeds. I ran down the hill and reached her, laying still in the weeds with a huge, bloody gash in her side. The young man, who we’ll call Complete Asshole, walked over with his unleashed hell-beast as I was frantically calling for help.

He said she was fine, it was nothing but a scratch … then I moved aside and showed him the bleeding hole in Mina’s left side. He actually told me that his dog couldn’t have done that, because he’d never bitten anyone before. I screamed at him: “IT DIDN’T GET THERE BY MAGIC, ASSHOLE! Leash your dog, right now!” He continued to protest that his dog was innocent of viciously attacking my Mina. I asked him for help carrying her to the car and he told me that he wasn’t responsible and walked away.

By then, several people arriving at the park had heard my screams and shouting and, as I was carrying Mina to our car, asked if I needed help. I showed them the Complete Asshole and his dog and they promised to make sure that everyone else in the park that day knew what happened. I hope they shamed that jackass into leaving and never returning.

It was Sunday, now I remember, because I had to find an open vet. I drove to Petsmart where I knew they had a Banfield Hospital and ran inside with Mina. The vet tech took us into an exam room immediately and started to look at Mina who, amazingly, was able to stand up and pant furiously. Mina wasn’t in shock, she was calmer than me, so the vet tech took her away to prep her for surgery. A couple of minutes later another tech came in with a blood pressure cuff – for me. She thought I might be in shock because my face was completely drained of color and my lips were blue. In AUGUST. I wasn’t in shock and they brought me orange juice to drink while I waited for the vet.

Mina’s surgery lasted two hours, during which time I was instructed to go home and try to relax before picking her up when the hospital called. I had plans that evening with friends so I called one of them to say I wasn’t going, please sell my ticket, and so on. They were all friends of Mina’s and very concerned and ready to load up and find the Complete Asshole and kick his ass. I appreciated the sentiment. A lot.

Finally, it was time to pick up my baby and I drove back to the hospital. When I got there I was told to go right back home because Mina was once again being prepped for surgery. My sweetie girl had managed to pull out all of her stitches in her recovery kennel. They were going to operate again and close the wound with stainless steel sutures. That still sounds painful.

When I went to get Mina again, she was groggy and had these things that looked like the pointy end of staples sticking out of her side in a nearly four-inch long jagged line. She also had a drain tube (which she deftly removed the following Monday morning as I was in the shower) poking out both ends of the sutures.

Home in her protective T-shirt, sleeping off the anesthesia

Mina wore a T-shirt during the three weeks her sutures were in, and we had twice daily draining sessions. Only once did she let me know that I’d caused her pain. I was holding a warm, moist towel over the sutures to drain the wound when I pressed too hard. In a flash, Mina growled and grabbed my wrist in her mouth, pressing just enough to make her point. She let go as soon as I removed the towel and then licked my wrist.

Two weeks after the attack, in one of her "custom" T-shirts

Her petsitter came in during the day when I was at work to take her out for a short walk and make sure she had water and treats. In the early days Mina had to wear a Buster collar, which I hated so much and she hated much more. The T-shirts worked fine after the healing started and she didn’t bother the wound because of the pointy sutures. I don’t know which of us was happier when the sutures came out.

Honestly, I never forgave myself for putting Mina in a dangerous situation where she was seriously hurt. We never again visited an off-leash dog park. I believe they are dangerous places – because of the humans, not because of the canines. Mina never again came near a German Shepherd, and she and I both had a fear of any dogs bigger than Mina, until we moved to our current home and she met Turk and Chance. They’re older, very gentle boys and Mina was very fond of them.

Yesterday, I stood at Mina’s living room window and heard myself say, “Mina, Mina, Mina!” as if she were standing beside me.

s.

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Lately I’ve been bunking on the couch in the living room to be near Mina at night. I have to give my back a break tonight, though, ’cause my couch is not comfortable. Eco-friendly, yes, comfy? Not in the least.

Mina’s nights are pretty rough. She pants heavily, with a raspy sound coming from her throat sometimes. She drinks a couple of bowls full of water, and she needs to go outside at least once or twice. The coughing gets really going near the hour of the wolf (around 3 a.m. when you can’t sleep because you’re worried about something), and when she gets any sleep at all, she urinates and sometimes awakens with a start. When Mina’s awake, I’m awake.

I’ve compared notes with Colleen, who’s beloved Tosca is also taking big doses of Prednisone for lymphoma, and we think the panting is caused by the Pred. It’s worst at night, because during the day Mina mostly sleeps.

She takes at least one walk per day to visit her friends in the leasing office, but then we stay pretty close to our building. She has stumbled a couple of times on the stairs and during walks so her arthritic right carpus is getting worse, and I’ve noticed some weakness in her back legs, too. Poor girl has barely any muscle mass left from the cancer, and her weakened immune system from the chemo adds to the problem. I will say, though, that there are some improvements since ending chemo in early September. Her belly,which had turned completely black during chemo, is starting to look more pink. Her hair is coming back and there’s no sign of the return of the sarcoptic mange.

But this is all cosmetic stuff, the cancer is definitely wearing her down. I’m trying to let her know by not making her walk any further than she likes, and by offering to carry her up the stairs (an offer she steadfastly refuses), that she doesn’t have to act as if she feels better than she really feels. I let her sleep when she wants and I feed her at least four times a day – big meals – and she’s allowed to snack on anything I have, too. She can eat shitty dog biscuits, which she seems to love, try vegetables off my plate, and have whole jars of organic baby food for dessert.

So far, she’s given me no indication that she’s had enough, but I fear that will come very quickly, and probably at night.

s.

A week after Mina’s last chemotherapy treatment was her happiest period. She was playful and energetic and eating well and we had some hope for a few good months of high quality life.

Since then we’ve found enlarged lymph nodes (right prescapular and right mandibular), sarcoptic mange, a fluidy-feeling lump in the sagging skin under her chin, and more symptoms of arthritis. There’s no more spring in her step or trot in her daily walks, she has a look of pain about her gaunt face most of the time, and her breath could knock a buzzard off a shit-wagon.

Granted, she’s still eating well but she’s not gaining any weight. She’s bony and thin with skin hanging from her belly and under her chin.

Mina, it appears, is in decline. I’ve been wrestling with this all weekend and have probably made us both sick (she has the runs, I have the runs and a slight fever). I’m still hoping the homeopathic medicine will do some good for her but I feel like things are winding down.

Here’s what else I know about Mina … she’s very perceptive and very keyed in to my emotions. I believe she can tell by scent when I’m in full-on high anxiety mode and when I’m relaxed. She probably wishes I’d drink more wine. She still enjoys going for rides in the car. She still enjoys meeting other dogs on our frequent walks around the complex, and she still enjoys a long belly rub and some butt scratches. But I don’t think she feels particularly good at the moment. Maybe this will change, but my brain tells me that it probably won’t change.

s.