Mikka, February 2013

And just like that, the Most Beautiful Dog was gone.

Not only was Mikka beautiful, he was the Pointiest Dog: a smallish Karelian with a blaze of white running down his narrow muzzle and a peculiarly foxlike turned-up nose. His Spitz tail was a silly, spring-loaded curl that bobbed from side to side as he trotted along the street. His stare was hypnotic, and usually employed in winning treats from us or from friends or little old ladies at the park.

He was a Juggling Dog, too. When Sean and I first met the boy, we watched him fling a toy in the air, bounce it off his nose, then go bounding after, and we were ready to take him home right then and there. Mikka never saw the point of playing fetch (and let’s not even talk about agility games), but give him a good squeaky ball and he was hilariously happy on his own.

But he was also the Shakiest Dog. He came to us from the Humane Society, where he’d been given up because of his epilepsy, and before a week was up we witnessed our first tonic-clonic seizure. We found him rigid, eyes rolled back, teeth bared, jerking and shaking and drooling and urinating all over the floor. It was hard to watch, but even more troubling were the seizures that didn’t go into full-on convulsions.

One night I heard a crash in the living room and came in to find him wedged under a side table, trying to push himself into the wall behind. We took to calling this behaviour “cornering”: pacing the house in a near panic, and wedging himself nose-first into the furthest, deepest corner he could — behind the couch, into the far end of the basement, under a shrub in the front yard. Every time, it seemed to us he was trying to escape.

We tried different diets and different medications, some enormously expensive. We upped the dosage until he was a gloomy shadow of himself, lying unmoving in the yard (we had a few chats with worried neighbours), or stumbling and sliding on the hardwood floor as the drugs hampered his muscular control. When we backed off again, he returned to what we thought of as his proper self, playful and wild. And at night, the seizures would return too.

It was a horrible choice: keep the neural storms at bay, but numb away all the excitement and beauty and wonder of being a dog? Or let him live, really live, less inhibited by the drugs but at risk of spiralling out of control?

Eventually, his health forced our hand.

Sean found him in the yard one morning, vomiting and panting, his heart racing, and drove him to the vet. It was pancreatitis, brought on in large part by the anti-seizure medications he was taking. He spent four nights in intensive care, sedated and fed intravenously, measures which saved his pancreas and leveled our bank account. A number of friends chipped in to help pay the vet bill, for which we remain impossibly grateful.

And amazingly, Mikka bounced back. We immediately discontinued one of his meds, and within a couple of days he was running down the sidewalk with us to the park and tear-assing straight up the hills for the sheer joy of it.

We took him camping northeast of Toronto, and to our relief and delight, Mikka loved it. He relaxed in his very own tent, romped through the woods, and spent hours at the beach and gazing out across the lake. It was a magical time for all of us.

Mikka and Sean

But as it turned out, it was also his last hurrah. Only weeks after our return from camp, he had the worst day of seizures we’d ever seen. I’ll spare you the details except to say that we knew it was time.

It’s been two weeks since that day, and the awful waves of doubt and guilt have largely given way to simple sadness. Winter, Mikka’s favourite season, will be here before long, and I fully expect to start crying at the first snowfall. He was a Nordic Dog through and through, fond of catching snowballs and always happy to stand hip-deep in a lake or stream even if the weather was miles below freezing.

When it was time for a walk, he would tromp right up to me and stare deep into my eyes, as if trying to beam his thoughts through my thick primate skull, before turning away with a decisive little whuff and setting off importantly for the back door.

Every time I pass by the park now I see him trotting beside me, watching my every move, ready to throw a “sit” or “down” in exchange for a bit of chicken. Sitting on the couch at home, I remember him enduring cuddles from Sean — for he was also the Least Cuddly Dog — with stoic dignity and only a few uncomfortable tongue flicks. Or sprawled on his back with paws dangling every which way, his bottom teeth showing in his dozing grin.

I’d always been a cat person, but our short time with Mikka was enough to make me a dog person for life.

Farewell, dear buddy, and thank you. We’ll love you always.

Mikka, November 2012

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That is so moving…you are a true dog person.  I met Mikka a few times and admired him, though it’s nothing like living with a dog.  I’ve had experience now parting with two dogs - both Labs - and each time it broke my heart.  The most recent was in the first week of September of this year.  Talisker had cancer.  I hope she’s now with Macallan, who died three years ago, wherever beautiful dogs go.  I’m sure they are sniffing around with Mikka, waiting for us to join them so that the important work can be done - running, sniffing, sleeping, and looking endlessly at the sky.

Posted by Douglas Reid on 25 October 2013 at 1:02 PM

We lost our own sweet Cornish Rex cat to cancer on September 16 and it destroyed us.  I still cannot believe he is gone, but your post is such a comfort.  I hope you find peace of mind knowing he is healed.

Posted by Christine Frantz on 25 October 2013 at 5:57 PM

What an incredibly moving tribute to the joy and heartache that our beloved animals give us. Mikka was a great dog and he had the most wonderful, giving and caring people a dog could ask for.
Glad to see you are now a dog person AND a cat person…for they are different but equally wonderful.

Posted by Maggi on 25 October 2013 at 7:03 PM

Such an exquisitely beautiful piece, Eli…thanks for sharing this intimate portrait.

Posted by Jamie Thompson on 26 October 2013 at 8:36 AM

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