Bark for Peace!
musings & ramblings, mostly about dogs, from a three being, three species family

Bark for Peace!

Our Elsa is with us no more

March 29th, 2011 . by lisa knaggs


It is with deep sorrow, and through pouring tears, that I write to tell you all that Elsa died peacefully yesterday afternoon about 3:30pm.  She was outdoors under the bright blue Colorado sun, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells she loved so much.  Elsa was in my arms with Dr. Green at her side.

Dr. Green and I began communicating about her condition and the rough night prior, just after 7:30pm yesterday morning.  The pain medication (also doubled in dosage) was not enough to relieve her and she was moaning.  When I arrived at the Vet clinic, Elsa’s Dr. Justin and a vet tech rushed out to greet her- drawing blood straightaway.  The oxygen chamber was ready and her Dr. Justin carried her so lovingly into what we hoped would make her breathing comfortable and effective. Justin, Sam and I were all there, as well as Joann- a vet tech who had also cared tenderly for Elsa.  We were cheering her on, hoping against hope, but the oxygen didn’t make much difference, and we agonized with her as she labored to breathe. Dejectedly, Dr. Green told us her lungs and abdomen were probably so full of fluid (water and or infection) that the oxygen could not displace that.  Still, with great hope, he gave her some IV lasix, the diuretic she’d been taking in pill form, to try and relieve her body from the swelling.

We waited in anticipation for good news from her blood work, but the news was anything but good.  Despite the high dosages of two antibiotics and all the good nutrition, love, prayers, energy and hope we had all surrounded her with in the last week, as well as the obvious improvement of her external wounds, Elsa’s infection was significantly worse.  The logical reason for that would be the spread of infection from her mammary glands, or maybe cancer- but whatever it was it was taking over her body faster than we could do anything to slow it down or stop it.  We could no longer be hopeful for her physical recovery in the face of her worsening condition.  It pains me to admit, something we all know is true- sometimes, despite all the loving care we can give, bodies are simply too broken to be repaired. Sadly, Elsa’s body had suffered too much damage for too long to be repaired.

After an hour or so, Elsa began refusing oxygen.  I kept replacing the hood on her snout but she removed her snout repeatedly, over-riding my insistence on knowing what was best for her.  Eventually she righted herself and tottered out to urinate.  As Dr. Green said, she was simply too much of a lady to lay in her own waste anymore, and she demonstrated her dignity to the end.  Unfortunately, the fluid that kept coming out of her body was not reducing the swelling grossly disfiguring her legs.  Her body’s systems were shutting down.  The sparkle had left her eyes and I saw in her back and forth gazes, a pleading for relief.

As many of you know from being in similar circumstances, there is no easy way to navigate end of life decisions. I have come to believe that discernment is the hard work of life.  And none of us gets a free ride.  I hope you, as Elsa’s larger care team, know how agonizing it was for us to make the choice of euthanasia.  But our beautiful girl was suffering and we had come together to support her to relieve her from suffering.  We had to recognize the obvious.  As much as we felt frustrated and powerless to change the medical and scientific facts, they were staring us in the face, literally, in the pained eyes, furrowed brow, and rattled breathing of our precious shepherd with the heart of a lioness.  We were not able to end her pain, so we freed her to have pain no more.

Because he is a kind man, Dr. Green wanted to tell the family who brought Elsa to the clinic (and had been calling to check on her condition daily) that he had decided the treatments were not working and it was best to put her to rest. Although he was not legally obligated to inform them, Dr. Green cared about the human family as well, even as he continued to express outrage at the grave injustice it seemed to us was inflicted upon this dear dog. None of us will ever know the full and true story, but he had listened to questions of concern and tears on this dog’s behalf, and hoping there was indeed sincere regret and remorse, and also love, he allowed this woman to come in and say goodbye to “our Elsa.”  Surely this was also an act of compassion, and a model for non-retaliatory behavior.  The law is there to enforce codes and punish- a Vet has the difficult and sometimes impossible role of interpreting, translating, and care-taking across species.  I cannot say enough good things about the communication skills, integrity, and ethics of this young Veterinarian.

When I saw the petite woman’s red and swollen face, eyes dripping with tears, I cried with her, for her, and for Elsa. Elsa, leaned toward her and gave her a loving gaze with soft eyes.  Elsa showered no anger or fear of the woman. The woman gently caressed her head as she continued to weep and told me that this dog had been her son’s grandfather’s dog and that the grandfather died 10 years ago.  “She’s been with us 16 years.”  My mind cannot fathom a scenario where neglect and abuse are not part of naming what happened.  Yet I know I see only through a glass darkly (to paraphrase biblical imagery of not-knowing/understanding) and must continue to live with only this partial understanding.

I suppose the truth is almost always a mix of the versions of stories going around.  I don’t know or can’t comprehend what happened to this precious dog, or why.  But I am sure that when I hold onto anger, it eats up at me from the inside and I become a repository for rotting flesh.  Have you seen the film, “The Upside of Anger?” If not, I highly recommend it. I continue to struggle through life as an activist; how do I stand strong against gross injustice but still come from a place of compassion?  I have a lot of practicing to do…

I thought that if Elsa could extend understanding and forgiveness for her mistreatment, or at the very least, neglect, then certainly that is what I must do as well.  If I had to describe that dog’s emotion (and that’s always a tricky thing to do), I would say she was happy to see the woman and happy to receive her gentle touch.   I think dogs teach us so much about forgiveness and hope.  Rather then being unconditional in relationship, I think they believe in us, again, and again, and live in hope that the best will come forth and that today is going to be a great day!  (sometimes when all current evidence is to the contrary)  Dogs pretty much suck at holding grudges, and people pretty much rock at it, and there’s no question in my mind which set of behaviors yields a more wholehearted and worthwhile life.

It did my soul good to be present for that reunion.  It was painful, but healing.  At 48 years old I must admit, there’s not much I know about life anymore.  My middle-aged questions have replaced the bravado of certainty I sported in my youth. Still I hold onto and take deep comfort in this simple fact: neglect and abuse did not have the last word.  Even though she was only with us a week~ Elsa was surrounded by love and LOVE had the last word.

Samantha, Dr. Green, and l will say goodbye to this sweet soul at a burial here on the ranch where she enjoyed her last days, Friday at dusk.  If  you would like to write anything to be read at her service, please do so as a comment on the blog below (rather than on Facebook)- that way those memories of Elsa will remain for others to read as time goes by.  Thank you for sharing this brief journey with us.

13 Responses to “Our Elsa is with us no more”

  1. comment number 1 by: Therese

    I’m so sorry, Lisa, but glad for Elsa that she left this world surrounded by love. From reading her story, I’m convinced that’s the reason you came into her life. She was able to make a graceful exit surrounded by a love I’m sure she had never known.

  2. comment number 2 by: Dave

    Thank you, Lisa, Dr. Green, Samantha, and all of the saints and angels who were pouring that LOVE over Elsa and all of the suffering beings in her life.

  3. comment number 3 by: Christina

    Dear Lisa, I am so sorry that Elsa didn’t pull through. You did the right thing by letting her find peace, even though it is so heartbreaking to make that decision. We had to make that decision for our beloved Am. Bull dog, just three weeks ago. He came down with a form of cancer that couldn’t be treated, only suffering ahead. So take comfort in that, like I did. No more suffering. A client of mine sent this after we lost Finley and I wanted to share it with you, maybe to read on Friday.
    The Silhouette
    (by Terri Onorato)

    The silhouette stands boldly
    at the end of the hallway
    ears erect, eyes like jewels
    the tail, it softly sways.

    This wouldn’t be the first time
    I’ve seen her stand nearby
    her image clear as crystal
    from the corner of my eye.

    Her visits I don’t share with some
    who think I’ve went over and beyond
    the grieving time they deem I need,
    they say I should move on.

    I sometimes pity people who
    have never felt just cause
    to share the bond between two souls,
    one with hands and one with paws.

    The silhouette reminds me
    what the others say is wrong
    for as long as breath goes through me
    there exists our mighty bond.

    When the Keeper calls me home
    and the Bridge gates open wide
    our bond will deepen tenfold
    as we walk through side by side.

    You see, I am the lucky one
    as I’ve been truly blessed
    for someday we’ll walk together
    as eternal silhouettes.

  4. comment number 4 by: Sue Rostvold

    Oh Lisa. I’m so sorry for your loss, but so grateful you were there with Elsa. I agree with you, “Dogs pretty much suck at holding grudges, and people pretty much rock at it,” Couldn’t have said it better myself. There is alot we can learn from these sweet creatures.

  5. comment number 5 by: martha

    What a lesson of forgiveness. Not sure I could have done the same. Lesson #2- Make sure you have a will and put your dogs in the care of a responsible caretaker~

  6. comment number 6 by: Adrienne

    Thank you Lisa, Dr. Green, and Samantha for your loving care you gave sweet Elsa. She crossed the rainbow bridge, knowing that she has touched so many lives. She is an inspiration and will never be forgotten. God needed her to run in his fields and be the loving, watchful dog to so many others. She was blessed to have you and we were blessed to have her. May she rest in peace and her soul be comforted in the fact that she was so loved, even by those(like myself) that only got to see through pictures and words.

    Rest in Peace Elsa…

  7. comment number 7 by: bertrand

    so sad

  8. comment number 8 by: Madeline Homan

    Thank you Lisa, Dr. Green and Samantha for being the wonderful people that you areb and taking such good care of Elsa. God needed her to be a happy, free, healthy dog. God put her into your lives for a reason. She lived a loving last days here. There is so much we can learn from this story. What an amazing capability dogs have to forgive. May she rest peacefully and my she be happy and loved. Thank you for bringing her into my life. She will be missed but always remembered. You all were her angels. May you jump among the clouds Elsa.

  9. comment number 9 by: Kari Stringer

    Dear Lisa,

    I have been behind in my email & just read all about Elsa’s story. I am so so sorry!!! It’s unbearable to think of what horrors she endured before you & Dr. Green but I know (knowing you) she was given a lifetime of love by you in the time she spent with you & your family! Thank you for being the incredibly kind soul you are! And our thoughts are with you during this difficult time! Much love!

  10. comment number 10 by: Carol Braly

    my heart aches for all of you, but is joyous for Elsa, who has arrived at that big fire hydrant in the sky and is being welcomed by all her buds. Thanks be to our loving God that she no longer suffers, and found the strength through her suffering to teach us all more lessons.

  11. comment number 11 by: Cindy R

    Blessings Dear Lisa and much gratitude for sharing this beautiful story that we can each learn so much from.

    Yes, Elsa is a wonderful teacher of so many lessons – unconditional love, grace and dignity in the face of pain and suffering, and knowing when to let go the limitations of a failing body to set the spirit free.

    And, dear one, so are you and Dr. Green teachers on this journey as well. You show us how to love and how to care deeply not knowing (as we rarely do) what the outcome will be. With Elsa you showed the courage to encourage her to hang on and fight, while at the same time, letting her know that, if the fight was too much, that she could choose to go. And, you had the courage to honor what you clearly saw as her request to go. Bless you both (and Samantha!) for your love and care of this and so many other of our four-legged friends.

    Although her ‘forever home’ is not on this plane, Elsa can rest in peace, knowing that she was loved and cared for in her final days. As Luke’s favorite teddy says “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And the Angels watch me through the night. And, keep me in their blessed sight.” Clearly the Angels watch over us all.

    Cindy and (Cool Hand) Luke

  12. comment number 12 by: LYNN COX

    Elsa and dr. Green taught us yet another lesson of forgiveness and compassion and most of all love.

  13. comment number 13 by: cdplane

    What an amazing person you are…..what else can I say?! You teach everyone about compassion, forgiveness and most of all positivity!

Leave a Reply


Mail (never published)