Meet my beloved King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Harley.
This week is a more personal post as I am grieving the loss of our precious dog of 14 years, who passed this week from congestive heart failure.
Sure…everyone says their dog was one of a kind, but I swear – Harley truly was.
October 11, 2022 was beyond measure one of the most difficult days of my life. There is a gaping hole in my heart. I am not sure I will ever truly get past it. With time, hopefully, I can just learn to cope.
Best I start at the beginning, by telling you his story.
I had just gotten divorced in 2007 and lived in a small apartment with my two boys, 5 and 7. An interim stop, we were searching for a permanent home with a back yard and other things amenable to growing children. One such thing was, of course, a dog. But I did not want to commit until I had the interior space and a back yard for play. So, about three years went by, praying each night for God to bring the perfect dog for our family, at the right time.
On the down low, I researched as to what breed would best suit our needs and lifestyle. I wanted one that was gentle, easy to work with, exceedingly cute (of course!), and adaptable to the hustle and bustle of a home with small children. A King Charles Cavalier Spaniel checked all these boxes – and more. As a working mother, I also knew I wanted an adult as preferred to not overwhelm myself with the associated work training a puppy.
We finally moved into our new home in February 2010. As it happened, a few months later during Easter Week my boys were away on vacation with their father, scheduled to return on Easter Sunday. With them out of the house I began to earnestly search for the dog we had so long prayed for. Aware the breed was known for heart issues and other ailments, I thought it best to begin by directly seeking out reputable breeders, asking if they had an adult they might part with, the thought being at least it would come from good stock.
After several days of calls I settled my focus on one particular breeder in the Jersey Shore area, whom I first spoke with on Good Friday. She said she had a 2 year old Cavalier named Harley who was unfortunately not very useful to her – as he was infertile. Perfect for me though, it seemed. There was one catch, however – someone was already interested, and was coming to visit the next day (Saturday) to meet him. She promised to call if they decided against adopting him.
I never heard from her on Saturday, and left it up to fate.
While leaving church on Easter Sunday, a message popped up on my phone. They decided he was not a fit, and he was mine if I wanted him. I immediately jumped in the car and took the two hour drive down to pick him up. I had faith in the fact he came so organically, and trusted my intuition that I had made the right choice. Returning home with Harley by mid afternoon, I had about an hour to adjust, and anxiously awaited my boys arrival.
I will never forget their faces when they walked through the door and saw him, finally manifesting their three years of fervent wishes.
Harley went everywhere with us.
Here he is at the Jersey shore with our family just a few years ago, where we have spent summers since my boys were born. Harley was the kind of dog you could bring literally anywhere, and would greet everyone with pure love. He was the sweetest, kindest, gentlest soul one could ever meet. Those of you who are fans of the breed know the innate sweetness that they are. He traveled everywhere with us – visiting friends, having overnights, day trips, and yearly vacations.
Did I mention he was deaf?
Yes, Harley was deaf. Surprisingly, I did not realize it for awhile – as it is not something one would assume needs testing in a dog. But after several months, I started to see that he never stirred when I woke in the morning, nor when I came home, pressing at the beeping house alarm. Always perched in an opportune spot to survey the entire room, he would inevitably sense my presence after a few minutes, and lift his little head.
His sight compensated for the hearing loss, and I will never forget that beautiful face, with his floppy ears and sad eyes, intently following me everywhere I went. Verbal commands typically taught to a hearing dog were replaced with hand gestures and eye expressions. He intuitively and effortlessly adapted.
I quickly realized, since he had to have us in sight at all times, he could go outside in the yard without a leash and would never stray far. Living on a busy street, this was a huge blessing. Rarely would he go more than 10 feet away, always perched somewhere he could have his eyes locked on us, just in case we repositioned and he needed to adjust. This allowed for outdoor playdates, family barbecues, and evenings by the fire pit with no worry whatsoever as to where he may wander. A simple glance would always reveal him right by our side.
Congenital Heart Disease
At about age 10, later than average for a Cavalier, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. It did confirm he was after all from good stock, but the inevitable was manifesting. What I did not understand was how it would progress in real time, within the day to day iterations of our family paces. At age 13 he was also diagnosed with kidney failure, and over next 12 months he deteriorated, slowly becoming a shadow of his former alert, loving and lively self. The wasting of muscle from kidney disease prevented him from climbing stairs anymore, and he would slide all around the wood floors, determined to stand up – with an inevitable flop. Traversing the house became impossible without assistance. Ultimately, we carried him outside to go to the bathroom, among other necessities.
I started to make assessments like ‘he rallied today’ or ‘is doing pretty well’, not fully realizing (until now) I was basing it on the norm of the last few years, rather than that of a healthy dog in his prime. When he went into congestive heart failure a week ago, they put him on furosemide in a futile attempt to address the fluid building up around his heart and lungs, but it had a double edged effect on the kidneys, which would now work overtime to pump the excess fluid from his body.
He would not be able to cope.
On October 11th, 2022, at 5:16 pm, Harley finally laid to rest.
I was working from home by myself that day, and as usual he was in my office, wanting to rest where he could have me in sight. What was not usual, however, was that he was having a particularly hard time laying down. I knew restlessness was a symptom of advanced stages of congestive heart failure, as standing made it easier to breathe; laying down pressed the fluid against his already stressed heart and lungs. When he finally collapsed to the floor, he was panting and laboring to breathe so excessively that I knew the scale had finally been tipped. I called my partner Michael and the boys to rush home and say their goodbyes.
Never in my life could I have imagined the pain of making that phone call to the veterinarian, but dreaded more waiting out the day and night while he would inevitably decline. Holding him in our arms as he gasped for air, it was both to our relief and torment when the sedative took effect. Finally his chest stopped heaving and his little snout came to rest peacefully on my left knee. A hollow, fleeting echo of his youth flashed as we snuggled, stroked and kissed him for what seemed an endless, yet brief moment.
His deafness always seemed as a gift of sorts – and something he compensated for so meaningfully. But in this moment, we desperately wished he could hear us just this once – our final words saying I love you and goodbye.
My last memory was turning to see the nurse carrying his beautiful little body out of the room in her arms, as the door closed behind us. His fur too magnificent, his face too beautiful, and his presence too ethereal – to be truly gone.
Some of you I am sure have been here before. For me, it was a first.
So why am I addressing this issue in a small business blog?
I will be honest, there are two reasons. One is personal, the other professional, and there is crossover.
First, I need to get this off of my chest, and writing one of the most effective ways to deal with grief and return to our lives and livelihood. So thank you for hearing me out and allowing this step to take place.
Second, I realized while this was happening that the very fact that my work is what I love doing is a blessing beyond measure. I was busy immediately after this horrific and devastating event, yet it was not something I dreaded, but brought contentment.
While typing away, I glance down at the corner of my office where Harley would always be, keeping me in sight. An awareness washes over, revealing alignment with my purpose – and the great honor I was blessed with that Easter Sunday so long ago.
That is, in and of itself, priceless.
Therefore, should you be suffering in grief while managing other responsibilities, I am going to leave you with a few things to think about going forward:
- Do what you love – Actively pursue work in a realm that is meaningful and productive, and which taps into your innate talents. Seek purpose.
- Love what you do – Be grateful about collaboration that fulfills mutual goals and intent. Seek alignment.
- Talk, talk, talk – Since this happened, I have not stopped hashing out this nightmare with my closest friends and family. Those who truly love and care will know not only provide empathy, but also active, genuine reflection and validation of the meaning your pet brought into your life. Seek willing listeners.
- Write, write, write – You don’t have to be a professional writer to write. Just jot down whatever comes to mind. Memories, thoughts, things people say which resonate, your pet’s personal story, whatever you can possibly think of that is a tangible memory. I am also going to print some favorite photos of Harley, in his prime, so I can remember at a glance the best he had to give. Seek authenticity.
- Above all, Grieve – Give yourself time to be sad. Stay present in it and authentically mourn the loss. This is not something that can be pushed under a carpet and pretended like it did not happen. Acknowledge the truth – This was a member of your family. Some will not understand how much a pet can mean to you. While that is fine, pass them by for now and seek out those who do. You will find there are many. Seek solace through the pain.
Last, I will leave you with a quote from the famous author William Martin – “Make the Ordinary Come Alive”, which kept coming to mind after this happened. In life, it truly is the ordinary things that matter, and they are manifested daily in both in our work and personal journeys. These words are perfect reminder of the infinite pleasures that exist in moments we may otherwise take for granted.
It is my belief, now more than ever, that these simple things are the essence of true joy and meaning in life. What I would not give to pet Harley just one more time. Seize your moment – and bask in it, for it is fleeting.
And for my precious Harley: Rest in peace, my little friend. There will never be a day you are not remembered ❤️
Laura Milo DeAngelis | Owner and Founder | Bergen Concierge Service LLC
www.bergen-concierge.com • 201-303-7301 • firstname.lastname@example.org