I haven't posted in a long time. Life has been busy. Six months ago, I made my fourth move to my fifth home in less than three years. Each time involved heavy lifting. Very literally. We're musicians and readers. We have a lot of instruments, equipment, and books. We sold our chickens before we left, but had 14 New Zealand White rabbits to move across country and a Kubota tractor.

In the middle of packing and moving, there were two emergency surgeries, with long recuperations; the second one happened two days before the movers were supposed to arrive. We managed to back the move up for a week, although the doctor was still not happy with me leaving the state, and transferring medical care was not easy. On the bright side, one peculiar incident in the attempt to transfer my medical care has spawned another Ivy Leake Mystery!

We are now settled in our new home in the Appalachians. Before we left our beautiful property in the north, we buried our friend's twenty-year-old cat on our property. One thing I feared was that our dog, Liadan, an Irish Wolfhound, would die before we moved and we would have to leave her behind. Irish Wolfhounds live, on average, six to eight years. Liadan was well past nine when we left. I know she'll die. But I at least didn't want to have to leave her behind.

I sought out an Irish Wolfhound because they are the closest dog we know to 'the Laird's great hunting hounds' of my books, of medieval times. I try to live my books to make them as realistic as possible. I have medieval weapons. I play medieval music on a medieval harp and lute. I hiked ancient hills in medieval leather boots. So I looked for the medieval dog to live with. At the last minute before driving to Oklahoma for a mixed breed, I found her, eight months old, a purebred in Cincinnati, and drove the opposite way. She came into my home at 2:30 am on Thanksgiving morning, 2014, an 87-pound puppy, runt of her litter, yet big enough to literally step over the back of our couch, she was so big already.

In the nine years she's been with us, she has not only been my constant companion, she has come with me to community centers and senior citizen activities as part of my presentation on medieval Scotland, where I talk about medieval history, show the weapons, let people try on the helmet, and play a medieval song on a lute or harp. A helper leads her around to meet people who get some idea of what the hunting hounds of the medieval castles may have been like. She has always been gentle, and loving, and a huge hit.

She became a celebrity in my suburban neighborhood before all our moves. One day, in walking her around the park, two dozen children and their parents flocked to me. I soon realized it was not because they recognized me as the author of their beloved time travel series, but because they had never seen a dog like her. Well, humility's good, right? Parents took pictures. People asked to photograph her next to their toddlers (she always towered above toddlers, even while sitting down!) 

One day my son's teammate mentioned always seeing this woman with this huge dog walking around the park. My son laughed, saying, "That's my mom and my dog!"

I used to dress for handing out Halloween candy. One year, I dressed as a cat so we'd be a cat and dog. Another year, I dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, as she looks much like a wolf. 

Liadan was 7-1/2 when we moved to our twenty-nine acres in Duluth. About the time we moved in, she started whining in pain in the evenings. The vet said to give her extra calcium, more protein, salmon oil, and joint pain pills. It seemed to help. She often ran in our big yard there and traipsed through the woods with us. She still does now, with our new puppy, a Bernese Mountain dog. She even initiates the play with him, often enough.

In less than two years after moving to Duluth, circumstances forced us to move again. Liadan was over nine years when we made an offer on a house in the south. She is now a month from turning ten--a full two years outside of the outer life expectancy for an Irish Wolfhound. I've met two vet techs who knew Irish Wolfhounds who lived to be eleven. Yet I know that's rare. It's the exception, far from the rule.

Liadan spends each morning playing with Zeph, our Bernese Mountain dog puppy as if she's a puppy herself. She runs up and down our Appalachian hills with him and explores the woods and fields with him while I take care of the rabbits and chickens. She's a little slower getting back to the top of the slope than he is...but even up to the last few weeks, not by much.

She sticks with him, like a mother. I think she's teaching him to stay on our land and come when I whistle. When he's in his pasture, she goes up to stay near him rather than stay with me by the rabbits. This is one of the very rare occasions she won't come when I call her. This is her boy. She'll stay by him and wait for me to come to them. How can I fault her for this?

Likewise, Zeph won't come when I call if Liadan is still coming up the hill. He'll look from me to her and he'll wait for her.

She has whined on many evenings for two years now. But it seems the whining is becoming more frequent. She is more reluctant to get off the couch to go do her business outside--probably because she hurts. But it also hurts her not to go. It seems I need to spend more time petting her to calm her whining than I did a year, or even six months ago. I used to rarely give her doggy-hemp pills when she seemed to be in pain. I now give them to her at least every week.

Her eyes have always had a beautiful golden glow and depth to them. In the past week or two, they have begun to look cloudy. She's likely developing cataracts. 

As she whines more frequently, I am forced to face the question of when we act for the good of our beloved pet rather than for ourselves. There is redemptive suffering for humans--there is offering it up. We have reason and understanding and spiritual concepts of uniting our suffering to Christ and to all others who have suffered and of giving our pain as a prayer. While the book A Traveler's Guide to Heaven persuaded me we will see our beloved pets in heaven, I don't believe they have the concept of redemptive suffering. Ergo: they suffer for no reason and no redemption. So I am forced to begin facing the question of if or when I put Liadan's good ahead of my own. I don't want to lose her. But I know at a certain point, I can't leave her in endless pain. I just don't know how bad that pain really is yet. Much of the day she's happy and peaceful.

My own 'good' is that this is the best dog I've ever had in my life. She is my fifth dog:

Frosty was a Keeshound, a black, silver, and gray Dutch ratting dog, only about 35 pounds but to all appearances much bigger because his fur was so thick. He could jump any fence. He was with me from the time I was ten until I had left home, went to college, and had my first children.

My first husband and I got Missy when I was about 30. Missy was an unusually large Golden Retriever. She had been kept in a kennel most of her 18 months before her owners gave her to us. She was wild when we got her, after having been cooped up. But with a little freedom, she soon settled down. She had a hysterical pregnancy and when Montana, our kitten, came into our lives, she took Montana on as her puppy. Montana nursed off Missy and they were inseparable for more than a decade. When my sixth child and fourth son was born with auburn hair and I laid him up against her, you couldn't tell where her fur ended and his hair began.

Missy was in pain as she aged. With nine children in the house, including very young children, we finally faced that it was best for Missy, if not for us, to send her to my sister's property where no small children would trip over her. She lived another seven or nine months before she was in such pain that kindness required my brother-in-law put her out of her misery. I didn't see the end. I took her there and said good-bye to her but we lived for months knowing she was still alive there. So the end didn't seem as real.

Thunder was another Golden Retriever. He was also a good dog, coming to us from the pound. They thought he was maybe four or five years old. He loved the kids and the kids loved him. He lived with us from 2006 to May 2015. He would happily chase balls for an hour at a time. My daughter created a fan site for him on social media.

One night, he stumbled down the stairs, bumping into walls, pushing his way into corners, and foaming at the mouth. In the morning, my neighbor lifted him into the back of my car. The vet thought he'd had a stroke or aneurism. He's the first dog we ever had to personally make the decision to put down. Several of our nine children were still at home and there in person. The rest were on facetime on the phone, saying good-bye to him. I sat in the hall with the one child who couldn't face being in the room as his beloved dog died.

It has now been eight and a half years since I've faced this decision. But this time it's exponentially harder. With Thunder, he was clearly at the end, pushing his head blindly into corners. It was clear he was at his last days.

Liadan is not doing this. She is entirely herself--yet as the months, and now weeks, pass, more obviously in pain.

I've had four previous dogs in my life. I now have a sixth, Zephyr. I loved each. Yet there is something special about Liadan. I've always said she seems more like a child than a dog. She has always seemed more cognizant, somehow. She looks into my eyes with her deep golden-brown eyes in a way no dog ever has. She seeks and loves and needs attention, affection, love, and connection in a way no dog ever has.

She wants to be by my side always. When I go down our hill to care for our rabbits and chickens, she must be with me. After our recent move and my two surgeries, she has occasionally followed me everywhere, refusing to settle herself, until I sit down, to the point I have wondered if she knows I need a rest and won't stop until I take one--because I will finally sit down and stop what I'm doing just to give her peace from her agitated pacing behind me wherever I go. 

I hate to say she's the best dog I've ever had--because I loved Frosty, Missy, Thunder, and even Guido. I love Zephyr. I don't want to take anything away from them. And yet, she is the best dog I've ever had. There is a quality to Liadan, to her interactions with me, to her love for me, to the look in her eyes, that is like having a child or another person with me, more than like having a dog. I'm told some of these behaviors are particular to the breed--such as 'docking' or leaning in. Maybe so. Yet I believe she intuits and senses in a way no other dog has. She seems to have a connection, a wisdom, a knowledge--that I've never experienced from any other dog.

Now, as she approaches her tenth birthday, two years beyond the outside 'average' for her breed, I have days that are stressful because of her whining in the evening. Then I think...but she's only whining in the evening. She's still happily playing with Zeph and tromping up and down our hills during other parts of the day.

How do we know when it's time? When the whining is a quarter of the day, half the day, most of the day? From the outside, she seems still very happy with life. She loves me, she loves Zeph, she traipses over our land with him and explores our woods and fields while I work. She clearly loves Zeph, this new puppy. Even more, she loves me and never wants to leave my side. She even seems to feel a responsibility toward me, to need to be there with me to look over me. She whines up a storm and becomes agitated if I try to go do animal care without her at my side.

And so, we go day to day, just doing our best to know what's right for her.

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