Riz’s Heart Song

I am a Bernese Mountain Dog named Risotto Portabella Tinydancer, “Riz” for short. I lived with my owners for almost 13 years before my body just stopped working. I went from palliative to hospice care in the spring of 2021. At the beginning of my last 3 months of life I traveled across the country with Papa and Pucky (my daughter) from Vermont to Montana. 

We had steps for the truck, rugs from home, and Papa used two harnesses to carry me. My mother, son and brother have died but I needed to see where my remaining family would settle. I was able to do my favorite things – spend lots of hours riding in the truck with Pucky, smell and nurture the new back yard, say hi to all the new neighbors and visit the dog park my son loved. 

I caught goldfish crackers for TV sporting events in the new living room and I created a quiet obstacle by sleeping most of the day in my 96 year-old Grandma’s den. She gives the best belly rubs, gets right down on the floor with me! I could no longer sleep with my owners as their bedroom is upstairs and it wasn’t safe for me. But Grandma’s room is perfect – all carpet. My owners bought many new runners for the slippery floors.

My claim to fame is – I want to crawl inside you and stay there forever. I used to jump on beds and loveseats then bury my head in the human’s chest (I once set off Grandma’s lifeline pendant!). I just couldn’t get close enough.

I tried in the last weeks to snuggle but I didn’t have the energy. Then one evening I had no more control of my body – my dignity was gone.  That night we all “slept” on the kitchen floor. All night my owner felt my fur (I am completely deaf but I felt the vibrations of her words – “you are loved, you are not alone”) as I gave her 6,570 kisses, one for each day she kissed me. She isn’t sure if each lick meant “thank you,” “I love you,” or “good-bye” – but all three work for me. 

In the morning they called our new vet immediately. We had already forged a bond on our arrival to Montana – so I knew and liked his smell. We had all discussed when it might be time for euthanasia and our philosophy matched the practice’s – quality of life not quantity. The staff were all very attentive to me (great treats!) and my humans (great information and space). We all trusted one another in the decision-making process.

We were able to go outside that morning, under a tree where we were surrounded by mountains and quiet. I lay down on a soft blanket, my head in my owners’ lap. I don’t know if Pucky wanted to be with us. She was home companioning Grandma. Was my disappearance “more confusing than my death?” My owners will always wonder.

Everyone held me and then I just seemed to float…gradually…into a loving darkness. I know all my owners’ other dogs gave a quick “last rally” making them question their decision – but only for a moment. I didn’t have the strength. I know all my owners’ other dogs gave messages in their eyes of “please, I am done,” but I couldn’t look at them that way. I will never be done, my spark of life is continuous whether I am here on earth or ashes on the bureau. But none of us will ever question that it was my time.

Lovingly written by Laurie Borden, Certified Thanatologist and End-of-Life Doula

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