Negative Space: A term in the art world referring to the space around a subject, and not the subject itself, which forms an interesting or meaningful shape.
These images were taken on August 20, 2014, while cleaning our house after we said farewell to our dog Indy the evening before.
It's startling how the absence of something has as much impact as when that something was present. Going through the house and removing all traces of our dog Indy was a sad but necessary task. These everyday items took on a completely new meaning without Indy. We kept her toys in a basket, in the bedroom, so that they would be out of the way. You hardly noticed them before, but they looked so empty and out of place without her around.
Indy was undergoing treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia since October of 2013. We had a lot of medication for her. A lot. There were pills for chemotherapy, pain medication, steroids, and different antibiotics to combat the threat of infection, which was constantly sending us to the emergency vet clinic to treat sudden fevers and odd pains. The treatment would change regularly and she would go on and off the same pills, so we kept the extras, which accumulated in our bathroom.
It's surprising how much stuff you need just for taking a dog on a walk. There was her regular green leash, and an extra leash that was brown, which I kept in my car, in the event we forgot to bring the green one. Many, many rolls of poop bags. We used a metal prong collar which looked scarier than it actually was -- it kept Indy from pulling too hard and she came to love hearing the sound of the metal jangle. It was a sign that it was time for a walk. This storage box kept all this stuff neatly in a shelf under a side table by the front door. The sound of it being pulled out and the metal clinking of the collar and leash clasp was a sound of joy -- you would immediately hear the sound of scrambling feet, waiting to be dressed for an outing. As I was putting these items into storage, the jangle of the metal and following silence made us cry.
It's a constant task of refilling water bowls and making sure mealtime stays on track when you have a dog. We kept Indy's food and water dishes on the floor, just around the corner from the stairs. You got used to making a wide turn to avoid tripping on her bowls, the space was set aside for her so many years ago, and she became accustomed to that space as hers for food and drink. Our walking patterns created an invisible barrier, which we have to un-learn, because now there's nothing there.
Because the threat of infection was so high with Indy, we monitored her temperature regularly, multiple times a day, keeping records. No one likes a rectal thermometer, but that's just how it is for dogs. We were going through three or four disposable protective sleeves a day, and jotting down the time, date, and temperature reading on plain sheets of paper. The thermometer and notes lived on the kitchen counter for months. We were able to anticipate fever spikes and get a sense of how her system reacted to the various medications. The last entry was on August 19, at 4:20pm, a couple of hours before the vet came over to administer the euthanizing drugs at our home. Indy's temperature was a little over 102 degrees, the high side of normal for a dog.
Indy's appetite came and went, but her desire for dog treats never waned. Even being offered an Egg McMuffin on her last day, she refused, but always took handfuls of these small crunchy dog biscuits. She probably had three or four handfuls' worth on her last day, but there's still an extra half-bag's worth of these treats that remain.
Despite saying Indy would never be an inside dog or a dog that could go on the furniture, our bed inevitably became her bed. She had a dog bed, which she happily used, but we would always lay out an old blanket over the bottom half of our bed, which was an open invitation for her to sleep on that half, whenever she wanted. Most days she would nap there in the afternoons. She wouldn't move for hours, she was so content. I would always see a sleeping mound of black fur at the foot of the bed when I'd pass by the doorway. When I walk by the bedroom now, it's still jarring to see the empty bed, with no blanket laid out for her, just a blank space.
We kept all her paperwork from her vet and oncologist. It was helpful to track the visits and prescriptions. The file folder with all the documentation is at least an inch thick. This was the last receipt from her vet, when we arranged to have him come to our house to have Indy put down later that evening. I couldn't even go into the office to make the appointment that morning, I waited in the car and cried while Brock took care of it.
You know you're a grown-up when you make a decision that you know is right, but will leave you haunted forever. I will never regret having Indy euthanized at home; it was peaceful and quick. She was in her own bed, in her own home, cradled in our arms and being whispered loving words as she passed on. Watching her chest gently rise and fall, quietly counting the breaths she took before her last was both heartbreaking and profound. Her being at peace and without pain as she died meant that we had to arrange this when she was seemingly fine. Her body was within days of giving out, we had blood tests the day before to confirm the cancer had reached catastrophic levels, and that her being in miserable pain was imminent. But there will always be this lingering feeling that we could have gambled for another day, a sense of dread that there was confusion and betrayal in her last moments, wondering why the vet was in her home. These continue to haunt me, but those feelings are payment in return for giving Indy's passing as much serenity as possible. We may have robbed her of an extra day of life, but it wasn't worth risking the pain of her illness setting in suddenly. On her last day, she saw favorite people, went to favorite places, chased things with abandon, and knew only love and joy.
Indy has become the Negative Space in our daily life. Her absence is as present as her existence was, and we will navigate around that emptiness until it softly fades into memory.
Jaunty Fine Print: Photos by Denise Sakaki