The blind cattle dog that inspired a legion of fans with her bucket list and Facebook page, "Live Like Leya," rang in 2016 with a shopping spree at Mutts & Co., a pet store in Dublin. (Ever the foodie, she got into one of the shop's treat bins and indulged.)
She dabbled in the arts, creating paw-painted masterpieces. She even got married, under a banner that read "True Ruv," to one her best friends, Mango, a Golden Retriever mix. (They sealed the deal by slurping water from the same bowl.)
But throughout the month, her health worsened. And last week, it was clear to Victoria Corbett, her adoptive mom, that Leya wouldn't last much longer.
Leya's condition, the congenital form of juvenile dilated cardiomyopathy, meant that from the very beginning, her life would be a short one. Because of the condition, Leya would eventually outgrow her heart. Veterinarians in October gave her six months, at most, to live.
Last week, the right side of her heart failed. Her abdomen filled with fluid again and again. Each time, it had to be drained. She struggled to control her bowels. She tired easily.
Beth Logan, a veterinarian who has worked with Leya since October, knew what those signs meant. Corbett, an animal advocate who founded Speak for the Unspoken, a nonprofit rescue that finds homes for blind and deaf dogs, knew, too.
From the beginning, Corbett wanted Leya's brief life to be a good one. She and others from the rescue created a bucket list, and over the last few months, they checked things off. They hoped Leya's list would move other pet owners to make amazing memories with their own pets.
And from the beginning, Corbett knew that she might have to make the difficult decision to end Leya's life compassionately.
By Friday, she knew it was time.
Sunday night, Corbett, Logan and other close friends gathered at Norton Road Veterinary Hospital. They laid out Leya's favorite fleece blanket, fed her bites of cheeseburger, tucked a bumblebee toy near her chin. Logan explained how it would go: A vet tech would give Leya a sedative to put her to sleep. The tech would put in an intravenous catheter. Then Logan would administer drugs to end Leya's life.
When it started, Corbett ran her fingers through Leya's fur.
"It's OK," she whispered. "It's OK."
Logan held Leya's paw and scratched her snout. It took two rounds of sedatives, but then Leya drifted off in Corbett's arms. The tech tapped the catheter into place, and Corbett huddled over Leya's body, whispering and sobbing. Then she nodded.
"I'm ready," she said. Within minutes, Leya was gone.
Logan said that, in her medical opinion, Corbett chose "the perfect time." And she said she hoped Leya's message is heard.
"Not that everyone has to have a bucket list, per se," she said. "But just to make every day a great day for your animals. Because I think we get so much in the habit of taking them for granted. That's Victoria's whole idea: Live like Leya."
©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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