Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mattie in Scotland

Mattie at Jedburgh Abbey
Mattie visiting Jedburgh Abbey.
Our beloved dog, Mattie, passed away last week. I am devastated.

Mattie at the playground
Conquering the playground.
The end came quickly. Two weeks ago, her only symptom was an upset stomach. When diarrhea persisted for a few days and her appetite diminished a bit, Kate took her in for some tests. At that point, however, Mattie was still her same playful and perky self.

Within two days, Mattie was showing signs of discomfort, vomiting a little and even whimpering a bit in pain. That same day, her test results started to come in. We knew she had cancer, and needed further tests.

Mattie normally slept at the foot of our bed, but that night she wanted to sleep downstairs. I slept there with her.

By the next afternoon, a Saturday, we took her to the university's veterinary hospital, where Kate is a professor of pathology. Over the next 24 hours, Mattie was diagnosed with hepatosplenic lymphoma (liver, spleen, bone marrow, possibly elsewhere), an aggressive cancer which doesn't respond well to chemotherapy. Additionally, she suffered from pancreatitis, GI inflammation, and some blood clotting issues.

By the next day, she had stopped eating. Although her pain was manageable, she was deteriorating quickly. The following morning (last Tuesday), she was nearing the end, and we had to euthanize her. Though the cancer was the root cause of her illness, ultimately it was a variety of secondary effects which did her in.

Mattie at the Moray Firth
A blustery winter morning on the shores of the Moray Firth in northeastern Scotland.
We had hoped to stabilize Mattie during her hospital stay, to see if we could eke out a few weeks or months of time. Let her come home, take some walks, perhaps even go for a hike or two. Though chemo was not likely to be of much help, we were prepared to spend the money anyway to see how the cancer responded after a first round. {Ed.'s note: In veterinary practice, chemotherapy for dogs is generally not pursued as a cure, but instead as a management of the disease.} Unfortunately, we never got the chance.

Mattie hiking on Skye
Hiking on the Isle of Skye.
Mattie (short for Matterhorn, a mountain in Bern, Switzerland) was nearing her ninth birthday which, for a Bernese Mountain Dog, is bang on for the average life span. Given how active and spry she was, however, I truly expected to have more time with her. Perhaps not years more, but nonetheless a long span of time. Instead, she went from vigorous and spirited to organ failures in less than a week.

Jackson misses his dog, but has not completely grasped the concept of death. We took him into the hospital to say a final goodbye. After she was euthanized, we had him see Mattie again while we explained that she had died. By doing so, we were hoping to make her death a concrete fact for him. We explained that we won't see her again; she could no longer see or breathe or play or eat or walk; that she was gone forever. When we have our discussions —which he initiates every day, at least for a few minutes — he nods and says he understands. But then some days he'll ask when Mattie will come home from the hospital, or wonder if she needs a toy to play with. Death is not quite as concrete a concept as we had hoped, though I suppose that's natural at his age.

Mattie and Jackson on the beach
Goofy dog trying to get attention.
I take solace from knowing she led a good and happy life. Her last 15 months her time in Scotland were among her best. She no longer had to wait through a workday until we got home. Instead, she had both Jackson and me around full time. We enjoyed numerous walks and hikes. The cooler weather allowed her to lounge outdoors year round, unlike our years in North Carolina when the summer months meant mostly air conditioning and early morning walks. Since Scotland is more dog-friendly than the States, Mattie came more places with us: restaurants, stores, hotels, historic sites.

Mattie crossing the Swilcan Bridge on the Old Course in St. Andrews
Crossing the famous Swilcan Bridge on the Old Course in St. Andrews.
Someday I'll write more about wonderful Mattie. She was my first dog. At the moment, it feels like I could never allow myself another.

For now, here are more pictures celebrating Mattie's life here in Scotland. These are some of the images by which I will always remember her.

Mattie outside Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye
Posing briefly outside Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye.
Wet and grungy walk
Grungy after a hike in Mugdock Park outside Glasgow.
Mattie at the Machrie Moor stone circles
Photobombing at the Machrie Moor stone circles on the Isle of Arran.
Mattie reenacting Fingal's dog at the Machrie Moor stone circles
Reenacting when the giant, Fingal, tethered his dog at the stone circles.
Mattie on Christmas morning
Christmas morning with a new bone and sock monkey.
Kate and Mattie at Neist Point on the Isle of Skye
Kate took this selfie at Neist Point on the Isle of Skye.
Mattie on the beach at Chanonry Point
Playing on the beach at Chanonry Point. She loved playing in sand, but wasn't too keen about water with waves.
Mattie on a hike in Glencoe
Resting during a hike in Glencoe.
Mattie at the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey
Exploring the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey.
Mattie romping with Jackson at Dryburgh Abbey
Romping amidst the ruins with Jackson.
Mattie, Jackson, and Brian on a walk along the Forth & Clyde canal
A rainy day walk along the Forth & Clyde canal.
Impromptu portrait of Mattie by grumpygeorge
At the Armadale ferry dock on the Isle of Skye, a fabulous landscape photographer has his shop. He takes impromptu photos of the dogs who pass by. (Photo by grumpygeorge)
Mattie hiking on the Quiraing on the Isle of Skye
One of our best hikes ever was on the Quiraing at the northern end of the Isle of Skye.
Pooping with a view
This photo, on the same hike on the Quiraing, is titled: "Pooping with a view."
Mattie with Grampa Bill
On a walk with Grampa Bill.
Mattie on the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow
Every so often, Kate took Mattie to work with her. At lunch they would take walks along the River Clyde in Glasgow.
Mattie on the Banks of Loch Lomond
On the banks of Loch Lomond.
Mattie hiking on the West Highland Way
We hiked only a few hours on the West Highland Way. It's one of my great disappointments that Mattie won't be able to hike the full trail with me.
Mattie at St. Blane's Church on the Isle of Bute
An idyllic morning at the ruins of St. Blane's Church on the Isle of Bute.
Mattie and Jackson
I could write "a boy with his dog." But really, it was Mattie with her boy.
If you would, just for me, give your dog a big hug. And take her for a walk today, no matter the weather. You may not know until it's too late when it will be your last opportunity.

This blog is inspired by the idea of carpe diem, of taking opportunities to stretch your boundaries and live without regrets. While I would have loved to have had Mattie for longer, I feel good that I was able to spend quantity and quality time with her. I'm not filled with regret about failing to do things with her and for her.

Nonetheless, Mattie's death helps reminds me that we just don't know how the future will turn out. Live the life you want now. Before it's too late.

We miss you, Mattie. Thanks for being a fantastic companion.


  1. I am so sorry for your loss! I came to your blog as a lover of all things Scotland. I will give my 9yo golden a hug right now. Thank you for your beautiful pictures and stories.
    K from Pittsburgh, PA USA

    1. Thank you! I appreciate it. And give your golden an extra hug from me!

  2. Tears in my eyes, Brian. It has taken us nearly two years to get another dog after losing our beloved OD, and it is still hard to imagine forming an equivalent bond with our newcomer. You guys sure gave Mattie a fulfilled life, and you captured some beautiful pictures of her enjoying it. Talk to you soon. -Rachel

  3. Thanks, Ray. And I know how awesome Otter dog was! Looking forward to meeting the new puppy in just a few weeks!

  4. I am a soggy mess, Bri, from reading/viewing your lovely, and loving, Mattie tribute. You are/were the very best dad a four-legged girl could have. She was a lucky dog. Sending you all much love...

  5. Sweet Mattie. I know you must still miss her every day. This was a beautiful tribute :)

    1. Thanks, Kristen. It still feels strange not to have her around.