This is not my first rodeo, nor will it be the last, but perhaps one of the hardest. After seventeen years, we will go for a ride to the Veterinarians’ office tomorrow, and we will come back home alone. My friend, the wonderful, crazy, mischievous, loyal, breakout artist, will not be with us anymore, and just thinking about it hurts. The pain only love can create. I can feel tears building up, and quickly I remind myself how lucky we have been to have him for so long.
The love for a pet, only pet owners can understand. We have had dogs for as long as I can remember, they are part of our family structure. Without them, my world would not feel complete.
Most of you know how much we fought to keep our dogs when we lost everything in 2009, and, with many complications, against the odds, we succeeded. We could keep them, and I always felt they knew about it.
The first one, the Shepherd dog, fell ill in 2014. In May, three months after I quit smoking. My biggest test, not giving in to the urge to have a cigarette, was when we drove back home from the veterinarian, sobbing over the loss of our furry companion. My husband, who quit two years after me, smoked to calm his nerves -I didn’t. I would not quit quitting and use my beloved dog as an excuse to do so. She helped me to stay strong.
Last year in January, the same day Larry King died, we had to let our Weimaraner go. She had been with us for fourteen years. A very long time for a big and heavy dog and tomorrow the last of the Mohicans will join them. I don’t know if there is a rainbow bridge, or if it’s a place we humans imagine in our minds, so we can cope easier with the loss.
I remember when we got MY BOY in 2005, at a pet adoption event, held by the ASPCA. We fell in love with the black brindle dog, went for a test walk with him, and our faith was sealed. We filled out the application and a few weeks later, after we had settled into our new place -the home we would lose five years later- we went to pick him up.
On our way back home, with him in the backseat, restless and eager to run after months in the kennel, I found out we had adopted a breed I was so fearful of. A pitbull mix.
Taking on a dog, if it’s through adoption or a breeder, is a commitment for many years. I regret this responsibility a few days later, told the poor creature that I hated him, after a few nights when he didn’t let us sleep. A statement I wish I wouldn’t have made. For many years, I told him every day how wrong I had been. I apologized to our dog -over and over.
The dog was full of energy, did not know how to behave in a home, and I watched helplessly when he raced through the house, stairs up and down. He jumped on our coffee table, ate one of my rugs. He was far from housebroken. I was in over my head and he showed me.
This wasn’t a dog for us. I called a friend, who trains horses and rescues Rottweilers, and when I told her about THE MISTAKE we had made, she laughed at me. “What do you expect?” she said. “He is six or eight months old, full of energy without guidance.”
She was right. I was his guide, and I failed him -and us. I was at home during the day, working in my office. I had time to train him, guide him, teach him. I got trained to be the trainer.
He knocked one of my husband’s teeth out when he let him out of his sleeping crate, which made me laugh so hard I could not control myself. My husband didn’t think it was funny, but he didn’t see what I saw. It was comical.
I trained the dogs outside, back then it was just the two, the Weimaraner would join us two years later. I walked the shepherd and the pit bull mix on the leash every day and became a pack leader. In our home, I am the boss when it comes to the dogs, my husband is their play buddy, their friend, the one they can play like a fiddle. He knows it and enjoys it every day.
One day, maybe six months after we had adopted our pit bull mix, my husband didn’t have the heart to put him in the crate for the night. The dog hated the kennel, showed his disapproval for his sleeping place in his body language, and he made clear he was heard when he hauled and whined for minutes after we had made him go inside again.
That evening, when he could roam freely inside, just like our shepherd dog, the pit bull mix headed upstairs, came to our bedroom, and sat in front of my bed. I had been reading a book and when I put it down, I looked at him for a long time. I told him he was a good boy and started petting him. His ears, his muzzle, his cheeks. “Such a beautiful boy.” He loved it. The gentleness in my voice calmed him down. He yawned, went to the corner on my side of the bed, rolled up, and went to sleep. The next day, I bought a new dog bed and placed it right there.
From that night on, he came to say good night every evening. We talked, I pet his pretty face, hugged him and he went on his dog bed and watched over me all night long. The rituals we have with our pets are a special joy.
He slept beside me until 2019, and when my husband had to sleep downstairs in a recliner after his heart surgery my boy decided it was no longer worth climbing up the stairs, and he stayed with him instead. We said good night on the bottom of the stairs and I walked upstairs alone. I felt lonely in our bedroom, couldn’t fall asleep for hours. I tried not to be selfish. My dog had decided and I had to accept it.
My boy, my sweet boy, the dog I hated for a couple of nights and loved for so many years, will leave me tomorrow. It’s my call, it always is. My husband, the strong man, doesn’t want to make the judgment, and he openly admits it.
Our dog has still so much life in him, which doesn’t make it easier. His hips are giving in. We have rugs now everywhere, so he can walk with ease, yet he still falls. Laying down is painful. Sometimes I can hear him moan, but he still chases after the house squirrel every day, can be seen jumping and running outside. His hearing is now more selective. He can hear the cheese wrapper a mile away, but not my commands. I let him get away with it. He has cataracts in his eyes and is occasionally blind as a bat, yet he sees a lost treat underneath a chair from across the room.
I learned so much about aging when I watched him adjust his lifestyle to his older body. I wish to always be as graceful and grateful when I will reach the same stage in my life. I hope I will always be in a good mood and great every day with enthusiasm, even if I have to walk slower. I will take naps when needed, or perhaps just take a break when needed.
Is it time to say goodbye, or should we wait a few more weeks? There is no right answer -but many wrong ones. He has lost weight. I can see his rips now and it pains me. He drinks all the time, eats all the time, still, he doesn’t gain the weight back. A sign for kidney failure, perhaps diabetes?
Should we have them run expensive tests, which won’t change his age? Put him on meds with side effects he won’t be able to tell us? With humans, we often prolong death, with animals, we are allowed to be compassionate. I have to remind myself over and over to be humane and not selfish.
Euthanasia, the end of suffering. The last gift we can give our furry friends. Not an easy decision but one no pet owner ever regretted, at least that’s what the vets say. The hardest thing is to sit beside them when they leave this earth. There is no chickening out, it’s the last honor we give our friend. We can be strong for a couple of minutes, there is enough time to fall to pieces afterward. I know the drill, but my mindset is not there -yet.
Yes, I have doubts. Do I make the right call? What if we wait? Maybe he dies in his sleep?
Do not prolong death! Be humane!
The poem below helps me to stay focused on my task. Our tears will dry and our memories will stay with us for a lifetime. We will have to focus on Patches, our now almost six-year-old PUPPY, the one we took in because our dogs were already so old. She will be grieving too.
The Last Battle
If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this — the last battle — can’t be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don’t let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.
We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn’t want me to suffer so.
When the time comes, please, let me go.
Take me to where to my needs they’ll tend,
Only, stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.
I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering, I have been saved.
Don’t grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We’ve been so close — we two — these years,
Don’t let your heart hold any tears.
Writing and reading this post made me smile. Such a long, beautiful, and eventful dog life. I should be laughing and deep down, somewhere inside me, I do. I just have to be strong tomorrow.