The Day’s Passing

The time has come. The decision was finally resolved the night before. Much sorrow, many tears.

The day dawned sad. We helped the old girl down the stairs to go outside, gave her a treat when she came in, then took her back up to give her a bath to make her pretty and shiny and to smell nice. It’s hard to think of this being the last day of our 16 years together without tears stinging the eyes.

It is a traitorous feeling to be extra nice and caring with your old furfriend when you’re all about to take those final steps. In our hearts, we know it’s right. There is little joy left in her life except when it comes time for treats. The car ride that used to send her into a tail-wagging frenzy no longer has attraction. Eliminating is a chore and too often not happening where it’s supposed to. Going up a couple stairs presents a mini-Everest for her. Heck, even just her stooped stance looks painful, although her expression doesn’t change, and her tail wags, which just makes the decision harder.

We’ve seen it coming for a while, so we’ve given her special attention, good food, and yummy snacks these past months. Still, when it’s time to make that dreadful call, and the final morning dawns, it comes with a wrench that causes you to wonder if you’re even a worthy human being for making this decision. You realize as you wash her down that this will never happen again. As you hand her the chew stick, it’s the last one that will pass from your hand to her mouth. When your eyes meet, you wonder, does she know? And what would she think if she did?

My wife and I have been extraordinarily fortunate in the pet department. Two different dogs have been our companions, our close friends, part of our family, for pretty much the last 30 years. They each in their own time fit into our household as easily as a stockinged foot slides into a comfortable, broken-in shoe. In the current case, some of our grandkids have literally known her all their lives.

Back in my younger days, this kind of pet was “just a dog.” Much of society is a little more enlightened now, and we see how affection, communication, and bonding develops. There’s a lot more going on in that canine soul and brain tissue than many of us gave credit for in past years. And now science is confirming what our intuitions always told us. It’s no more “just a dog” than it is “just a person.”

But now it’s time to go. I start the car, then take her out. She used to be eager and jump in. Nowadays, she’s hesitant and has to be lifted to the seat. So I do, and in what might be funny but is an unkind circumstance, which I am absolutely not making up, the radio starts playing “Mr. Bojangles” as soon as I open the door. Thank you, Fate, for that last little twist of the emotional knife.

We have taken that ride, and we’re back now. The veterinarian was extraordinarily kind and supportive. We gave our furry ward a good send-off, with tasty munchies, petting her, murmuring encouragement, and loving her until life left her eyes, and we were not able to stop even then. Still, as our tears flowed and grief washed over us in fresh waves, we were nonetheless assured about our decision and glad that she passed so easily and painlessly, with good things filling her awareness until life blinked out. And I’ll come back in a few days and collect her ashes, because she was that important to us.

Just a dog? Just a comfort and companion for my wife as I traveled. Just a guard for us when someone came to the house. Just a play pal for the neighborhood kids. Just someone who greeted us with unconditional love and happiness whenever we came home. Just someone with whom we shared life, joys, setbacks, and love as easily and closely as we would anyone else in our lives.

Nope, never just a dog. A lifelong companion.

As we return to the house, it echoes in all of our senses with her long presence. In due time, we will start to move her things to storage or give them away. But not yet. In our moment of dreadful loss and emptiness, we’re holding those echoes close.

Good-bye, old friend. We miss you already.

— Grandpa

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