Today, I said goodbye to my dog companion of 12 years. What can I say… she was the best dog. I know, a lot of people feel they have the best dog, and I think they do. She was the best dog for our family. So gentle with my kids, so loving, so trusting, so delightful.
When we first got her, my husband was on the night-shift and though I’d gotten a kitten – my daughter quickly took him as her own. So, I said I wanted a dog. We went online and saw a picture of her – legs out in front of her, mouth hanging open happily… she looked like a dog that wasn’t in jail, but was simply on a trip. I went in and didn’t immediately recognize her… while all the other dogs were barking, whining, pacing, and pawing… she sat right down by the gate of her kennel – her back to me, and tossed her head over her shoulder to look at me. ‘Pet me.’ That was love at first sight.
We brought her home on Valentine’s Day, consequently, one day before she was to be put to sleep… one day before my birthday. I call that kismet. The people that had adopted her as a puppy had returned her at 11 months old saying she has seizures. She’d been at the pound for six days – they kill on the seventh. I was ready to buy whatever medicines she might need. I told her she’d never go back there. She had a forever home.
This old girl and I… walks together, hikes together, disc golf together. Nary a seizure in sight. She loved going places with us, loved just being in the same room with us if we weren’t on the go… truly, and completely, a dog that fit exactly our predilections for some days exercise, some days cake. She was always game… unless water was involved. Though she was part lab, water was a no-go.
We knew she was getting up there in age – little aches and pains, slow to get up with arthritic hips. We gave her glucosamine (which seemed to help a lot) and tried to be certain she got out at least to smell the roses. On her final wellness exam six months ago, I asked the doctor when I would know. He said, “With a dog like this… it will be when she just can’t get up anymore.”
True to his prognosis… it just got harder and harder for her. She would trip on her own feet, she took a couple falls that splayed her legs out in all directions, and eventually – we were having to lift her back end to help her get up. When she started refusing food – and being a lab mix, well… she’d eaten crayons before and left rainbow poop in the yard – we knew the end was coming. We plied her with everything from cheap Gravy Train to expensive dehydrated turkey – rib bones with meat on them to chicken backs fresh from the butcher… eventually, she turned up her nose at it all. We knew.
I took her on a walk and we sat in the grass and she looked at me. My dog and I had shared many looks, but this one was different. I could see it on her face, in her eyes, that she loved me but was so very tired. I know there are people who consider it anthropomorphism – but anyone who has ever had a dog and shared a bond with it knows. There is nothing like seeing into the soul of a dog. Your kindred spirit. That look, two days ago, was the one that let me know I – personally – had to start letting go.
Our Pepsi got to lay out in the grass. She got copious cuddles. She got a sponge bath, a mani-pedi, brushing galore. Kisses, hugs… the whole nine yards of all the love we could give her, and she drank it up.
Today, I could see it on her face. ‘I’m ready.’ She was just so tired, so achy. We got her in the car, picked up our teens, and headed to the vet. She loved going there, too, so this trip was not at all a stress for her. As soon as the doctor saw her, he said, “She definitely looks beat. I support this decision 100 percent.” He liked her, too. Pepsi was a champ at getting the vet’s office to hand out half a bowl of treats. These guys would love on her and let her clean their faces. She definitely had a way of making dog people glow.
They made the injection as I sat behind her. She grew drowsy and looked around for me for a split second. I told her I was right behind her… and her head dropped back into my arms. That is how I said goodbye to my most special girl. I told her we’d keep a look out for her and in that moment, in an ending that would make the best of Hollywood movies, she passed away in peace.
We’d been warned she might take an involuntary breath. Warned she might release her bowels. Warned about all those ugly things that death can be. But none of that happened. She dropped her head in my arms and took her last breath. To see her get to transition so gently, so dignified… I was privileged to be her human mom and companion.
I bawled simply because I’d been holding it in to let her pass without worry. This girl was so in tune with me that often, when I’d cry, she’d whimper. Her final days had me happy in her presence. Then, once she’d left behind her shell, I just wept. My husband was there, as were my teens – all of the people she’d loved for her life and loved her back.
It took me about 40 minutes to be ready to leave. The thing was, as I told my husband, I felt like she was still there. Not her body, but her spirit. Right in the room with us. As we drove home, I still felt her presence. Even as I sit here, she’s with me.
I can’t tell anyone how to make this decision or when, but I know for our old girl – we did it all right… all the way from start to finish. Knowing when to say goodbye before she was blind, deaf, completely lame, or using the bathroom where she lay… she still had all her dignity in tact, and – from one actor to my dog actor – died like a beautiful swooning diva. She always was a silly girl.
I told her as she lay there in my arms to come back to us. I know right now I’m not ready for another dog, and I don’t think her spirit is quite ready to be a new one… but I am a firm believer that nothing ever ends and we’re always coming back again. I do believe that when I’m ready, she will be too, and all that will remain is for the two of us to simply find one another all over again.