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On Saying Goodbye to an old Friend

Last week, I found myself in a situation where I was called upon to ‘play God’.  Very heady stuff.  Such omnipotence I do not want to experience again.  But I shall.  You see, I love dogs.  Therefore I own dogs.  Therefore, I end up saying goodbye to dogs.  As dramatically as every aspect of my life changed the day I brought home my new charge, ten years and seven months ago, so I believe it will change once again, as I wrestle with learning to balance the weight of an angel-dog on my shoulders.  I will continue, no matter how uncomfortable in this role, to wield the absolute power of life and death.  When to let a dog live- when at the nod of my head, to end its life.

I don’t enjoy this whole game plan, but my love of dogs seems to override the fact that they leave us before we leave them.  And more times than not, they do not leave us one night, tucked into their beds, never to lift their head again.  I remember waking up many mornings, traipsing out to the front room, to stare down at my special friend and wish her a good morning, secretly hoping she would have gone to her great reward, (and it will be great!) passing peacefully as she slept.  I don’t know what percentage of dogs go that way…but I assure you it isn’t enough! 

Dogs do not suffer from the many anxieties we carry around with us.  Maybe it’s because they know their time here is short.  They are only interested in living in the present.  They don’t pontificate on the trials of yesterday or grumble about the ‘what ifs’ of tomorrow.  They have none of the fears or apprehensions of what is to come—what is waiting for them on the ‘other side’, over the ‘rainbow bridge’, or whatever beliefs or words we have for this inevitable event.  Dogs accept life whatever that entails.  They are at peace with it.  A natural progression--part of the cycle.

Many times these heroes of ours stay around longer than they really want, preparing us for their departure.  I was very graciously given all sorts of signs that my friend was ready to take her leave.  Old dog time had come pawing for her.  The lingering looks, the talking to me, the gentle digging under her favorite bush out front where she used to lie for shade in the summer.  Always these actions executed with purpose, for me to see and acknowledge.  Allowing me to share in her preparations.  In return, preparing me for our separation.  Yes, they do let us know…and if we don’t turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to their signals, we get the message.

Once we have this information, our response is what they are counting on.  The right response.  We’ve had our time to make memories.  If there are enough of these, they will help see us through.  If there is guilt to look back on—I should have taken her out more; I really did mean to give her more time; I know he spent far too much time in that crate—the ride may get a little bumpy now.   Rightfully so.  Don’t try to make up for lost time now.  This will be a very difficult situation to face and unfortunately may plague the negligent for a long time.  Your pet will forgive though because of his or her love and devotion toward you.  Your pet may not comprehend  why it is so important for you to ignore this beacon they are sending out, keeping them around as long as you can. You are not ‘losing your dog’.  How can you possibly ever lose something that is so deeply embedded in your heart?  You are helping your friend.

How we plan to help is very important.  We may not have any control over the inevitable, but we do have control over how the inevitable unfolds.  Your friend’s last moments will be forever seared in your memory.  The more planned these moments are, the more prepared you will be.  When it comes time to contact your veterinarian, make sure you find out exactly what to expect, from the moment he/she arrives until you have thanked him/her for the help.  Discuss everything.  Ask your questions now.  Any special requests you have will be considered at this time.

As our day approached, I found myself playing out every detail in my mind.  From our quiet walk together that morning to our vets arriving to what I would be doing the rest of the day.  By the time the day came around I was almost on autopilot.  At least my emotions were.  I did not want the last sounds my friend heard to be my wailing and sobbing.  That would have been far too distressing for us both.

I met the vet outside of the house and completed some paper work.  I had requested no ‘black-bag’ of instruments.  My vet arrived with everything she needed tucked away in a pocket.  She grabbed a handful of liver—as we had agreed upon—and greeted my girl.  There would be no unexpected turmoil.  Instead, my friend would hear our special, quiet song—because that is the way I had planned it.  That is how I had rehearsed it in my mind.

In the age-old tradition of her wild ancestors, my girl would take up the role she had been working toward.  As a team, we would get this job done with dignity and love.

Later that evening, as I sat down with our memories, I came to the conclusion that, rather than mourning her passing, it was by far more fulfilling to celebrate her life.

Deborah Beaven
Danes In Distress