One of the things I like most about the Kos community is the attachment people have to their pets. The compassion that you show to your four-legged companions, and to one another when they must leave us, is truly something wonderful. About a year and a half ago, when we had to say goodby to our oldest cat, I brought my grief here and was consoled by your kindness.
Several weeks ago, Something The Dog Said a wrote an immensely moving diary about the loss of his companion, Tycho. I sure hope he doesn't mind me citing it here again, and if you missed it the first time, I can't recommend it enough. I've been a fan of his writing ever since.
The subject of pet euthanasia is never an easy one, but that diary did an outstanding job of describing the process associated with one of the most difficult decisions that a person can make. Literally, it is a decision of life and death.
I'm probably more familiar with euthanasia than most people. You see, Mrs. frsbdg is a veterinarian. More often than I would ever care to count, I have accompanied her to the home of one of her clients. Many of them choose to spend their last moments with their beloved pet in a setting that is comforting to all. The thought of saying "goodbye" in an exam room just doesn't seem right, and when someone asks for a house call, we go.
When we enter the house, it's peaceful and quiet. Family members are gathered around. There are tears, of course. More often than not, some of them are mine. Over the years I've learned to bring my own kleenex with me. I usually don't know the owners or their pet, but their sorrow is real and cannot be dismissed. Mrs. frsbdg explains the procedure in advance so everyone understands what is going to happen. I plug in the clippers so she can shave a small patch on one leg. I hold off the vein as the needle is inserted, and watch as the syringe is emptied. The breathing slows and stops. She listens for a heartbeat, and then says "he's gone."
I've stood outside in the freezing Alaska cold to give the family a last few moments together. And I've wrapped the bodies in their favorite blankets and carried them to our car. I've helped make paw prints that become keepsakes. I've wielded a shovel and helped my own friends bury their loved ones in their back yards. I am no stranger to this.
The one thing that almost every owner wants to know is "did I make the right decision?" I asked the same thing when we lost Captain Nemo - he was the first one of my own to go. When Gulliver's health failed seven months later, he looked into my eyes as if to say "Dad, please let me go." And we did, just one year ago.
Which brings us to the present. Like Something The Dog Said, my user name is derived from a pet. For you Wheel of Fortune fans, it spells "frisbee dog" without the vowels. She's an Australian Shepherd, and has been my best friend for almost 14 years. True to my user name, we played frisbee. A lot. I've probably made thousands and thousands of frisbee throws over those years. And she caught most of them. The ones she missed were nearly always my fault. We competed locally a few times, and placed second and third.
We did more than just play frisbee, though. We competed together as a dog agility team for five years. Even though there were faster dogs in our bracket, we would usually finish in first place because she handled like a sports car and could turn on a dime. Sitting on the starting line, her front leg would twitch like a sewing machine needle. Her expression said "oh please oh please oh please oh please can I run now?" She never broke her sit-stay on a start line, but as soon as I gave the word, it was like someone had released an arrow and off she went, sailing over the first jump and looking for the next one.
We climbed mountains here in Alaska. As I dragged my sorry ass up the slope, she would scramble on ahead of me. Just like on the agility course, she always kept track of where I was. Every so often a ground squirrel would chirp and VOOM! Off she went. She never caught one, and probably had no idea what to do with it if she did. Up on the ridge or peak, she would hop from rock to rock, scaring the crap out of me. It was as if there was a mountain goat somewhere back in her lineage.
We climbed our last mountain a couple of years ago. Watching her get up the next morning was a painful sight to see, and from then on it has been level ground for our walks. She caught her last frisbee this past summer, because sprinting just takes too much of a toll on her legs. For the same reason, all our walks these days are on a flexi-lead. Because while she might want to run, her doctor advises against it. Here's a picture from our last walk in the mountains a few months ago. This is, and forever will be, our happy place.
That was a good day for us. We walked on the open tundra in the waning sunlight of a warm September afternoon. A few weeks later came the first bad day. That morning, instead of coming downstairs for breakfast, she stood at the head of the stairs and looked down at me sheepishly. I went back up and carried her down, placing her gently on the floor. Later in the day, she squatted down to pee. But instead of standing back up, her back legs just gave out and she plopped to the ground and looked over at me as if to say "oops."
This totally freaked me out, because I'd never seen her so weak and unsteady before. What was wrong? Why did this happen? And more importantly, why couldn't they fix it? The answer was simple: she is a geriatric dog. Probably the equivalent of a 90-year old human. She's lost muscle mass and nerve function. She doesn't hear or see as well as she used to, either. And none of these changes are reversible.
I know what's coming. We all do. We just don't know when it will arrive. You might think that with all my experience in these matters, it would somehow be easier for me to deal with. But you would be wrong. How do you know when it's time? That's where the title of this diary comes from. Mrs. frsbdg tells me: "you want her to have more good days than bad days." It's as simple as that. She also says that when that time comes that the bad outweighs the good, letting her go is the ultimate way of repaying all the love she has given us during her lifetimes.
Last weekend she had another bad day. She's been getting up slower and slower lately, but nothing this was noticeably worse. She did a little better the next few days after that, and then on Thursday she had a GREAT day. We went for a short walk here in the neighborhood. And when I went out to shovel our deck, she stood down on the ground and barked like crazy because she loves to catch the snow as it flies through the air. It was just like old times, and made this Thanksgiving Day truly special.
I don't know how much more time we have together. None of us do. But I cherish the days we still have like never before. And will continue to do so for the remainder of those days.
Both good and bad.
UPDATE: Today was another good day. We went for a short cross-country ski this afternoon. Essentially a walk, but up in the mountains where the snow is soft and the trails are smooth. Will have to keep an eye on her tonight and tomorrow to see if that was too much for her to handle. But seeing her on the trail, I could tell she was having a wonderful time.
Thanks to everyone who shared their own stories here.