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I was walking around a craft store with my hat pulled low to hide the tears that kept seeping from my eyes.
It being the Christmas season, I was searching for the joy that I was supposed to be feeling. The hope was that being out in public would put a stopper in my tear ducts that had sprung a horrendous leak.
I was failing miserably; I had cried everywhere I went, making people uncomfortable as I sniffled along.
The crux of my deep and unexpected sadness was the sudden passing of our eldest dog. The leader of our pack of four was nearing 14 years of life with our family; in the blink of an eye, he was no longer there. His passing from this realm was not as sudden as it felt, but the finality of his death has hit this household like a wrecking ball, screaming full speed into a wall. I feel the need to share his story. His final days that were filled with love and appreciation.
He had been slowing down for years. An old dog for far longer than a young one. His hips were janky, and we had him on a two daily “hemp for joints” chews regimen. Wood floors through our downstairs meant area rugs were placed in strategic spots to help him follow us around throughout the day.
At night he would get lost in our bathroom while looking for his bowl of water. When he was too confused in the dark, he managed to find my side of the bed to blow hot breath in my face until I woke up to give him scratchies and help him find a comfy spot. If the sun was nearly up, he and I would simply head downstairs to drink coffee and watch the living room change from dark to light.
As his nighttime confusion increased and he was slower to stand, we began seriously talking about our plan for him as he got older. We knew if he couldn’t walk up the stairs, he would have to be carried, and we had to decide how long we would do such a thing.
He absolutely hated car rides, so we needed a vet to come to us. The chaos of a vet office terrified him anyway, so we avoided the vet when possible. We had to decide what the determining factors would be. The lack of interest in his favorite things. The loss of appetite. Incontinence. We, and by “we,” I mean “I,” needed to have a plan, as we knew the day was coming.
The night of Thanksgiving he was restless. His “sundowners” was bad. Really bad. I brought his water to him and he drank. I sat with him until he lay down and relaxed. When he was calm, I went back to bed. It continued throughout the night. Around 5 a.m., I figured we would just head downstairs to start the day.
He always came down a few minutes after me; he liked to sit at the top of the stairs and groom for the day. He came down and stood in the kitchen. He was still confused, and his breathing was alarming. This was new. He lay at my feet while I stood at the counter sipping my coffee; he was having a hard time catching his breath. It was labored—too loud, too forceful, and I knelt down to pet him and try to help him get comfortable…and I knew. As I laid both hands on his side and put my ear to his chest and listened…I knew.
He finally fell asleep after taking a long while to catch his breath and be comfortable, so I sat with him on the floor and scrolled social media until the sun came up. It was breakfast time for the pack. Everyone ate, except for him. He didn’t even take his beefy hemp chew. After breakfast, I offered up treats. He sat up and took it, but set it on the floor and looked at me.
His favorite place to be was the front yard. When we went out front and worked out in the garage or piddled about the yard, it was the fastest you’d ever see him move to make sure he walked out front with us. My husband laced up his shoes and headed into the garage and called for him…he didn’t get up. He didn’t even try.
In one fatal swoop he exhibited every symptom we had been waiting for over the past couple years of him getting on in age. I began crying. Skip a meal? Sure. Not feeling a treat? Okay. But to not go to his favorite place with his dad…this was serious.
He didn’t pass that day. We spent the weekend tending to him, as he suddenly couldn’t walk. He could barely stand on his own. His belly expanded and his front right leg swelled. His breathing remained labored. We hand-fed him what little food he would take and held a small bowl of water to his mouth when he was thirsty. My husband had to carry him out to potty, and at bedtime he was carried to our room.
On Sunday morning he woke up and needed to move. He insisted he needed out of our room so I took him to the hallway wondering how I’d get him downstairs; he was a pretty big guy. He didn’t want to go down stairs; he limped and huffed his way to our boy’s bedroom; I walked ahead of him to lay out what would become his lego-themed blanket.
He walked straight to it and lay down, completely spent. He slept in their room for hours, so I sat with him, and once again, sipped coffee at his side. When my husband woke, he found us in there watching baking shows; the sadness was pure. That was the day I contacted our planned mobile vet; she said she could come by Tuesday. We set the appointment. Our friend, Mark, came by to give him pets and say “goodbye.” Mom came by to sit with him and say her “goodbyes”; she thanked him for being such a good boy.
Monday was a blur of wishing he would snap out of it and making the most of what time we had left. When we had to leave the house, our daughter took up post with him. We didn’t want him to be alone, not even for a second. He slept mostly. Drank water and slept. We would help prop him up at our feet while we watched more TV than usual, just because nothing else seemed more important than this time. I took up cooking people food for him and feeding it to him by hand. He ate a lot of ham.
Tuesday was the day. My husband stayed home from work. Friends and family came by to say farewell to the old man. I cooked him up some ham and scrambled eggs for breakfast. I had a steak ready to cook for his lunch. Homemade whipped cream for a snack.
We waited. I cried. I sat beside him and brushed his hair. Touched his ears and scratched the top of his head. Held onto his paws while we tried to carry on normal conversation as we waited. The vet finally said she was on her way around 1:30 p.m. We had already decided to take him out front to his favorite place. I gave him his whipped cream; he didn’t eat much of it, but he tried. It was time to take him outside and do his business.
My husband carried him out front and set him down. I arranged his blanket and pillow in the grass in a sunny spot. On rickety legs he walked around his front yard and did his business, sniffing at things along the way. Taking many breaks to breathe and rest. When he was finished, he walked all on his own to his blanket and pillow and got comfy in the sun, sniffing the air.
It truly was a beautiful day.
Doc arrived and we all made idle chitchat as she asked about his behavior and declining health over the last few days. She gave him a shot to make him calm and sleepy. I began feeding him his steak. The medicine kicked in quickly, but he made sure to eat every piece of meat I handed him, no matter how sleepy he felt. Such a good boy.
We all continued to chat and doc explained everything she was doing. I moved to sit beside him and kept both hands on him at all times. Petting him and tugging his ears. His ears were the best. Doc got his IV in, and he didn’t flinch; he just looked at her for a second. She administered the second shot, which would make him sleep deep and stay calm. We kept chatting and his breathing was calm. He wasn’t scared. He wasn’t anxious. She then gave the third shot. The last one. The chatting stopped and I fixated on his belly as his breathing slowed.
Then no movement at all.
His body was so very still. Doc put her stethoscope on to listen for his heart to make its last sound.
She listened and we held on to him.
Then she stopped listening and the world was quiet for a moment.
He was simply gone. Just a body that was no longer him.
I kept touching him. I put my face to his and said, “Thank you.”
That was a week ago today, and things are so different. When you’ve had a companion at your feet for nearly 14 years, for him to suddenly be gone is world jarring. My world has been wrecked, I will admit, more so than I had anticipated.
The other dogs are sad; they go out front and sniff around the place he died. I don’t know what they comprehend, but they do know their big brother hasn’t been home for a while and they don’t like it much. I was hoping he would haunt us—so far, no sightings.
After years of being slow due to bad hips, I’m fairly certain the second the pain was gone, he took off at a full sprint. Thundering steps and proud chest, moving faster than he ever had before.
Why in the world am I sharing this?
Is it a reminder that our pets are forever commitments and we owe them love and peace all the way to the end?
Is it a lesson in love and companionship?
I have no idea; I just knew I needed to share his final days because I am so proud of how wonderful that old man was.
Valhalla gained a great champion a week ago, and I expect him to be the first to greet me on the day I pass into forever.