We knew for the past month or so that our dog would not be making it through another winter. He had bad hips from the start, but after approximately 14.5 years, our rescue pup was finally running out of steam.
He has had a great run.
Our pup joined our family before we even were a family. We met him one unusually mild January day and we were sold. A few months later, we were looking to trade in condo living for a space with a yard. A year after that, we got hitched. I remember leaving the hotel the morning of our wedding, joyfully introducing a far-away girlfriend to our boy.
Fast forward another year and we were researching how to introduce our pup to our newborn. My husband left the hospital early to let the dog sniff the baby’s hat. I expect to always keep the visual in my mind of the pup smelling the baby in the carseat and giving his approval.
They quickly became great buds.
I walked that baby and that dog for miles around my neighborhood, a brief respite from my new parenting insecurities.
A few years later, the second baby arrived. Our pup no longer held top dog status. But he still had an important place in our family.
Life got busier and walks got shorter as our dog slowed down. Earlier this year, it became clear that even a walk around the corner became too much for our boy. He also picked up this not-too-endearing barking hour many nights. He got all worked up when we had company or when the kids were too rambunctious. It was difficult to get him into the car, even with a doggie ramp and lots of treats.
Next, he started having serious trouble getting himself up. It was hard to watch. After one particularly rough effort, we spoke with his vet. The doctor believed that another icy winter would be too hard for him.
Armed with that information but no clear end-of-life schedule, we started talking with the kids about the fact that our pup was declining. How he has had a great life, well beyond what could be expected for a lab mix born with bad hips. How the end was coming.
And then, it did.
My husband feared we would take too long to make the tough decision to end our boy’s suffering. We would be in trouble if he could not get himself up, as our normally gentle giant would not take kindly to such assistance.
Last week while I was out at a school parent night, the dog spent the hour and a half barking. He could not stand. Finally, with some food to motivate him, the dog scooted himself around and eventually got himself up up. After taking him outside, my husband coaxed him up the doggie ramp and in to the back of his car.
It was time.
I spent a few moments with our boy, thanking him for the joy and unconditional love that he brought to our family. Then, we had to go inside and get the kids to come and say goodbye.
Despite our efforts and discussions over the past months, they could not understand. No amount of prepping would have made this easier. The tears were plentiful. There was great disbelief, a refusal to accept what was happening, hope that the vet would send him home. My husband had the heartbreaking job of taking our pup on his final car ride and I was left with two children, both sobbing and one wailing, overcome with grief.
There was no room for my sadness over the next hour. Wearing my mom hat, I worked to divert attention and distract my children, with very limited success. We went through a photo album of our boy, sharing stories about him from those early days. We discussed how much better it would be for our dog to no longer have pain. But my son just wanted his dog back.
There was a fresh breakdown when my husband came home alone. Each of my children slept in tear-stained sheets.
The next day was a bit rough for all of us. We all made it through the day and had some semblance of normalcy. The days after that went better, as we filled the kids’ days with friends and sports. We feel that absence, though.
The downside, I guess, of loving so deeply is the excruciating pain at the end. But, what a gift that love is.