We had to put our dog down last week, this beautiful girl who was just coming up on 11 years old. I was looking through my camera for photos of her, lamenting the fact that I just did not have very many. I was wrong-not only do I have a ton of photos of just her, or her and the kids, probably a good third of the photos taken have her in them inadvertently. That’s just how much a part of our life she was.
Making the decision the put her down was both one of the easiest and the most difficult things we have had to do. She got sick and we took her to the vet, where we found out she had kidney disease. Initially we thought (hoped) that it was an acute attack and that with a change in diet we could give her a good, comfortable life for another 6 months to a year. However, after we researched the symptoms we realized she likely had the disease for 6 months or more before we realized it. All of these symptoms were seemingly unrelated, things we put down to getting older or hot days or arthritis from a broken leg back in the day. Two days at the vet, more blood work, and they called with the news that it was not, in fact, an acute attack and that her time was very limited. At that point, we had to decide whether to provide hospice care for her until the end or put her down.
Steve and I had already agreed that we would care for her until she could no longer go outside on her own or was in great pain. When I went to pick her up from the vet on Thursday, it was obvious that she was in fact in pain and absolutely miserable. I made arrangements for the vet to come to our house on Friday afternoon to put her down, and we took her home to love her to the end.
And that is exactly what we did. Her bed has always been in the living room, so we put her there with comfy blankets and we all just sort of hung out with her. The kids took turns laying with her and talking to her, and when Steve got home from work he did the same. We brought her all sorts of treats, previously forbidden things like pork and chicken bones (because really, at that point it really didn’t matter). She didn’t eat anything but I am sure she was internally delighted. She drank lots of water and simply rested.
Friday came around and it was increasingly obvious that even without intervention, she wasn’t going to last long. What was interesting to me was that she was still able to go to the bathroom outside, and both times she did on Friday she made an entire circuit around the house, from the chicken coop to the rabbit pen to the garden and back around. I swear it was almost like she was saying goodbye. She would come back in and slowly make her way back to her bed and would just sigh.
Throughout all of this, we talked with the kids (especially Josie) about what was happening and what to expect and most importantly, why we were making the decision to put her down. All day we told stories about her and lay with her and pet her, telling her it was okay to go. When the vet came, I mixed up some essential oils to help her with the transition from life to death, and we all took turns dipping our fingers in the oils and anointing her while whispering our private words in her ears.
When we were ready, we got her head settle in Steve’s lap and we all touched her and cried while the vet gave her the shot. It was so fast; a mere couple of minutes and it was all over. How can I describe the beauty and the pain all at once?
We are so lucky, so blessed to have been able to give this girl both a life and a death full of love and mercy and yes, grace. It was heartbreaking, the wails of the kids and the tears of Steve and I, yet we were able to be with her until the last second. Even after death, we were able to sit with her until we were ready to let go.
She now rests in an antique trunk that belonged to my grandma, wrapped in a lovely embroidered tablecloth. Because it is so bitter cold, we were unable to bury her, so for the winter she sits under the trees in the back of our house. It was one of her favorite spots, looking out over the fields behind us. It might be gross to some, but it doesn’t bother us any. After all, she was a part of the family, and we wouldn’t do anything less for a human member.
And now the house is quiet; it is always full of kids and noise and chaos of some type, but underneath there is no click of toenails or water being slurped out of the toiled or the clinking of a collar on the food bowl. I am sad-more sad, maybe, than I “should” be, but she was my companion, my bed partner on the night when Steve was gone, my watchdog, my chore buddy. At some point we will certainly get another dog, but for now we rest in this sadness and honor our girl by missing her.