Friday, December 13, 2013
Adventures With An Elderly Dog: The Close
Simon isn't the first pet I've lost, but he is the first one I've had to make any sort of end of life decisions about. Growing up, my family pets were typically dumber than your average rock and had a habit of Darwin Awarding themselves out of existence far before we ever had to make a choice for them. The exception was my parents ancient cocker spaniel, Lady, who was obscenely old and one day just disappeared. I assume she wandered off somewhere to die on her own. We never saw her again, at any rate. Simon is the first one who lived to a point where we had to decide what was going to happen to him. Two weeks ago, he ate two socks. Things were looking pretty grim at that point. He had stopped eating and drinking (probably because socks are a filling delicacy) and once he passed the socks, he was still uninterested in food for a few days so we thought that was going to be it. Then he rebounded, started eating and drinking again. Then we noticed his balance was all off, and he couldn't really stand or walk. Then he started barking all the time, for unknown reasons. After 4 days of barking and not walking, we had to make a choice that none of us wanted to make.
As heartbreaking as it is to lose a pet, and believe me, it's akin to losing a family member, it's even more heartbreaking to watch your loved ones lose a pet. Through this process, I've been more resolved than Jason was. I knew it was time, and I knew we couldn't keep taking care of him much longer if things continued to get worse. As it was, we were already diapering him multiple times a day, carrying him up and down stairs, picking him up off the ground when he had to go outside because he couldn't stand anymore, cleaning poo on a daily basis, carrying him across the wood floor because he couldn't keep his balance on it, and a variety of other things. All I could think was that if he fell and broke a limb, what would we do? How long were we going to be able to continue to look after him and keep him safe and comfortable? Jason saw it differently. Jason never gives up on anyone, which is part of what makes me love him so much. Plus, this is HIS dog. I wasn't going to push him to make a choice, but offered to take the lead when he felt like it was time. I knew it was hard enough to say the words to me, let alone to veterinary clinic receptionist. And at that point, we began the process of saying goodbye. I held together so that Jason could fall apart if he needed to, and when we got home that afternoon, Simon had been laying in poo for what appeared to be several hours. Jason scooped him up, took him upstairs and carefully bathed him as I scrubbed the floor. I went upstairs to find Simon resting on our bathroom counter top, lying on towels, being carefully blow dried. Jason just kept standing there, brushing and blow drying, and then brushing again, pampering the dog more than we would have dared as of late out of fear of hurting him. By the time Jason was done, Simon was as clean and as well groomed as he's been in the past year, and I kept having to leave the room to stop myself from crying. What I saw wasn't just a man giving his dog a bath, it was a good friend saying goodbye to his companion in the most gentle way possible. By giving him as much dignity as he could before sending him away. No regrets to be had. Just a last memory for Simon of his best friend gently giving him a bath and showing him some affection. Even now, as I'm remembering it, I'm fighting tears.
Jason rode in the back seat with him, Simon resting on a blanket, his head pressed against Jason's leg, looking weary and resigned. I cried on the way there, quietly, in the driver's seat where no one had to notice, and then I pulled myself together to go in and set things up with the vet. Once we got in the room, he just laid there. No fight, no curiosity, no sniffing out other dogs. He just laid there, almost as if he knew, and was ready.
It was quick, and oddly clinical. I kept waiting for someone in the office to be empathetic, but it was all....procedural. Efficient, clean. A small amount of sympathy at the end from the vet tech, but on the whole it was just sterile. We all cried on the way home, and the house felt more empty when we came back to it. Oddly still. More quiet. It's still sad, and probably will be for a while. But I like to think he's happier. I like to think it's beautiful over there. I don't know where there is, but I believe it exists, and I hope it's beautiful.