Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ancient of Dogs

It’s the “knowing when” part of life that can cause us so much… misery.

Like knowing when to stop hanging around for a phone call and go out and live life. Or knowing when to come in out of the rain, dry off, and have something warm to drink.

Or knowing when it’s time to put a beloved pet to rest.

Knowing when you’re not “playing god” but rather being a responsible pet owner…

After 17 years, she’d had enough, but I wasn’t sure. I mean, I knew she was going to die, that’s pretty much a given, but I kept hoping she’d go in her sleep. Crazy dog just kept on waking up. But I knew we’d reached the end of the line when she refused food. Then she had even more trouble standing. But the final straw was when she would bark at odd hours wanting someone to come pet her and reassure her she wasn’t alone.

While that’s all well and good during the day, when she demanded comfort at 2:30 in the morning and would keep me awake for an hour or so, it started to cause problems, like sleep deprivation. I tend to get weepy and spin in circles when I’m sleep deprived. That’s not a pretty sight.

Our regular vet was out of town for the week, and usually he just closes the office and we are directed to another local vet for emergencies. This time, however, he had someone there, and I’m so glad he did.

She was beautiful, and not just physically, but spiritually as well. She understood the importance of reassuring Tam and I that our dog was in a happy place now, with an unlimited supply of tennis balls (her absolute favorite, next to dirty underwear and socks).

As we left the office and climbed into the car, I turned to Tam and said, “Am I imagining things, or was she really hot?”
“You are not imagining things, Babe, she was hot.”
There was a long silence.
“Are you ok,” I asked.
“I’m sad. How are you?”
“I’m sad, but relieved. The doctor even said it was the right thing to do. Plus, she didn’t make me feel guilty for the way my poor dog looked.”

It’s true. The Ancient of Dogs looked awful; skeletal, with goopy eyes and crusted fur around her ears. She smelled horrible, too. Bathing her was always difficult when she was able to sit up in the tub, but after she got so weak, it was impossible. Plus she couldn’t get warm afterward, the water would get in her ears and she would get an infection.

I knew I’d made the right decision. My hairdresser, Sasquatch, said it best: “Pets don’t have the luxury of throwing themselves off a bridge or sticking their head in the oven when it’s time to go. They rely on us to release them.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the old beast. Actually, I miss the young beast, the active dog that greeted everyone at the door with a pair of dirty underwear or socks. The dog who could leave bruises with her tail as she whacked it against unsuspecting shins. That crazy hound who loved apple cores and peanut butter.

Tam had gone out on an errand and I was in the office trying to write, when I heard that unmistakable sound of paper rustling in the other room, a sign the Ancient One needed to go outside. I got up and hurried toward the living room, then stopped. Her bed was empty and the noise was coming from the bathroom. It was my older son unwrapping toilet paper. After I got settled in and back to work, I could hear a dog in the back yard and my first thought was, “Damn, I need to go find where she’s wandered…oh, wait… no I don’t, that’s the neighbor’s dog.” It was a very strange sensation.

Later that evening, The Ex came by to take our older son to dinner and he asked me how my weekend was going. My sleep deprived answer was more than a little crude and I regretted it immediately: “Oh, I killed the dog today. How’s your weekend shaping up?” I knew he was shocked and hurt, so I did my best to let him know that I was using dark humor to keep myself together. Then I apologized for being an asshole. I hope he can forgive me.

That night was the first full night’s sleep I’d had in my own bed in two years. Not once did I have to get up to comfort a dog, or take her out into the freezing night while she staggered around looking for the perfect place to pee or poop. Even if I was away from home, I would wake up and wonder if my son could hear her and tend to her needs. That’s a lot of lost sleep, my friends.

The next day, we cleaned up the living room, picking up the soiled newspapers and cardboard, taking down the barriers that helped confine my poor old dog to the safer parts of the house (where things would not fall on her when bumped). We swept up fur, and took apart her bed. Now the living room looks a bit bigger and smells much better.

But it was after the cleaning, while I was in the kitchen cutting up an apple, that she paid me a visit: an image of her and her “sister” fit and happy, with the sensation of something brushing past my leg.

She forgives me for waiting until I could let her go. I’m sure she’ll visit on occasion, between chasing tennis balls and lolling in the sunshine and sweet grass with her buddies.


  1. Oh, Karen. I am so sad to read this. I was fine until I read the bit about her visiting you, brushing past your leg...awww, that got me going, it really did.

    Of course she forgives you. She loved you. Still loves you. She knew how hard it was to say goodbye. I am so sorry for your loss. So sorry.

  2. Oh honey, this made me cry. Having to put a pet down is one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. I've done it twice and since I'm such a huge dog lover and will have many more, I know I'll have to do it again. My deepest sympathy to you and Tam now. Take the time to mourn. Animal lovers know that the death of a pet is just as painful (if not more) as that of a human.

    Hugs my friend.

  3. I'm sorry, lovey. Sending you hugs and wishing you peace.

    OMFC, my word-verification was UNHOT. Ahahahahahaaahhhaaaa! (Sorry. I know that is neither dignified nor respectful, but I think it might make you giggle...)

  4. Hugs for you all--I know your pain.

    Sagacious Woman

  5. Love & hugs. I'm so sorry you had to go through this. I've been there with my cat, Kyo, and I fervently hope to never have to do it again. But I still have three cats... T_T

    You & Tam & your family are in my thoughts I send you my love & hugs. Your hairdresser is wise, and you DID do what was right & compassionate.


  6. Selma, thank you. I was pretty ok until that moment as well... (sigh)

    Dark Mother, thanks. You're right, sometimes it IS harder when a pet passes. I'm still getting used to the changes.

    Not Hannah... Thanks.

    SW, I know you do, and thank you.

    Duchess, thanks a ton. You have my sympathy too.


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