No matter how many times I do this, it always feels like the worst day of my life. The only time I ever say, “I’ll never have another dog,” is the last day – The one when I grant them freedom from the frail body that no longer serves them. It’s so hard. When I look into those cloudy eyes, I see past the protruding hip bones and wobbling legs. I remember the exuberant puppy whose energy, at times, tried my patience. In the beginning, I rescued my dogs. But in the years that followed, they rescued me – From loneliness, from harsh self-judgement, from fear of things that go ‘bump’ in the night.
The first day I come home to find no joyfully wagging tail to greet me – That’s one of the worst moments. Their absence packs a surprising punch. This time, it’s my son who will feel that stab of harsh reality. Our 15 year old girl had been living with him since I sold the house, nine months ago.
Once you love a dog and then lose her, you learn. Eventually, the pain lessens and you get another. But, even from the very first days, you begin to mourn them. You know how fast their short lifetime goes by. You know how much it’s going to suck at the end. Yet, despite ourselves, we fall in love, all over again.
After a couple of years, you stop noticing how the commitment of having a dog changes your life. They become synchronized with your daily routines and rituals. When you say they are part of your family, people look at you funny (at least those who do not have a dog). Then, they get sick or hurt and you are forced to confront your fears. You think, “But I’m not ready.” Sleep and, sometimes, large amounts of money, are forfeited to avoid a premature end. Once they are brought back to good health, life goes on and we put it out of our minds. Until it happens again: Only this time, they are elderly and it’s not something that can be reversed.
It’s the right decision – the only one. We know, in our heart, it’s necessary. We pray that she’ll die peacefully, in her sleep. But it doesn’t usually happen that way, for me. She has given us so much in her short lifetime that we cannot allow her to suffer. It would be selfish to let her go on for our own benefit.
But it’s just so hard.
I have granted this final gift to so many dogs that I have been blessed to love through the years. It never gets easier. Today, I say “never again.” But I hope I’m wrong.