Dearest Rachel –
It’s seven a.m. Chompers wakes me up with whine; he’s back to his old schedule (after a fashion), and I pick him up, and take him out front. He pees the length of the sidewalk connecting the front stoop to the driveway, and I discover as I set him into his harness that he had gotten me on the sandal as I carried him along that portion of sidewalk.
I have resolved not to get cross with him; for all I know, this may be his last day on earth. The last thing he needs is for me to be more beast than friend. You recall how we thought he saw each of us: you were “Mistress,” I was “the friendbeast,” after a cartoon by The Oatmeal about his own dog. I’m afraid that too often I have been more beast than friend to him; today, I can I’ll afford to be that way. He doesn’t deserve it, even if he did wake me up at four this morning to go out and pee as well.
When I bring him in, and set him on his blanket in the sunroom, I fetch him his water dish, and he licks greedily at it. While he does so, I’ll look around for some method to feed him. The receptionist at the clinic instructed us to make sure he was fed – specifically, she suggested I focus on giving him his at least his wet food. But that hasn’t been working out so well; he never finished yesterday’s breakfast, and while I tried to offer it to him again at dinner time, he simply licked at the food within the container to little actual result.
So preparing him a bowl or a container seems a little pointless. I decide to offer him a spoonful straight out of the container, but once again, he just licks at it, which doesn’t bring any of it into his mouth. Eventually, I conclude this isn’t working, and set the spoonful on one of those disposable plates Jan and I found a month or so ago, so he can lick to his heart’s content. Not that it’s likely to actually feed him, but at least I can say I tried everything I could.
I feel like I should be so much more anxious than I actually am. For all I know, this may be the day I send him to you. And yet, somehow it doesn’t bother me as much as I think it ought to.
It’s probably because he was never my pet. You would refer to him as your ‘fur baby,’ and as Daniel’s ‘furry little brother,’ but there was no connection between me and him. To me, he was always ‘the old man.’ Eight years old when we got him, and aging every day that much faster than any of us humans, he was always older than even me.
He was supposed to go first; but you beat him to the finish line somehow.
It’s a little after eight-thirty, now. I’m eating breakfast by myself, and going through my newsfeed, while Daniel listens to his computer, and Kevin (essentially filling in your spot on the couch) is tuned in to TikTok. I didn’t know that he was a moderator of certain TikTok discussion panels; I guess anybody can get into this or that new technology. Good for him.
I hear a ‘ping’ on the other side of the house; a text message. The folks are essentially inviting us over for dinner tomorrow (thought they’d never ask), and also asking if I’d like to be accompanied to the vet’s this morning.
I am loathe to insist that Kevin come with me, and I express my doubts that Daniel will mask up even out of respect for Chompers, so I accept. When I feel Kevin and Daniel in on these two bits of news, Daniel reacts with shock. It seems he hadn’t put two and two together, and hadn’t expected that, when I take Chompers to the vet’s today, that he might very well not be coming back. I have to remind him that he hasn’t eaten much since Monday night – and since that was his main pleasure in life, I think the time has come.
He probably scoops up the old boy, and disappears towards the front of the house. Shortly there after, he returns to grab one of those containers of wet wipes that Jan’s gotten me buying to keep the place clean; they work okay on the dog as well. I suspect that wherever Daniel is taking Chompers, the old boy has made a mess.
I head to the laundry room to change shirts and get myself freshened up. When I emerge, Daniel is back inside with Chompers, praying over him.
It’s at this point I realize that I’m leaving Kevin out of the loop, but when I check on him, he’s well plugged into his phone. It’s not as if he’s completely unaware of what’s going on around him, but he’s not concerning himself with the somber pall between me, Daniel and the dog.
It is what it is, I suppose, and Kevin’s making the best of it by allowing himself to (virtually) be somewhere else. It seems a shame, though, for him to come all this way to deal with all this.
Meanwhile, Daniel is contacting Kerstin and Sarah Lee, to see if they have any advice. I don’t know which one of them suggests that I soak some dry food in warm water, but he instructs me to try it. So, not having anything to lose, I pour some kibble into a container, and run hot tap water over it, and present it to Daniel to give to the old boy. Remarkably, he does take a few bites, although he doesn’t empty out the container like he used to, so… I don’t think it’s going to stave anything off.
Eleven o’clock, and we’re ushered into a waiting room at the clinic. Chompers lies in my arms, patiently waiting for the doctor, which is surreal in and of itself; in the past he would always be squirming, trying to get out of my grasp. Even you couldn’t hold him in your lap back in the day. And yet here he is, for all intents and purposes still in my arms.
Dad is with me, and while he waits as patiently as we can, he eventually opens the door for ventilation; Chompers’ smell is getting to him, too. At some point we ask if we can set Chompers on the examining table, and a nurse comes in with a towel that we can set him up on.
I lay him gently on the table, alternately rubbing and scratching his head. Normally, he would shake that kind of treatment off – that anxious knee-jerk reaction he always had. Now, he just lies there and takes it in. he’s so out of character now; this isn’t him anymore.
Finally, the doctor comes in and examined him. There are no signs of obvious tumors, but she observes that he’s listless and passive. If he’s gotten to the point where he’s no longer eating, he’s on the verge of shutting down whether he has an obvious disease or not. And she does point out that certain cancers – especially in dogs – may not be externally obvious, but may be working their insidious harm on his internal organs, all of which would explain his current behavior – or rather, the lack thereof.
And here is the verdict: she recommends that the humane course of action is to let him go. It’s not fair to him to try and keep him going for any length of time.
I expected as much, but it’s good to get a professional opinion. She asks whether we want to keep the ashes, and I’m torn. If you were here, you would’ve wanted them. I’m not altogether sure, but maybe Daniel would have as well. But he’s not here (despite Dad and me asking if he would be willing), and the decision is mine to make. That being said, I eventually decline.
Payment for the procedure is made, and the doctor along with an assistant return with the injection. It’s nothing more than the anesthesia they would usually use for surgery, only it’s an overdose. They shave his back leg to reveal a vein, and are mildly surprised to find it shriveled up. There’s no circulation there; it’s no wonder he couldn’t use those back legs.
I continue petting his head as they shave his front leg, insert the needle, and inject the anesthetic. He flinches a little as the needle goes in, but quickly calms down. In barely a minute or two, his eyes cloud over – even further than they already are – and the doctor tells me that his heart has stopped.
It’s over. He’s on his way to the Rainbow Bridge. Hope you can get there to meet him.
I didn’t expect to be crying over this; I see this as a relief. We’re free of this responsibility – and I feel like a monster for having this opinion. Dad points out that I did my best for all this time; and I hope he lets you know that I did once you’re reunited. I have no idea how big heaven is, and if you can get there to greet him in time.
We drive home, dad trying to be as reassuring as possible throughout the trip. I pull into the turn around, and I’m about to pull past the door, so that I have room… for when I take the old man out tonight for his last pee.
I don’t need to do that anymore.
And now, perhaps I can start grieving you in earnest; up until now, I had this responsibility that I had to take care of. I couldn’t take the time to think about you, because he was hungry, or thirsty, or needed to go out. That’s all over now.
I do so hope you can enjoy each other’s company now. Give him a good scratch between the ears for me, will you?