This week, the world said good bye to a renowned book critic, a gifted evaluator known for his coveted Dookie award, last awarded to some guy who writes from some place in Oregon. It is often said that the world could always use one less critic, but I disagree. This one will be sorely missed.
Attempted humor aside, I am struggling to write down what I feel right now because it really did happen. There really is one less canine book critic in this world. Miriam and I took our loyal companion, Nick, to our veterinarian to have him euthanized. That is a decision that is never easy, no matter how common it is and no matter if one has made the same decision for another family pet before. Even though it has been obvious for months that our dog’s health had been rapidly declining, we put off the final decision until now. A tumor on his lungs had caused his breathing to become labored as it grew. Seizures, until recently reasonably controlled by medication, suddenly returned and took on new forms, affecting him in different ways, some seizures coming on gradually and gripping Nick with fear of what was about to happen to him. Voracious hunger turned Nick into a senile pig who wanted to eat constantly, so much that he often laid next to his food bowl for long periods of time, licking it. Often, he lost control of his bowels inside the house, a humiliation to our fastidious dog, a dog who never did his thing inside the house. More often than not, Nick required our help to stand up. Usually eager to greet everyone at the door, more often than not he wouldn’t stir from where he rested in the downstairs hall or dining room. I found myself checking to see if he was breathing. His mane was matted from seizure induced drool most of the time, a brushing required daily just to remove those mats.
Most telling was the dull look in his eyes, resignation that showed that life had become a struggle for him.
Nick was a dog who required a lot of affection, one of the characteristics that may have endeared him to me more than any other dog that we have had. Our first dog, a welsh terrier, was.. a terrier. Anyone who has lived with a terrier knows what I am talking about. Terriers live more for themselves, affection doled out seemingly when it’s convenient for them, a singular mind that often borders stubborn defiance. Shelties, which is Nick’s breed, live to please with a loyalty that I have yet to find elsewhere. Nick lived on affection, our routine each day required several snuggles with his head against my chest, usually the first thing I did each day when I got home from work. He also held steadfastly to his job of guarding the family, never leaving his upstairs post each morning until Miriam was out of bed and through with her shower. Somehow, even with the difficulties of walking, he still managed to make it up the stairs for that duty each morning. He also came to me for those snuggles, tried to get up on the couch with me. I either helped him up on the couch or I sat on the floor with him.
Last weekend was bad for Nick. That’s when the resigned look reappeared and stayed. We knew it was time. After some discussion on Sunday night, it was decided that Miriam would call our veterinarian the next morning about having Nick put to sleep, which she did. I got a text from Miriam on Monday morning, asking when I was available on Tuesday. Our appointment was for 9 AM on Tuesday.
Monday night was spent saying good byes. Miriam caught me sobbing as I held Nick on the kitchen floor, Nick licking my hand in an attempt to comfort me. I felt like calling off the appointment, try to find a way that we could make Nick’s life more comfortable. But I knew it was time. So did Nick. The resignation came over me as well, filling me with the gratitude of being able to properly say good bye to my friend and companion, a gift from God for many years, his warmth something to be remembered for the rest of my life.
Tuesday morning came and it was time to take Nick to the vet. After our cat, Chester, said his good byes, we carried Nick to my car, loaded him into the back seat, our tears flowing. I turned on the radio as we pulled away from the house, hoping for a distraction but (I am not making this up), Elton John’s “Funeral For A Friend” was playing on the station. I turned the radio off.
We have a very good vet, who greeted us at the door to escort us to the room where the injections would be administered. Nancy made sure that we had as much time as we wanted with Nick. She reminded us of what he was like when we first brought him into our home, a nervous pup who had been passed between two different households, and how he had changed into a confident dog who had been given a secure home and purpose. Once again, she assured us that we were doing the right thing, confirming by listening to his heart and lungs that he was struggling to hang on. She hugged Miriam several times, giving her the comfort that Miriam needed. Then the vet took Nick away to add an injection port to his leg and to give him a sedative. A few minutes later, she brought him back where I laid next to him as Miriam sat close by. A pain killer shot was administered, which made Nick lower his chin to the floor cushion, then the lethal injection was given to him. He barely gave a sigh as his heart and lungs ceased to function. We said our final good byes and stood up to leave. It was eerie to look at Nick one last time, his bicolored blue and brown eyes showing only the brown, lifeless.
It hasn’t been a week of tears, but boy does it seem different in our house, especially as Nick’s things have gone out to the garage. There are times when I swear that I hear his nails clicking on the laminate in our hallway. The last two nights, I have gone to the kitchen after 8 to get Nick’s pills ready, our normal routine. When I finished my dinner, I put my plate on the ground, waiting for Nick to perform his dishwashing task. It’s going to take a while to get used to not having him around.
Dogs are a great gift to their owners. We all know that there is likely going to come the time when we have to say good bye to them, but we almost never are ready to do that. I can honestly say that there was a lot of joy mixed with the sorrow of saying good bye this week, the joy of celebrating a true friend.