Playing God is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for anyone, really, except maybe God.
We just put our dog to sleep. Wrigley had lung cancer. We’d thought it was kennel cough. Then maybe a virus. But she took a turn for the worse, and the time from diagnosis to her death was less than two weeks.
When a person is dying, we do everything in our power to keep them comfortable—and alive—until their life ends. Whether we think they themselves decided to die or God decided or biology decided is nothing more than a philosophical choice we as observers make. Unless you’re Dr. Kevorkian, the point in time of death is not a choice.
When putting an animal down, the when of it becomes a choice we’re forced to live with forever afterward. We made an appointment for Monday morning. My husband had to make the call.
At the time, only a few days ago, I felt we were doing it too soon.
Her moments of normalcy—the way she still forced her ears forward in what I liked to call her “puppy face,” the way she wagged her tail at the technician at the veterinarian’s, the way she ate more liver treats in the last fifteen minutes before her death than she had food in her entire last week—made my husband and I want to turn back a thousand times, to break her out of there, change our minds and take her home. In the hopes of just a few more moments of normalcy.
But her labored cough. The bloody pools of phlegm on the floor. The last few days of stumbling on the stairs. Then, on her second to last day, her refusal to go down stairs at all.
I kept telling myself, we have to look at this as if we were someone on the outside looking in. To us, we cherish the moments when she’s herself. When she seems normal. Happy. We don’t want them to ever end.
But there was her weight loss, her hind legs sometimes sliding out from under her, trying to get a grip on the hardwood floor, when she tried to stand up. Her sunken eyes. And today I worry and wonder if we waited too long.
My son had been away at camp, returning just two days before her “appointment.” Until then, we fed her a codeine based cough/pain pill three times a day, an appetite stimulant, diarrhea medicine. I injected her with 500 ml of subcutaneous fluids every day, which perked her up, if only for a little while.
And my son was able to say a proper good-bye to his dog.
Wrigley lived twelve-and-a-half years. A pretty good life for a Labrador Retriever. Seventy-percent of my sons’ lives were spent with her in it.
When my daughter arrived, at the age of eight from Russia, to spend a summer with her potential forever family, she immediately bonded with her. When my daughter returned for good, finally, two years later, Wrigley remembered her, yipping and wagging and scooting her rear-end around down low in that play with me! way she had. Our dog was her friend when she wasn’t liking us too very much. Language never an obstacle.
Wrigley was the best running partner I ever had. (Sorry, Honey.) Our last run, just shy of four miles along the lake, was almost one month, to the day, before she died. I didn’t know it would be our last. We ran together for eleven years. Miles and miles. Just two blonde girls, my ponytail and her regular tail wagging. Lately though, she hadn’t been up for the sprint at the end. Since then, I’d go on without her, when it was too hot, when she was too weak, enduring her look of betrayal until she was too sick to give it.
I see her there, on that table at the vet’s. One eye partly open, like maybe she would just get up and this would all be a bad dream.
I like to think we made the right choice. I pray we did. Not too soon. Not too late. I remind myself she’s up in doggie heaven now, chasing squirrels—maybe actually catching them.
The first day we brought her home, a puppy, she walked around the kitchen and startled at her reflection on the door to the stove. “This is weird,” my husband announced. Indeed it was. A dog roaming freely in our house.
Today we come home, and the house is strangely quiet. No barks. No clack of toenails on the floor. No tail wapping the table in the hall. Nobody bringing us a shoe.
And now, after twelve-and-a-half awesome years with the best dog in the world, I walk through my house and all I can think is, “No, this is weird.”
Now, Wrigley is with me on every run. Showing me the way, running on ahead, leash-free. Always up for a sprint at the end.
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