By now you probably know that I’m a planner. I plan everything. EVERYTHING. When I travel I know where I’m going, when I’m going, who I’m going with. I have it all planned down to the smallest details. This is how I roll.
Sometimes, though, plans just don’t work out. Sometimes we finds ourselves journeying at unexpected times to places we never thought we would go. I don’t love these kinds of journeys, I really don’t. But sometimes I’m forced to go on them.
I took one of these journeys recently with my oldest daughter and our oldest dog. It was a gut wrenching journey.
Our oldest lab was approaching 13 years old when he began to show signs of slowing down. Nothing specific really, just a little slower, a little weaker. But he still seemed game for his daily walks and twice daily meals. He still loved to be petted and eat ice cubes. He was still the patriarch of our three dog pack. This was the dog that had grown up my oldest daughter. He was only two when she was born. When I brought her home from the hospital, I told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to protect her, look out for her, and keep her safe. He took those instructions to heart. As a toddler, she would take her naps with her head rested on his belly. Once she was out of the crib, he would sleep in her bed. Every night. The muddy bedding made me crazy. But the two of them loved it. When she went out to play, he went outside, too. When she went down the hill to her playhouse, he went too, and sat on the porch. He walked to the bus stop with us every single morning, even on his last day of life. He went to school with a Santa hat on. That girl and that dog were best friends.
Over time, though, his weakness increased. He had to be lifted up off the floor. He needed help navigating the stairs. His appetite waned and his muscles atrophied. He made multiple trips to the vet. He was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and prescribed a lot of medications. He took them all but still, he didn’t get better. He developed large, weeping sores on his torso. His weakness worsened. We watched him get worse and worse, spending his days lying on the floor. I prepared the girls that his time with us was coming to an end. Either he would die soon or we would have to make the difficult decision to put him down. They received the message well, took it in quietly.
Another week passed and he worsened still. My husband and I talked about it and made the incredibly difficult decision that it was time to put him down. He no longer had anything he loved in life. I called the vet and we scheduled a time on Thursday to take him in. Wednesday evening I told my daughters that it was time to put down their beloved pet. There were tears. There was sobbing. There were heads buried under blankets. I asked them if they wanted to come with me to the vet’s office when he was euthanized. My youngest said no. She wanted to stay in school. She was sad but she and this dog had never been particularly close. My oldest, though, that was a different story. She said she wanted to come with me. I wasn’t sure I could handle that.
She never wavered, though, in her desire to come with me and be with her dog at the end. So, I picked her up at school at noon on Thursday. We took the long way to the vet’s office. She snuggled her dog in the back seat and held his paw. She helped me get him out of the car and into the vet’s office. She sat with him while he ate treats and had a sedative injected. She wrapped her arms around him while the catheter was placed in his left front leg. She buried her face in his neck while the lethal drug was injected into the catheter. She held him tight while his heart stopped beating and his soul left this earth. And she sobbed. She sobbed, and sobbed and sobbed.
I told her we could stay with him as long as she wanted. After a while she said, “Mom, I can’t leave him”. So we stayed longer. And still, she couldn’t leave him. So we talked about how sometimes you can’t leave because you just need more time. And how sometimes you just have to leave because more time isn’t going to make anything any better. A few minutes later she kissed him one last time, said goodbye, and we walked out the door.
The ensuing days were filled with intermittent bouts of sobbing. At bedtime when would lay in bed and cry for her dog. I know with time this will get better. I know she will move through her grief and come out on the other side. I know that I’m incredibly proud of her for doing the hard thing and being with her first best friend all the way to the end. I also know this was a journey I never wanted to take to a place I never wanted to go. But I’m heartened, at least, that I had the best traveling companion ever.