Four years ago on a cool grey winter’s morning, the sky was hinting at drizzle and the phone in my pocket began to vibrate. I was startled and slightly irritated by the interruption and reluctantly reached in and pulled it out. It read “MOM” illuminated brightly on the cold black screen. When my mom calls it is rarely anything bad, rather, it is normal mom stuff: “I miss you.” “How are the grands?” “Did you hear…?” “Did you know…?”, but when it starts with “I have a question for you.” I have an instant mix of emotion. On the one hand, I realize I am a man with wisdom and knowledge and I know things my mom does not. On the other hand, I’m scared because of the exact same reason. It started to drizzle. I couldn’t hear it, but I could see the tiny drops begin to converge on my car.
“Yah sure, what’s up?”, I faked confidence and asked.
“How do you know when it is time to put a dog down?”
Now I heard the rain. I knew she was asking about Skipper our family dog who had been filling the empty nest after my brothers and I left the house. We have had a dog my entire life. There was one waiting for me the day I came home from the hospital on my OB (original birthday) and I had one thereafter, with me at every single life event. The deaths of my furry best friends were never easy and I was never ready for it. This was the first time she was having to do it alone and she was calling because I am the supposed “expert”. In my job I am so blessed to meet and care for thousands of dogs every year. Dogs, simply, make everything better. If you don’t have a dog, just stop reading because you will not understand. The major downside of my job is I have to watch puppies age into decrepitude and finally pass away. These feel like they are my dogs too, so it hurts me. I have had my own dogs over the years live their life and then go. I know pain and loss, but how does one CHOOSE the time, if they won’t or fate doesn’t step in and take them in a second? Thunder rolled in the distance.
“What is going on? How is he?”, I asked. I knew the answers. He was old. He was lost in his body, but his mind was still there. He wanted so badly to chase, play, come, go for a ride and lay in the sun. He could not. Every move caused pain enough that he whimpered when trying to just be. He had a look in his eye when he realized he had gone to the bathroom again… in the house. He still wanted to be near and to be touched. His tail still wagged when he felt that you were close. He still had love to take and to give. “How do you know when it is time?” reverberated through my mind as she mournfully told me what I knew. Summary: Not good and I am NOT ready to say goodbye.
I have been in her shoes a few times. I have seen more dogs than you can imagine and their owners in her shoes. It sucks and it always sucks. Dogs are the bookends in your life. When one comes and then goes they bookend that part of your life. Sometimes it is only a few years and sometimes it is over 15 years…I always get sad when I get near the end of a book…especially on a cold rainy morning.
So here it is folks. The answer to “When to say goodbye?” It is painfully simple and cold and rainy, but there is a blue sky. The answer is: When you see suffering. When you see no quality of life. When you see your companion look up at you and say, “I love you. Thanks for the great time, you were the best.” You have to remember that they were a big part of your life, but to them, you were their entire life. Let them go for them and do not hold on to them for you…and then…get another dog to bring the sun back. Don’t wait because you need it, and they want you to have it. That’s what I told my mom…