Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Another rite of passage ran its course in my life yesterday when I ran upstairs for only two minutes to see how the bathroom painting was coming along and returned to find Vicki carrying her water bucket into the living room, but with her back legs dragging behind her. Before I'd gone up she had been lying on the recliner. Obviously her hindquarters had been working then to launch her into the comfortable chair and the wife and daughter who'd both taken the day off to hang out together said she'd had a very good day with them, doing all of her regular doggie things.

A boy and his dog saying good night.

Vicki came home with us from the SPCA the week before Christmas in 1998. She was one of my Christmas presents. I grew up in a home where animals served only one purpose - to be eaten. My mom disliked and still dislikes animals so having a pet was categorically out of the question. Our apartment was very small when we first married so the Mrs. and I got a cat. But I wanted a dog. I'd always wanted a dog, maybe in part simply because I'd never been allowed to have one. My in-laws were told by the town at one point that if they got another dog they'd have to get a kennel license and part of the reason I liked visiting them in New York was because we were surrounded by good sized dogs the whole time. As time passed and we moved to bigger digs we expanded our collection of cats and it wasn't until we bought the house and established ourselves that Vicki came to join us.

I have to say that Vicki was everything I'd hoped a dog of my own would be. Faithful, loyal, and loving to a fault. When old cats left us and new kittens came home, she was a mother to every one of them. Though she would greet adult visitors by nearly knocking them over inside the front door in her eagerness to say hello, with kids she was ever the mom - gentle and patient even when they'd climb all over her.

Time passed. The girls grew up. The gray started taking over Vicki's muzzle about the same time that it came creeping into my beard. Vicki was healthy though maybe just a little slower to leap out of her favorite chair to meet somebody at the door or to race into the kitchen at the sound of her dinner bowl being filled. Sometime last year we encountered our first health problem with her when she started becoming incontinent, but with a diagnosis of diabetes insipidus and the appropriate meds she was almost as good as new though an occasional accident still reminded us that she was getting older than we wanted her to be.

I confess, somewhere along the line I grew tired of having a dog. Vicki wasn't the kind of dog you could trust to go down the back stairs, do her thing, and come back in. Every single time she needed to go out, one of us had to take her in the snow, sleet, hail, and gloom of night. When, during thunderstorm season she'd quake and tremble pathetically and try to climb under things that any dog with reasonable math skills would know she couldn't fit under, my patience ran a little thin. At times when we'd try to contain her while we went out, we'd come home to find that she'd chewed and clawed her way through more than one hollow door. But, no matter what she did, one look from those big, brown eyes was usually sufficient to earn instant forgiveness.

A few weeks ago Vicki had a bout of diarrhea. We took her to the vet and the meds he prescribed after running a battery of tests worked within a few days. It was a wake up call for all of us, though. We finally sat back and admitted to ourselves that she was quite old for a dog her size, and that her battery was overdue to run down.

When I found Vicki dragging herself across the kitchen yesterday afternoon I yelled for the others, and as we sat there petting her and encouraging her to try to stand up, we knew something terrible had happened to her. In the weeks between her last trip to the vet and yesterday I think we'd all steeled ourselves to face the inevitable goodbye. We took her to the emergency veterinary clinic, each of us alone in our own thoughts and sorrow, knowing that she wouldn't be coming home with us again.

Not a boy any more, saying goodbye.

I'd never been there before when one of our pets had to be put down. I hope I never have to do that again. I love life and I believe that every one of God's creatures loves his life just as much as I love mine. Watching the vial of drugs going into the small tube that they'd already outfitted Vicki with, and seeing the life drain from her within seconds while the three of us petted her and talked to her was almost more than I could take. I wept shamelessly when she put down her head and breathed her last.

I imagine myself years from now finding a stray Vicki hair tucked into a corner somewhere and crying like I did yesterday. I don't want another dog. I had the one I wanted all my life.


cpa3485 (JIM) said...

My condolences. Pets become a big part of our lives. I have cried many times in the past when they have passed away. It's never easy.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of the passing of such a fine friend.

Ride on,

Paul said...

Losing a member of your family is never easy. I know some people will say that it is silly to be upset over the passing of an animal, but it is not. A pet is far more than just an animal. They are friends, confidants, and members of the family.

My prayers are with you in your time of grief.

D. Brent Miller said...

My sympathies and prayers are with you. I had to put a dog down years ago--a German Shepard mix with displacia in the hips. I had her for nine years, and I believe it was the hardest thing I ever did. I cried like a baby.



Lucky said...

So sorry to read this. Losing a pet is horrible.

Lance said...

I am sorry for your loss. What a wonderful dog, and loving member of your family. Thanks for writing about her, and take care.

bobskoot said...

I'm deeply saddened. There is also something wrong with our dog. I noticed a distinct change in behavour over the last couple of weeks and she is breathing very heavily now, perhaps due to the heat. She is over 15 years old. I am feeling that I should spend more time with her now . . .

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Steve Williams said...

I'm sorry for your loss. I've twice bid farewell to canine friends and our dog Essa is almost sixteen with ever more shaky rear legs. I know how hard it is to say goodbye.

If there is anything positive for me to say it's that for me the memories have filled the empty place in the house and after a time I can smile again when I think of my dogs...

Best wishes...

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. I didn't see this one until now. So sorry Joe. You know I have Yorkie getting on in years and through many dark days he has been there for me so I can understand how you must feel. I do not look forward to this day that I know is coming.