I helped a friend say goodbye to his dog Mandy today. She has been going downhill for sometime, walking through her life with a variety of ailments including Cushings disease. She had lost weight, most of her sight and almost all of her hearing. Toward the end she had difficulty eating, drinking and taking care of business. She became weak and had some difficulty walking a straight line.
My friend has had Mandy since she was a puppy, and they spent something like 17 years together. Even with all her ailments, she didn't seem to be in pain. This made the decision that much harder for him. Was it really her time he kept asking. He didn't mind taking care of her and cleaning up her accidents. But she was clearly a different dog. Though she may not have been in pain, it didn't appear that she had much joy left. She wasn't Mandy anymore, just a shadow of what she was.
I went over to build a box for Mandy to be buried in. We talked about her and my friend's tortured decision as we prepared for her final moments. He originally thought he wanted to be alone at the vet, but I ended up joining him. The vet was very caring and professional, allowing us to spend the time needed, then explaining the procedure and assuring us it would be peaceful.
Dogs live in the moment and have a grace I doubt many humans will ever achieve. As the vet said, dogs don't know what is coming at the end. They do not suffer the torment of the approaching end. They pain just stops one day as they move on from our world. The vet was wonderful, asking questions about Mandy, prompting happy stories from my friend as his dog drifted away in his arms.
Today was painful, but I was honored to be chosen to be there. I dread the day when I need to make a similar decision. It was the right one, but for some time that won't much matter. There will just be an emptiness in the home that won't be filled for a long time. When joy and grace disappears, it can leave a pretty dark void.
But slowly, bit by bit, fondness will replace the pain associated with memory. He will move a piece of furniture months from now and find a toy or wisp of hair, and it will bring a smile. It will warm his soul as he remembers his best friend and how lucky he was to have her grace his life.