I wrote this entry four years ago when my first dog Oliver died at 15 years young. I wanted to share it again on the anniversary of his departure not to be morbid, but because he was great, his passing was peaceful and I was so happy to be able to hold him in that moment, and because I’m thinking of him today and all the ways our animals wiggle their ways into our lives and hearts.
It was originally published Sunday, March 10, 2014.
I did not wake Saturday morning thinking I would lose my dog. My Oliver.
I took Oliver in about two weeks ago because he was getting skinnier and wasn’t eating much. According to my vet, who left a voicemail a few days prior, there had been “some changes in his blood work”. I knew this to mean some kind of organ failure because he’d showed signs of it, ever so slightly, during the visit prior.
We tried to get him to take his meds; antibiotics, a liquid anti-inflammatory for his arthritis, and the heart meds he’s been taking over over a year now. It wasn’t long before he simply stopped eating. Every few days, Mom and Dad could get a meal into him after some major song and dance which included an intermission, but basically he was really only drinking water.
Yesterday, Mom told me that the night before, they brought Oliver to his water dish after a trip outside. He simply stood over it on his weak pegs, doing nothing. Bootsie stood in front of him watching, and after a moment, she put her nose to his head and gently pushed it down into the bowl. He drank.
Friday morning, after at least six days of no eating, I called the vet. I did so because while I knew Oliver was at the end of his fifteen year life and choosing not to eat because of it, I was concerned. He seems very comfortable aside from being very weak. He drinks water, snuggles on my lap when I visit him every night at my parents’ house where he now lived, takes a morsel of food from time to time, sleeps through the night. He shows no sign of discomfort aside from being weak. Although I like the idea of him dying at home surrounded by loved ones and an environment he’s comfortable in, I can’t be sure it’s the best thing. She let me know that if he seemed comfortable, wasn’t vomiting or having accidents in the house, there was no reason to not keep him at home where he’s content.
When I was visiting with Oliver, I could agree, but when I wasn’t with him, I wasn’t so sure. By Saturday, I’d gone further into my thinking and I went over to Avon Street to discuss with my parents. My issue was that although he was showing no signs of being in distress now (and even the research I’d done ensured that when they stop eating, they do so because their organs are shutting down and as such, they are not hungry, so I didn’t have to worry about the pain of hunger), we simply couldn’t be guaranteed a peaceful death for our furry little loved one.
Did I want to risk him gasping for air and maybe even seizuring at the end of his life just so he’s at home and simply because he shows no signs of pain right now? No. And in truth, once he stopped eating, I simply didn’t think he would make it this long. So, really at this point, it was a quality of life issue as well.
It was decided, and I made a very collected, business-like call to the vet’s office. We headed there, sad and quiet, and he sat in my lap, snuggled in the whole way, the sun coming down on him through the windshield. When we arrived we were put in a secluded room and given time with him. He sat on my lap with Mom and Dad on either side of me.
Oliver hasn’t been as much of a face-licker over the past few months, but on this day, he much have licked me at least six times. Dogs might not know what the next step is, but they might know you are attempting to help them feel better. One thing I do know is that my Oliver has always trusted me and he knew he could this time too. He purred in my lap and I stroked him and told him what a good boy he was.
I was teary, but I wanted to try and keep it together, ’cause once you let it out there’s no holding it back. I also didn’t want him to pick up on any of my distress, so I just tried to act normal. Occasionally, he would turn his head around to see if Dad was still next to me (he could see Mom from where he was…well, as much as a nearly blind dog can see anything). And he could “see” that everything was OK.
It did feel confusing. His entire life, I would tell people at various stages how old he was, and no one could believe it. He simply didn’t look old and today was no different. The fact that he lifted his head from time to time while in my arms made me feel deceived too. Shouldn’t an old, dying dog be unable to really lift his head? Apparently not.
They took him away on a gurney to put and IV in and I did paperwork while he was gone; yes, I want his ashes back, no I do not need a paw print. Paperwork done, we were moved to a different room and I began to get anxious to get my boy back. As much as I knew I was letting him go, I wanted him around me until then. And most importantly, I wanted to comfort him. He was nervous as he was rolled back in on the gurney, attempting to stand despite his excessive weakness. I went straight to him and took him into my arms, sitting down so I could get him in the most comfortable, cocooned position. Nice and cozy.
Once we were settled in and comfortable, I let the vet know we were ready and as she put a sedative in, his little pink tongue poked out the front of his mouth ever so slightly, “What a good boy you are” I whispered into his fur as I’d done a million times before. She gave him the anesthetic to stop his heart and there he lay in my arms, relaxed as can be, as if he was fast asleep.
The vet stood and put the stethoscope to his fluffy belly. That wonderful, white, clean, fluffy belly, and quietly, respectfully said something I hadn’t anticipated hearing from anyone, “He’s gone.”
I placed him back on the gurney and was given some time alone with him. I ran my hand through that wonderful coat. I repositioned his legs a bit so he was a little more tucked, just like he likes it. I looked into his cloudy eye. I would swear he was just sleeping with his eyes open. He was still warm. He simply felt the same as he always had. I whispered to him how wonderful he was, how lucky I was to have him come into my life.
As I cried into his fur, I felt content. I knew I would miss him desperately, but I was so grateful I could help him go in this way. It was so completely peaceful. I held him as I had a hundred times before, and he fell asleep. And that was that. He didn’t move. He didn’t make a noise. There was no protest. There was no pain. There was just calm. And as cheesy as is sounds, love. There was a lot of love there, too.