Knowing When Its Time
The most difficult part of owning a dog isn’t potty training. It isn’t having your couch eaten. It isn’t making food decisions. Or big vet bills. It isn’t the first year. But, the last. And knowing when your time has come to an end. They don’t live forever, these creatures. Not even close. Really only long enough for us to take them for granted. To completely incorporate them into our lives. To make them firmly and officially family. How long is that? It varies, and I dont think it really matters. Years or months. Its never easy.
Which brings us to a certain little dog. I’ll say up front he’s still with us. We just don’t know for how long.
We’ve done this dance a time or three, more if you count cats (Yes, I said CATS). It’s never easy. And while I’m hardly an expert (nor do I wish to be), I am learning the decision is as unique as each individual dog, which really isn’t much of a revelation. As the caretaker of old dogs, I’d thought I’d get this down. That I’d hone my sense of ‘knowing’. That our connection would tell me, tug me in the right direction, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Yet, doubt appears to be the one constant. Waffling. Assessing. Re-assessing. Thinking I’m ridiculous. I’m jumping the gun. No, we should have already done this. I’m being selfish. In either case.
But, doubt we should. Its a big decision. The decision. Life and death and more than that. Comfort. Security. Courage. Gratitude. Big concepts to reconcile with the ending of a life. Consciously. Especially when it’s warm and snuggly and still wags its tail because its happy to see you. When Ford showed up almost exactly a year ago, his little 19 year old Maltese body had plenty of issues. We never thought he’d be with us this long. His body though, has mostly healed. Yes, he has an enlarged heart and some chronic bronchitis that must be managed. He stumbles. He’s more than a little blind and deaf. For all the mess he sounds like, he gets around pretty well. Ford’s body might have some time. It’s his mind that seems in a hurry to exit the scene.
In recent history Ford has become lost and confused, which he expresses by wondering where the hell you are. AKA barking. To put this into context, you are either less than a foot away or lost to him entirely. There is no in between. Present or gone. Comforted or alone. Even if you were just with him (less than 5 minutes ago). Even if you are in the same room. It matters not. He only knows that moment, and if its off, he’s in a panic. Not fun for him. Not fun for us.
This is not something I’ve previously dealt with. Cancer. Mobility issues. Sudden emergency room death. That I’ve got. This I feel like I should manage. We keep him with us. We snuggle him in blankets and worn clothing to trick him into thinking he’s not alone. We’ve tried anti-anxiety meds (a no-go). But, life has to keep going. That’s difficult trying to have a small dog attached to you constantly, keeping his anxiety in check as well as your own.
And is it fair? If life has become that scary, if the room is that empty where once it was full, is it really better to go on?
I don’t honestly know.
I do know the question has to be asked. I know I’ve never regretted this decision once I’ve made it. I know I still miss the dogs who came before. I look around, and I know it will have to be made again. And again. And again. I know its not going to get any easier.
I also know, Ford is still happy to see us. Even if we’ve only been 20 feet away for 2 minutes. It’s all relative. His fluffy white tail celebrates our arrival. He eats his food with gusto. Occasionally, he still rolls around on the door mat in some sort of undignified, but apparently quite gratifying, scratching routine.
So, we are hedging our bets. Doing our best. Hoping thats enough. Until it feels like it isn’t. Count the good days. Count the bad. Keep a tally. Eventually, I will make the phone call. We will take the drive. In the not too distant future, I’m sure. Right now we appreciate the time we have. We minimize everyone’s stress. We appreciate all the tail wags and look for the moments of clarity.
How do you know?