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It’s time to go home. Pull in the driveway, and look for the dogs – usually the dogs’ heads are staring out the front window, one above the other, watching for me to get out of the car. I don’t know if they want me, or they just want dinner. It doesn’t matter to me; they are always happy to see me, and greet me with smiling faces and wagging tails. Yes, they smile. You know what I’m talking about.
Except lately. Lately, I pull into the driveway, and there is one smiling face waiting for me, jumping up and down when I walk into the house. The other one is sleeping – under the kitchen table usually. So I go to him to greet him, bend down to shake him awake as he doesn’t hear anymore – the car, my voice, the barking of the neighbor’s dogs. Thankfully, he also no longer hears the thunder that used to send him cowering under my desk.
If he doesn’t wake up immediately, then it’s time to check his breathing – is he still breathing? For a fourteen year old Golden Retriever, he is in excellent condition. His senior bloodwork last month was perfect – not a value out of the normal range. His heart runs like a well-oiled machine, if you will forgive the cliché. The problem is his legs. They just don’t function the way they used to, those long legs that used to run after balls until my arm gave out, or go swimming until I had to go into the water to get him out (or those ducks chased him out – yes, he is scared of ducks. Not even the big ones, just the regular sized mallards. Good thing I’m not a duck hunter!). They have trouble getting him up in the morning. They sometimes just quit working so he falls. In the last few months, every once in a while, they just can’t get him up at all, and I have to help. I don’t mind helping. I will help him as long as I can. But the truth is, he’s a big dog, and I can only lift him up so many times. I can’t carry him when the day comes that he can no longer stand on his four feet after I lift him up. Then I will be in the same place as so many of my friends and clients that I have helped over the years. Then, it will be time to say goodbye to my best friend. My first dog that was all mine. How do I do that?
This is where I have learned from all of you. To make the decision that gives him the peace and dignity he deserves. To sit with him, holding his paw, as I give him relief from the pain that steals his ability to live a good life. To share pictures and memories of Alex.
I’m lucky. The time to say goodbye is not today. Not yet. But I still have tears in my eyes as I write this, just thinking about losing him.
Thank you to all of you who share your lives with dogs that don’t live long enough but bring such joy with every tail wag. Thank you to all of you for teaching me how to say goodbye when it is time. And thank you for letting me be there to say goodbye with you when your friends had to move on, over the Rainbow Bridge.
Denise Nickodemus, DVM