Whenever a pet comes into your life, either by accident or on purpose, there is a small disclaimer that no one likes to talk about; this pet will die before you do. It’s inevitable. It’s the secret pact we make when we open our homes and lives to an animal. One day, this animal will break your heart, one way or another. But we tell ourselves, it’s worth it. All the love and laughter, all the fun, all the companionship, all the happy wagging tails, it’s all worth it. Isn’t it?
This is what we tell ourselves.
If you have read this blog before, you will remember my sweet boy, Angus. Of course, we knew one day this was coming, especially since he was already so old. I wrote that blog post because I was so proud to still have him, that he outlived so many other dogs, some of them also mine, like Ringo, who passed away only 18 months ago. Maybe, in the back of my mind, or deep in my heart, I believed he would live forever, or at least to 20. I don’t know.
But, here we are. Angus is gone. He had been aging, quickly, more quickly than I would have liked to admit. More so since we moved to town, and even more so since it’s been getting colder. He was having such a hard time with the stairs, lying down. He was having a lot of accidents. He was also not eating very much. Maybe his teeth were hurting. I don’t know. He couldn’t tell me.
Not too long ago, on a Wednesday, he woke up in so much pain, we couldn’t deny it anymore. He was walking so slowly, dragging his back feet, his head low. That Wednesday morning, he came over to me and just leaned against my legs and looked at me, as if to ask for help. I couldn’t do anything. We had tried some different medicines for his arthritis, but they didn’t agree with his stomach. There were no other options.
So, how do you decide to put your best friend to sleep? It’s such a hard choice, and one we had been avoiding for a long time. I was really hoping he would just go to sleep one night and not wake up. I didn’t want to make this decision. Being an adult sure sucks sometimes. Euthanasia is such a harsh word. We talked about what we wanted for Angus, and decided about six months ago, that if we came to the point where we had to do it, it would be at the house, in his own home. He hated the vet. He loved going for drives, it was totally his favourite thing. But if we stopped at the vet, he was bummed. We would walk in there and he would immediately start shedding, a stress reaction, I guess. So, I knew for sure I wouldn’t take him there in the end.
And it really came down to quality of life. I know that sounds like a cop out. How do you even define “quality of life” and if he’s still alive and walking around, isn’t that enough? When do you decide to play God and decide that an animal has had enough?
Again, the problem is communication. They can’t tell you, with words, what is wrong. You can only watch them and try to figure it out. You know your pet the best. You know what they do when they are sick or in pain. It’s really a lot like being the parent of an infant or toddler, and I always considered myself Angus’ Mom. He was the fur brother to my kids. I never thought of myself as a pet “owner”. He was one of us, a person in our eyes regardless of how many legs he had.
Which is what makes it so hard. Yes, he was a dog, but does that make him less loved, less important? I thought about the humans in my life, and I can honestly say I didn’t love Angus any less because he was a dog. He was really my first kid. I was only 25 when we adopted him from the Humane Society. Do you know what has transpired in those fifteen years? So many things. Deaths and births, weddings, new houses, trips. All the highs and lows that come with every life, and he was there for some of the most life-changing events for me. He was there when my dear friend Jenn died. He was there when the babies were born. He wore a bow tie to my wedding. He was my friend when I didn’t have any friends. You can’t say that just because he was a dog doesn’t mean he was less of a companion, comforter, listener, friend. Sometimes he was better at those things than my human friends.
Which is maybe why I feel so guilty about it. He had no idea, which I guess is good. It’s not like I would have liked to have had that conversation with him, if it was possible. I just can’t get the image of his passing out of my head. It’s only been a week or so, so I know it’s pretty fresh. But I don’t feel good about it. Was it the best thing for him? Did we do it too soon? Should we have waited longer? Should we have tried more medicines? What kind of extreme measures do you take for an arthritic, fifteen year old dog? It’s all hypothetical at this point, since he’s gone now anyway.
We had about five days before we did it to say goodbye to Angus. It was a Tuesday at 2pm that it was booked, so on Sunday, we took him for a drive. He always loved to drive and I thought he would like that. We hadn’t taken him for a long drive in a while. We stopped at Fox Lake, where we had camped and ice fished with him lots before. He loved it. He walked around sniffing everything and had a little spring in his step that I hadn’t seen in a while. On Tuesday morning, I took him for a long walk in the woods. It was not our familiar territory, since we’ve only been in town for a few months, but it was still nice. He ate a lot of dog cookies and I didn’t rush him like I usually do when he stopped to sniff every, single thing. Hubby came home at lunch and brought him some cheeseburgers from McDonalds. He hadn’t had one in years, because of his stomach sensitivity to people food, so he was happy.
And that’s how he went. A belly full of burgers, in his own house, on his own bed with his Mom and Dad. I still don’t know if what we did was right, but I can’t do anything about it now. I think we tried to make it a good last few days to go along with a good life. But I’ll tell you, this is the hardest thing I’ve done at this point in my life. And being an adult really does suck.
And I miss him. I hope he’s not mad at me. He’s left such a big hole and so many times this past week I’ve thought about him and what a good dog he was. I miss all the little things a dog brings to your life. But I miss him mostly because he was Angus and he was ours and I know there will never be another one like him.