My dog, Moon, is at the end of his life. I know this. I’ve known it for a while. But knowing it doesn’t make it easier, just more obvious. Like a storm on the horizon, it’s coming for us. He’s asleep on the couch now, and even though he seems out of it, I catch his eyes following me around the room. We have an awareness of each other. For eleven years he’s been my life partner. We put 130,000 miles on my car together. He sleeps with me and eats with me and wades into the lake with me. Of course, I knew this day was coming. I’ve known it since the first day he was my dog. And here we are. At that moment.
I’ve done this before, witnessed the decline, made the decision, called the vet, held my love in my arms, and cried. My first dog was a charming pug named Sam. He lived to be 16, but his personality began to disappear a few years before he died. First, he lost his sight, then his hearing, then his awareness. We buried him on the hill above the pond.
My second dog was a bullmastiff named Henry, and I made a very big mistake when his time was near. It was ten months after my husband and my mother died, and Henry was my comfort animal, my grief therapy, and the family member that gave me continuity to my past. When his hips failed, I could not accept another death in my life. Under bad advice from our vet, I put him through a battery of tests and x-rays in his last 48 hours, tormenting him with being crated at the clinic and the pain of having his bones forced into position for the x-rays. This is a mistake that haunts me to this day. I wasn’t thinking about him and his chances for recovery from disintegrating hips. I was thinking only about myself and my loss. He had no chance of recovery. When a 150-pound dog can’t walk to pee or stand to eat, it’s all over. We put him down in my livingroom and buried him under the apple tree.
Six months after Henry died, I got Moon, an elegant Weimaraner puppy, and he has been my constant companion ever since. We both have separation anxiety, so I can count the times we’ve been apart more than a few days. He is my lovelight and my lightness-of-being, my deep connection with the life force and Nature all around me. For eleven years we’ve shared a home and many adventures in the mountains, at the beach and on the farm, exploring, hiking and hunting. In that time, he has become a marker for my identity as a widow, my recovery from extreme depression, and my journey to become whole again. The day he came home with me, I destroyed my stash of fentanyl patches and made a promise to live as long as he did.
Now I have a very good life, a homeplace that fills me, and a dear man who loves me and Moon. We three have become a little family in the past eight months. It’s been a joyful time for us. Moon is living his best life here in the forest on the hill. But he has a terminal combination of lifelong afflictions and geriatric conditions that conspire to take his breath away. I’ve been up all night with him. So, I’m pretty raw right now, thinking these things through. I see that my challenge is to not make the same mistake with Moon that I made with Henry, not to wait so long that death is a panic-stricken choice to avoid more pain. I’d like Moon’s death to be a moment of grace, a peaceful sleep, a serene transition, just as I’d like my own death to be. But choosing grace over panic is not so simple. I need the strength to face that moment without fear. Maybe we all do.