Do not read this if you are an animal lover whose heart breaks at tragic animal stories. Although this is one that has a sad but good ending. No animals were harmed in the making of this story.
When I turned 22, my boyfriend (at the time) gave me a puppy. It was a little black thing we called Booker. He was very cute and very smart and mischevious. Not long after, my sister decided she wanted to go to the Humane Society one wintry December night, “just to look”. That night, Booker was joined by a tiny black puppy named Stanley, who grew up to be a 130 lb suck. He was absoultely inseparable from his brother. They both would cry pitifully if they ever had to be separated, even for a minute. Stan was terrified of thunder.
They developed wierd little routines. We gave them rawhide bones, which they guarded fiercely, and Booker would honk his down in seconds, while Stan would savour his. After a while, Booker would get jealous and bug someone for cookies. Stan was notorious for his willingness to do anything for cookies. In fact, he usually wouldn’t do anything if there weren’t cookies involved. He would turn his head sideways and pretend not to hear you if you told him to sit, but as soon as he heard the cookie tin, he was sitting there, attentive as can be. Drooling. Anyway, if Booker ate his bone too quick, he would bug someone for cookies, and as soon as Stan heard the cookie jar, he would drop his bone and come running. Booker would abandon the cookies and head for the bone while Stan was distracted. Booker would then guard his new bone with fangs bared until it was gone.
Eventually, my sister and I moved out and left the dogs with my parents (well, my dad. My mom merely tolerated them gracefully). They were very well taken care of, in fact Gramma would often (daily) come over and keep them company. Or take them out in her car for a run in a field somewhere. In fact, It has been Gramma that baked the dog cookies all this time. So as time went on, the dogs became my dad’s dogs, with Gramma as a close second favourite. They could always count on either for cookies if they looked hungry enough. Gramma would stay with them while my parents were away, and she would rush over during the day if there was a thunderstorm and my parents were at work and sit with Stan until the thunder was done. Or rather under Stan, because the huge beast would be so scared he would climb up on her lap as often as not.
Recently, the dogs both began to get a bit decrepit. Booker developed diabetes and liver failure this past winter and we all figured he would die within a few weeks. They started him on insulin. The rule was that they couldn’t give him his insulin until he was eating, and he stopped eating dog food, so they started cooking him soup, with chicken and whatever leftovers they could find. He loved gravy. And although he was wasting away, and costing a fortune in vet bills, he kept on ticking. The little bugger was bald in a bunch of places, on antibiotics for a chronic foot infection, and getting insulin injections twice a day. My mom even had to learn how to inject him, for when my dad was out of town. We figured for sure Booker was not long for the world and that he would die before Stan. About a month ago, he suddenly started bumping into things, and it quickly became quite clear that he was stone blind. He gets lost in his own house. He keeps looking for food, but unless you touch his nose with it, he has no clue it’s there. Despite his constant appetite, he is slowly wasting away. He has absolutely no meat on him. You can see every crevice in every bone. But he’s like the Energizer Bunny… he just keps on going.
Stan, a couple of weeks ago, suddenly lost the use of his legs. They revived him with steroid injections which gave him some relief. He was able to walk, with difficulty, for a few days. We knew, though, that it was time to start thinking about putting him out of his misery. He didn’t seem to be in pain, but he was incontinent, and he had to be kept in the back hall where the floor was cleanable. Stan was pack animal, and he hated being away from his people.
By this past weekend, neither dog was wagging his tail anymore. Stan couldn’t, and Booker didn’t know there was anything to wag about. He wandered around like a lost, grizzled little old man, bumping into things in his incessant search for food. I mentioned several times that it might be time to consider putting them down. My dad always said he’d never be able to do that, so I told him I would do it if he thought it was the right thing to do. We joked a bit about a two-for-one sale at the vet, but the lightness was to mask the difficult prospect of taking them there for the last time.
Yesterday, my dad and sister called me at work to ask if I’d call the vet. I called, and promptly started to cry. “It’s time,” I told the poor woman who answered the phone. The vet agreed to come out to the house in the morning, euthanize both, and take them away. I couldn’t easily get away from work, so I asked if we could do it later in the day. The vet was not able to go out, but I thought that it really needed to be done, so I told them I would bring them in. I asked for a sedative for Stan so he wouldn’t be upset or uncomfortable about the car ride. All afternoon yesterday I fought tears, and when a colleague innocently asked how my day was, I burst into tears and explained everything. All the way home on the bus, I cried. At home, poor Trevor was subjected to tears running down my cheeks the whole evening. Even the kids saw me cry (poor Aimee looked pretty alarmed until I explained why I was sad).
All day today I kept fighting tears, every time I thought about the actual event, the act of bringing them into the vet and holding their heads while they died. I was willing to do it; I thought they should be with their people, and although it was the saddest thing I think I have ever been through, I knew it was the right thing to do. They were hurting, sick, miserable, and it was time to let them go. We weren’t giving them medications and treatments for them, it was for us, because we couldn’t bear the thought of being without them. It was unbearably sad. It was all I could do to focus on work and get through the day, thinking about him suffering and his people with their anticipatory grief.
So I left work early and headed out to my parents’ house, to take both dogs to the vet, for the last time. Just as Trevor and I were on our way, my mom called.
“Stanley died,” she said.
“All by himself?” I asked.
“Yep. He just looked up and then put his head down and stopped breathing,” she said.
“He did us a favour,” I said.
“Yes, he did,” she agreed. What a good dog. He did us the ultimate favour.
So she called the vet and told them, and they said they would have his body cremated if we brought it in. They asked if we were still bringing Booker in. “I think this is all we can handle for today,” she told them. She was right.
When we got there, I went and looked at Stan. He looked like he was sleeping. He was stretched out on the floor with his eyes closed. His fur was still a bit warm. He was on a blanket. He looked comfortable.
We put him in the car and took him to the vet. I cried again. My dad petted his head and said,” See ya, big guy,”. We left.
We went out for dinner and talked about him. He was really a good, smart dog. We will miss him. The crappy thing is, we will be doing this again in a few days (if that) when Booker finally wastes away. They are going to cremate them both and bury them in the back yard. With their cookie tin.
I have to say how relieved I am. It would have been the right thing to do, to euthanize Stan today, but we always would have wondered if we cut him short. He took care of it for us. We won’t wonder, now. We know he is no longer hurting, and we can live without guilt. Booker is still with us, but he isn’t distressed, not in pain, just kind of lost. I expect fully that he will just not wake up one day soon. I hope that’s how it will go, anyway. Peaceful. If he is obviously hurting though, we all agree that it would be easier to take him in, now that we know what it’s like to lose a dog. I’m still sad, but it’s bearable. My dad says Stan saved Booker. I don’t think he was ready for both to go today, but my sister and I didn’t want to put one down and then have to do it all over again in a week or so. But for now, Booker keeps on going. Slowly, with much bumping into things and detouring around.
I told Trevor today I didn’t want any more pets. “None that aren’t flushable, anyway,” said my irreverent husband.
I lift a glass to Stan. I’ll miss him. We all will. The best dog ever. My sister says he is in the big off-leash dog park in the sky. I hope he has geese to chase and mice to catch and cookies galore. See ya, big guy.