We knew the day would come.
Waiting for your dog to die is like walking on thin ice, watching the fractures spiderweb beneath your feet, tensing for the cold plunge that never seems to come. Death doesn’t come waving a white flag, doesn’t announce a date for his arrival. Death seems to lurk in the corner of the room, a wall flower that spoils the party.
Kooper was our favorite.
We’ve had several pets over the years, liked some more than others. We loved Koop. His head smelled like brownies. He didn’t wag his tail, he wagged his body. He curled up at our feet, always kept us in sight.
Seizures started about a couple of years ago. You never forget that first one, the panic in their eyes, the urine on the floor, foam on their lips. It took several months to find the right cocktail to get the seizures under control, a combination of gabapentin and phenobarbital, but not before a couple hard nights took their toll.
He started dragging his back legs.
Our long walks turned into short ones. He wore booties to keep from scraping his paws. Several months ago, his back legs stopped working all together. He wasn’t in pain, still scarfed down food and wagged his tail when we came in the room. He just watched the world from a pillow and his head still smelled like brownies.
My great aunt was in her 90s when she died. She spent her last year confined to a bed in a nursing home in a great deal of pain and mental anguish while her caretakers waited for her to stop breathing. Death took his sweet ass time. There was no reason not to invite him over for tea, to have him pull up a chair and take her with him when he left, give her the relief she deserved.
Push a button.
I hope when Death introduces himself to me, I'll have the sand to invite him inside for a quick drink, maybe a cigar. Afterwards, we can head down the road like long lost friends. I won't have my body pickled and preserved, it'll probably be cremated, but even that is a bit silly. If I had the balls, I would take long boat ride with Death at the helm, take on a lungful of seawater and feed the planet with the body I don't need anymore. Makes more sense, really.
All of that sounds well and good until we had to do it.
Like I said, Koop wasn't in pain, wasn't hurting in any way. He slept most of the day like dogs long in tooth tend to do. We fitted him with a chariot and resumed daily walks. That lasted about six months, until he just didn't have the energy. He resumed his place on the pillow.
A few weeks ago, things changed.
His breath labored, his appetite waned. He barely had the energy to lift his head. We contacted a vet that did home hospice. She would come over and administer the final rest while we sat with him. It was all arranged. We were just waited for him to wave the flag.
After a brief rebound, the labored breathing returned. He stopped eating. His tail stopped wagging. The look was in his eyes, his neck stretched out. He was waving the flag. We didn't want to see, but it was there. Death was knocking.
Now all we had to was open the door.
I could feel myself refusing, not accepting this moment. All that tough talk of dumping my body in the ocean when I reached terminal velocity and I couldn't call the vet. Not Koop. Just not him.
He grew with the kids. He watched over the house at night, patrolled the backyard during the day, laid his head in our laps. But our kids are grown up. The end was speeding toward us. One glance told us he needed our help.
Our vet wasn't available for the home hospice, so we loaded him into the back seat of the car. I went back in the house and began losing it. I was certain I wouldn't be able to talk when I got to the vet, but I set aside the grief and drove to a pet hospital, waited for the vet while my wife stayed in the car with him.
I carried him into the room when our name was called. He lay on the floor as the tech explained how the procedure would go down. He rested his head at our feet, ears relaxed. Emotion in my throat, I barely answered the vet's questions. When she administered the final syringe, the room blurred. Hands on him, we wept as his breath were numbered. Just before the final one fell, I managed to whisper the last words a very good boy would hear.