Today is my last day with an old friend. She’s more than a friend really, she’s part of the family. After seventeen years together, saying goodbye will be painful – but not as painful as the last few weeks have been. I’ve watched her health decline. I’ve watched her struggle and suffer. I know she’s confused and in pain. And I know the most loving thing I can do for her, is to let her go.
Lucy came into our lives a dirty, little moppet. She was a fuzzy bundle of puppy love, covered in dirt and soot. The living conditions we rescued her from were reminiscent of a Dickens novel.
Our ninety-pound, Chocolate Lab loved her from day one, and Lucy loved her. They curled up together on Ginger’s tattered, braided rug – at the time, Lucy was smaller than her big sister’s head.
A year later, we brought another Shih Tzu into the family. Maya was tiny, the runt of the litter. But what she lacked in size, she made up for in attitude. For a week after Maya joined the family, Lucy would have nothing to do with me. If I approached her, she’d run to the opposite side of the room, and if I said her name, she would turn her head and stare in the other direction. You haven’t felt guilt until you’ve been blatantly ignored by a dog who thinks you’re a dirty, rotten traitor.
But as the weeks went on, Maya and Lucy became pals - they were inseparable. All three of them were – Ginger was as fun-loving and silly-hearted as her little sisters.
Sadly, shortly after Maya came to us, Ginger suffered a stroke and died. The two “littles” became closer than ever. They played together, slept together, ate together and got into trouble together.
At least once a month, they’d hatch a plan to escape the yard and take a joy run. We live in a rural area, and our neighbors got used to seeing us burst through the trees, into their yards, chasing two furry-faced trouble makers – who were probably giggling the whole time. “Do you hear Mom yelling? She’s ridiculous!” (Do dogs laugh and talk to each other? I think they do.)
Maya would stop, giving the impression that she’d had enough and was going to allow me to approach her and pick her up. Then, just as I would reach toward her, she’d snicker and take off again. I used curse words I hadn’t even heard of while chasing those little deviants. They’d end their escapade by disappearing in the long grass and taking a sloppy swim in the creek, wading through the mud and muck, then trotting home along our dirt road.
No punishment was ever necessary – they’d both be forced to have a bath, then lay shivering on their bed, looking at each other. I can imagine them sending telepathic messages.
Lucy: “Was it worth it?”
Maya: “Totally worth it! Wanna outrun Dad next week? He doesn’t yell as loud, but have you seen him run? It’s hysterical.”
Lucy: “Hahaha! Yes, let’s do it “
Six years ago, Maya was diagnosed with a severe heart murmur. The vet prescribed medications and said she would probably live for another six months. Six months later, she went back to the vet for a checkup. The vet increased her meds and gave her another three months. This went on for two years – the whole time, Maya’s spunky, silly spirit never waned. But, at the end of those two years, we saw a decline. Her heart became enlarged and she struggled to eat and breathe. She stopped playing and spent her days sleeping.
So, I was faced with the hardest decision, ever. I called the vet and made an appointment to have her euthanized. But two days prior to her appointment, Maya passed away on her own. We cried and held her, and buried her next to her big sister, Ginger.
Shortly after Maya’s death, our Lucy was also diagnosed with a heart murmur, as well as cancer. And after four years of meds and ongoing health issues, she’s been a fighter. But over the past few months, her quality of life has declined. Shortly after Christmas, we realized just how much she was struggling. So, earlier this week (January 25) I called the vet’s office and made her “end of life” appointment.
Maya died on January 29, 2017. This morning, I realized that Lucy’s appointment, where we’ll set her free, is also on January 29 – exactly four years, to the day since her partner in crime left us. A coincidence, I’m sure – but somehow the date has deeper meaning.
I keep telling myself I’m prepared for it. Ready to end her suffering. But tomorrow, at 4:45pm, I know I’ll be bawling like a second grader as I watch my old friend take her last breath. I also know I’ll find comfort in knowing the pain and confusion are gone – it will be my last act of love for her.
And if there is an afterworld for dogs, I imagine Lucy and Maya running together, through the long grass, toward the muddy banks of the creek – then maybe they’ll find their big sister, Ginger. Together they’ll share the old, braided rug, curled up together, all of them happy, healthy and pain-free.