When we adopt an animal into our lives, there is an unspoken, unwritten, binding contract we sign. Besides the promise to feed, love, and generally care for our animal companions, we also agree to listen and, when the time comes, to say goodbye.
Yesterday was that time for my sweet, quirky, bug-eyed dog Slim.
Slim started out as a skinny abandoned puppy in Baltimore. You could see every bone protruding through his thin fur, and he looked like an ant eater. I adored that ugly, feisty, strong-willed creature immediately, and spent my lunch breaks hand-feeding him and letting him sleep in my lap. Three months later I finally brought him home as a “foster”, quickly dropping that ruse as my mom informed me that our family does not foster. She was right. Slim was mine from day one.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, his many quirks, my friends and family quickly fell in love with that bug-eyed pup. He was a glutton for lounging in bed, for having his neck rubbed, and was shameless about backing into an unsuspecting friend with his rear end, looking coyly over his shoulder in the hopes that he would get some rump scratches.
Slim hated the rain and did funny dolphin dances down the sidewalk as he attempted to escape the cold drops. He had a love/hate relationship with orange peels that made me laugh until I was crying as he would grab the peel in his front teeth, fling it across the room, then dance in a circle around it, swinging his head around in abandon before starting the charade again.
He loved cats, and other dogs, and the one time he caught a mouse in my old apartment he cornered it, then sat staring and proudly wagging his tail until the poor creature realized death was not near and bolted through his legs. Tug-of-war was a favorite game, and he would growl to start a wrestling match, head low, eyes bugging, and tail wagging. He was a paper napkin thief, slyly sneaking beneath the table to snag them off laps.
When he moved in with my parents and their two dogs, Slim was in heaven. He had his pack, he was the leader, he got to sleep in the bed with my parents, snoring away, until his legs got too weak for him to jump up. Treats were given generously, as were walks and pets. We called him The Prince, and Napoleon (the other two dogs towered over him).
Slim survived his starving days as a puppy, and went on to survive emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage, surgery for one torn ACL, surgery for a cancerous growth, then surgery for another torn ACL and more removal of the cancer. He was a tough kid. And he never lost his spirit.
His spirit stayed young, and on good days he was still trying to race out the back door to chase squirrels. But his four legs were all going to hell. His back legs were both held together with metal hardware, and his front legs had horrible arthritis in the elbows, making him walk stiffly like a little marionette. He had some bad patches and was on a cocktail of drugs to bring him through the pain. He would recover, get back to his happy, feisty, stiff-legged self, then another stumble and set-back.
Slim had two such set-backs this past week, and my parents loaded him on his usual drugs to stop the pain. I stopped by yesterday morning to find him panting, glassy-eyed, and giving little moans occasionally. When my parents came back from their morning of volunteer work he was no better, even after an early dose of medication.
We brought him in to the vet at 4pm, my dad holding him up by his vest and my mom putting a dog bed on the ground for him to sit on. I suppose we all knew, but it hit home as I saw the grave expressions on the faces of the receptionists, the techs, and the vet. The tech skipped his temperature. I remember doing the same when I saw the end was near, sparing the sweet animal that indignity when it no longer was necessary. I appreciated that gesture yesterday even as I hated what it meant.
Our vet examined Slim and thought perhaps his not-so-slim potbelly could be a tumor in his spleen. I clung to this, knowing that a diagnosis like that would make our decision easy. They humored me and did the ultrasound. No tumor.
And so I sat by Slim’s head as he struggled to sit comfortably and panted rapidly. He looked up at me with his sweet, huge, buggy eyes, and I knew. I had to listen. It was time to say goodbye.
My parents and I discussed it and (through many tears) came to the same conclusion.
They set a catheter, and the vet gave him a dose of a tranquilizer. Suddenly his pain-wracked body relaxed, his breathing slowed, his eyes closed a bit. I felt his head grow heavy against my hand. We let him fall into this relaxed state for awhile, the three of us petting him and telling him over and over “good dog, such a good dog.” It was a blessing to see him like this, a brief reminder of how hard he had been fighting through that pain.
After a little while our vet asked if we were ready. We all had our hands on him as she administered the drug. His breathing slowed, his head grew heavy, his body finally stopped fighting and let him go in peace.
Words can’t describe how much I loved that dog, or how much I will miss him. But knowing that we fulfilled that contract, that we listened at the end and gave him the dignity of a peaceful ending, somehow it makes it feel just a tiny bit easier.
Slim had the most wonderful life, and was so lucky to have my family and friends be a part of it. I’d like to think he’s now off in some field running like a mad man on four good legs, pain free and happy. In the end, I feel so lucky to have been picked by that dog. He was with me for most of my adult life, and I couldn’t have asked for a better companion.
Rest peacefully, Slim-bone. Love you.
*We owe a huge amount of gratitude to all of the veterinarians, techs, assistants, and receptionists at Fremont Veterinary Clinic for their amazing care of Slim over the years and for easing us into this last phase so gracefully, and to veterinarian and acupuncturist Darcy Hoyt for her in-home treatments of Slim. Those tiny needles did wonders for him when his pain was bad, and he loved his sessions with her, smiling for hours after.