I recently read the saddest, most cynical and truest words every spoken.
To paraphrase, the author suggested that acquiring a pet is a countdown to sorrow. You don’t know when they are going to go, but the odds are pretty good that you will outlive them.
My wife noted that people can be like that too when I mentioned it to her.
But there’s something different about the pets in your life.
Before I go any further, I’m going to try to establish the difference between people who keep animals and people who make them family.
If your dog is property, there’s not much for you beyond this paragraph.
If your dog is a loved and valued companion, you may have experienced elements of the following story.
Our white shepherd has been a family member for 14.5 years; it’s clear that the day is drawing closer when he’ll be leaving us.
Last week his back legs went out and a short time later his front legs did too. He had been fighting a flu or infection of some kind and it was winning.
A lot of tears were shed as I loaded him into the car; he lay in my arms without complaint as I lifted him. When his head dropped a bit off of his bed, I set up some towels for a pillow.
As Luke and I waited for my wife, I lay in the back of our vehicle with him and stroked his face, talking to him and watching his chest rising and falling.
Watching him struggling and hurting was awful. I just wanted his pain to end.
As we pulled out of the garage, I knew it was his last car ride.
The vet was standing at the door as we pulled up to the clinic. He opened the door as I carried Luke in and led me to the room in the back where he would examine him.
He was concerned by the fact that Luke had walked an hour in the morning and now the use of his legs was gone.
He gave us two options after my wife explained some of Luke’s unique medical conditions.
The first was to say goodbye.
The second was to give him some strong antibiotics and hope for the best. He said there was a chance that Luke would pass overnight anyway. At best, we could expect some small improvements in the coming days.
Then he left us alone in the exam room with Luke.
We talked about our options, both of us stroking Luke, and then asked the vet a couple more questions. In the end, we decided to give the old-timer -- who had miraculously escaped death at least four times before -- one last chance to fight.
The drugs were administered.
My wife asked if we could take him home to look after him and the vet thought that was a good idea. I carried him back to the vehicle and gently set him on his bed.
Luke would take another car ride after all.
When we got home, my wife arranged a special bed on the floor in our bedroom and I brought him in. He lay there with his eyes open but eventually drifted off into a nap.
My wife and I went into the living room and talked about the evening.
There had been no sign that this was coming.
We were still sitting there a couple of hours later in a state of emotional fatigue when Luke staggered out of the bedroom.
He was stiff and sore but he was walking by himself. It was a dream we couldn’t have imagined.
He took a long drink and lay with us in the living room.
My wife eventually sent me downstairs to sleep -- away from the drama of our sick dog -- because I had a busy day coming up. She promised to wake me up if there were any changes.
My wife was awake when I got up so that she could take him back to the vet’s office again at 8 a.m.
She said the vet was talking to somebody when Luke walked through the door. He tried to listen to the man he was talking to but kept glancing over at the white dog who had been carried into his clinic the night before.
Finally he leaned over and said “I guess you made the right decision last night,” and smiled.
He got more shots and came home after more examination.
Luke remains under an exercise restriction, a fact that increasingly irritates him as he regains his strength.
He had walked for two hours in a row a couple days before collapsing; now he had to settle for 15 minutes. Gradually that lengthened to 30 and then 45 minutes.
He’s sore but his appetite is good and he’s back to playing with his treat ball again.
(If you’re a computer user and want to see him in action, google these words -- soccer dog daily herald.)
We help him up and down the stairs now. The leg lifts for pees are long gone and he’s had some accidents in the house.
But as long as he wants to walk and eat, he’ll get that chance.
Maybe he’ll make Christmas. Maybe he’ll make his 15th birthday next March. Maybe he won’t make next week.
At the end of the day, we’ll know that we gave him everything that we could for a good life.
I think that this will be the last you’ll be reading about my beautiful dog. His final days and hours will be just a little too painful to share.
It’s getting hard to even answer questions about him anymore. The countdown to sorrow is entering its final phase.
But as much as it hurts watching this wonderful animal near the end, I wouldn’t undo the last 14 years to escape it.
I wish him the same dignified exit I want for all of us; may it come with a whisper rather than a scream.
Perry Bergson is the Daily Herald’s managing editor. You can reach him at 765-1302 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org