This is the painful post I never wanted to write. Today we had to say goodbye to one of the most beloved members of our family. Joey would have turned Sweet 16 in May. I still can’t believe he’s gone. The emptiness in our home and the hurt in my heart is going to take time to process. Joey was adopted on a bright, sunny spring Mother’s Day weekend. We never received records of his real birthday, so we always measured his years by that special day we found him in a dark corner of the county pet orphanage, half-hidden behind a black lab twice his size. As soon as we saw him, we knew he was smiling just for us. We eagerly rescued him, and brought his sweet face and bright personality into our home and hearts. He completed our family as the “baby boy”. We named him Joey because of his Australian ancestry, and because he loved to hop on his hind legs like a baby kangaroo when he got excited.
Technically, he was everyone’s dog, but he was always “my boy”.
After fourteen years of being an intricate part of every daily event, including all of the mundane and dramatic moments of our family history, it’s hard to remember not having Joey in our lives. Logically, we knew he couldn’t live forever. Statistically, as a larger canine, he never should have lived this long. But, love is not logical, and a heart cannot comprehend statistics or accept time limits.
Joey was always the last one to kiss us goodbye at the door, and the first one to greet us like conquering heroes when we returned – whether we’d been gone 10 weeks or 10 minutes. He loved playing in snow, but hated being in water (he couldn’t swim). He loved going on any kind of walk or new adventure – especially hiking the mountain trails. He took his job very seriously of “shepherding” us safely up and down each hill. If it was an off-leash area he would run ahead and “scout out” the trail, then run back to tell us “all’s clear” and we should hurry up – then he would run ahead again, eyes bright, ears alert, mouth joyfully grinning with tongue flapping in the wind.
His favorite food in the world was pancakes [they gave him terrible gas]. He would jump up and down on his hind legs and give us irresistible puppy eyes until we finally relented and gave him a taste [which we always regretted]. He liked playing fetch and pull-the-rope, but his favorite sport was Frisbee. He was a born natural! No matter how high, far, wide or messed up you threw that flying disk, he would run after it, and catch it triumphantly – often treating us to artistic leaps or creative back-flips in the process.
His smile was contagious.
Joey loved life! And, most of all he loved his family. He was devoted to making us feel safe, protected, happy, and unconditionally cherished. When Daughter A. came home from the hospital last year, after being in-patient for 2 months, she was still having seizures and was unable to walk without assistance. She had to lay on a mattress on the floor. Joey came into the room, carefully laid down on her legs and kept watch over her night and day.
It’s a terrible thing having to plan the final days for one who totally loves & completely trusts you.
I’ve agonized over this for weeks.
I’ve scheduled, cancelled and rescheduled his date with destiny five times.
Our veterinarian Dr. Clark is a very patient man. He’s become a trusted friend over the years, and always makes me feel that he cares for Joey almost as much as we do. Less than a month ago we discussed Joey’s medical condition and quality of life. He gently acknowledged all of my fears – my boy was very old, and his body was shutting down. There wasn’t any more magic potions or pills to make him better.
Dr. Clark advised that “Any time would be a good time” to give Joey a simple lethal injection and let him go. But, then the doctor sagely added;
“These things are really hard. It’s always a really tough decision. One day he will be really bad, and you’ll think, ‘Yeah, we need to do this’ and then the next day he will be wagging his tail and look fine and happy again, and you’ll think ‘oh, not yet’.”
As I wiped the tears from my eyes and was preparing to leave the office Dr. Clark added, “Watch Joey. He might help tell you when he’s ready.”
At home I try to write down all the “reasons” why I should end my boy’s life, like some sort of morbid shopping list. Limited mobility, losing hearing and eyesight, unable to do anything he loves anymore, often confused, teeth loose, hurts to eat, feeling pain with simple tasks, losing control of bowels and bladder, mid-stage kidney failure … Over the past year, he’s been getting “stuck” trying to climb the stairs. We’ve gotten in the habit of giving him a little “boost” to get him going again. But, a couple weeks ago he fell all the way down our first flight of stairs. He lay on the landing stunned and softly whimpering – more than physical pain he was suffering the humiliation of not being able to move his arthritic joints or untangle his stiff legs on his own. He thinks he’s as young as he’s ever been. A heart that’s willing, a body that’s weak.
It must be so depressing for him.
OK. This isn’t fair. I can’t let him suffer like this.
I call and make the fateful appointment with Dr. Clark.
But then, the next morning there is Joey next to my bed nuzzling my hand and smiling at me! Letting me know he’s “all better now” and that he loves me. Acting like everything is perfectly normal again. All he really needs is just to go out and water his bushes, eat his breakfast, take his
pills “treats” and go on being my happy little boy forever.
Well, of course he’s getting old but he’s still got lots of life left in him. How can I deny him that?
I call and cancel the appointment.
Later that day, I return from work to find him panting heavily and scratching at the carpet over and over. He is “stuck” between sitting and standing and can’t move up or down. He’s in pain. My heart hurts. That night, I hear him whining at the top of the stairs because he wants to come join the family downstairs but he knows he might fall like last time [he’s such a quick learner]. Carrying 55 pounds of dog up and down two flights of stairs multiple times – or lifting in and out of the car – might be great weight training, but it’s not a comfortable solution for anyone involved.
At the end of the week Joey stares up at me with a different, pleading look in his eyes.
“It’s time, Mom” he seems to say.
I don’t want to go. It hurts me so much to leave my family, but it hurts me so much to stay.
I’m ready when you are.
And so, I carry him to the car and drive down the hill to the animal clinic.
It’s Friday, my day off work, ‘good timing’. If I hurry I won’t be able to back out again. I can do this. Then, as fate would have it, our good doctor is on vacation until Monday morning. Joey gets another “stay of execution”. One last weekend with his family. Three more days for me to agonize over changing my mind.
But, this time, there’s no going back. His physical condition deteriorates much more during the weekend.
His eyes again,“It’s time Mom.”
Me, trying not to look.
There’s a “Consultation Room” at the veterinary hospital with a vinyl couch, and a flat-screen x-ray monitor. The walls are painted a soft green color that is supposed to promote serenity. I’m not feeling it. Joey wasn’t fooled either. He knew something was up. Why are we going into this strange room instead of the familiar little white room with the bowl of treats? Why does this room smell different? Why is my whole family coming to see the little man in the white coat look at my teeth?
That’s why we’re here… right?
We keep up the “happy” act – smiling too big, petting him over and over and reassuring him as we try to reassure ourselves. I was the one who had instituted the strict “No tears allowed until he’s asleep” pact last night with the family. They’re all doing great. I’m on the verge of “fail”. Joey sees through my act. He’s always been so sensitive, so keen to root out everyone’s vibe – especially mine. He knows something is not OK. But, I hope he also knows that everything is right. I hope he won’t feel betrayed. I hope he feels just how much we all love him every last second as we lift him up to the table and lay him down on the soft red blanket, as we hug him and soothe him and whisper our last goodbyes over and over and over as he quickly drifts into his final sleep.
Joey truly “lived large” and fulfilled the measure of his creation. His mission here on earth with his family was served valiantly, and is now complete. He is returning home with honor.
There’s no doubt in my mind there’s a special place prepared in heaven for all of God’s creatures.
I hope there’s some snow for Joey to play in, and mountain trails to explore.
Take care of my boy, Father. And, if it’s not too much trouble, could you please have one of your angels throw a Frisbee for him from time to time? He will love that! – MoSop