“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring-it was peace.” ~ Milan Kundera
Those of us who have shared our homes and our lives with one of God’s more gentle of creatures know that one of the most difficult decisions we will ever have to make is when it is time for us to help them leave this earth.
It is easy to say, “I would want someone to do that for me.”
Or, “He had a good life.”
Although these, among many other phrases, may be true, their words ring hollow when it is time for us to ask ourselves that question and make that final decision.
Sharing living quarters with a dog fills our homes with their unique, inimitable presence and energy, and should we fail to ignore that fact, they will be more than willing to remind us by dropping a ball at our feet, incessantly scratching at the back door, or expelling a deep sigh as they prostrate themselves on the floor in show of boredom.
Unlike we humans, they live one task at a time: they eat when they eat, play when they play, and sleep when they sleep. They do not hurry themselves with their thoughts of the upcoming event or the next project, as they are unaffected by time. The only clock that exists within their being is a regulator that makes them aware solely of their current needs, a concept we humans cannot comprehend.
As they get older and wiser and their movements grow slower they come to depend on us, their human caretakers, more and more. Where once they would run around the yard and haunt us to play ball or throw the frisbee, happiness to our canine companions now comes from slow, leisurely and long strolls, so that they can take in all the sights, sound and smells. These heaven- sent creatures seem to know that their time here is limited and that it is getting shorter, therefore, they relish languishing in all the beauty this earth has to offer.
Our pets change us in ways that are so subtle they may go undetected until those final days or moments that we share with them, and although we may have learned many lessons through our years together it is the final one that is the most valuable.
Eventually, the days that were once filled with running on the beach and long, endless walks are now gone and have been for quite some time. What our canines request of us now is only comfort and our support and assistance.
If we are lucky, this process will take place over the course of many years and if it does, our emotional attachment and denial will blind us to even the most profound of changes that have occurred. We don’t want to see these changes because we know that to acknowledge them is to bring us one day closer to having to make that final decision.
Ultimately, the day will come when our eyes will clear and we will finally see reality in the face of our one-time puppy who now looks up at us and tells us the tale of a tired old dog. It is evident that their desire to please us has become outweighed by their ability to do so.
We know in our souls that the time has come for us to help them shed the old bodies they have been carrying around for longer than we have acknowledged.
They have taught us the meanings of love, compassion, loyalty, duty, selflessness, and courage, and the presence of these precious gifts will guide us and make it possible for us to let go of our need to feel their physical presence beside us.
These wonderful and cherished friends have shown their allegiance to us for numerous years as they stood by our side in our happiest of times and our darkest of hours, and it is now time for us to repay the debt we owe them for the countless blessings they have bestowed upon us.
We are obliged to muster the courage needed to help them leave this earth when they are ready and on their terms. As we prepare to take them on that final walk our brains will go numb and our hearts with feel broken because we know that this walk will result in an end to their pain and suffering, but it will be only the beginning of ours. Where they will be free and whole, and young, we will feel old and tired, and lost.
We hope to find comfort in knowing that they are now at peace, but it will be many days and many nights before we can even dream of recovering and living the life we knew before they were gone.
Our emotions will seem contradictory and confusing because at times our pets absence will awaken in us an even deeper pain than that which we may have been feeling. It will also make us profoundly aware and grateful for having shared the years and experiences we did with them.
We feel awful, the house is empty, and we question our decision almost daily. Then, unexpectedly, we will see a shadow out of the corner of our eye, find an errant ball that was left behind, or feel a presence beside us when in the backyard.
It is in those moments we will feel better and worse at the same time. We will experience the deep sadness of loss, but we will also know that our pets will never leave us even though we can no longer see them. We will maintain in our hearts the lasting impressions and memories of our days together, but sadly that will have to be enough because that is all that remains on this earthly plane.
And, in the end, we will realize that it was they, rather than the opposite, who were the teachers. Our furry friends have opened our eyes and hearts to the beauty and love that exists and have taught us the pure meaning of unconditional love. Because of them we have acquired a heartfelt devotion that has showed us how to give and receive love as well as igniting in us a desire to return so much of what we have freely received from them.
We recall the times in which they would lay next to us on the floor, perhaps with their head resting on our feet, and how years later it was we who sat on the ground beside them in order to cradle their heads in our lap. We remember the times when it was impossible for them to walk past us without bestowing a quick lick of affection on some body part of ours, and how, as time passed, we learned to take every opportunity to reach down and give their aged bodies even the briefest of pats. We think of the times when we were sick and how they seemed to have understood and responded with caring consolation by putting their wants and needs aside—if only for a little while. Through that example we learned how to comfort them when they hurt, or felt confused or frightened, for however long it took— even if only for a little while.
To the core of our being we know that is was from their having taught us the true meaning of love that we were able to love them enough to give them their freedom by releasing them without expecting anything in return, however, it is in that last moment together that we will receive one more gift from them. As they take their last breath a shared experience of love will pass between us and we will sense their pain and stress being lifted and we see them become young again.
And now, several months after his passing, as I reflect back on my time and life with my beloved NoogyButter, I am profoundly aware of and grateful for our time together. That hairy little canine has shown me how to be a better human being, whether it was through his behavior when I could see him next to me, or now when I am only able to feel his presence there.
I watched him live his life proudly, with grace and dignity and it was he who showed me the way to help him leave this earth in exactly that manner. He and I shared sixteen plus years together and his lasting gift was in his teaching me how to spend my time here, on this planet, in the same way he did—proudly, with grace and dignity.