“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.”
― Agnes Sligh Turnbull
They rolled him into the room on a metal cart. For all intensive purposes he could have looked like he was calmly laying in his favorite spot as I’d seen him so many times before. But his eyes told a different story. He raised his head and wagged his tail when he saw us, but like what had happened the rest of the day, his legs failed him as he tried to pull them under him to stand up.
His eyes were bloodshot, the fear in them firmly communicating his inability to understand why his body had betrayed him. Why he could not stand up. Why he couldn’t walk out of the office and jump in the car with us. Why he couldn’t go home and jump into the spot on the couch that for the greater part of three years had been his.
It had happened quickly. The night before had been uneventful. He was effortlessly following Tracey around the house, going back and forth between his favorite spots to lay, had shared snacks with me. But that all came literally crashing down the next morning when he tried to get out of bed. He fell to the floor with a noticeable thud, and didn’t move from where he’d landed. Since he was laying where he normally did when I got ready in the morning I didn’t think much of it at first, but the ungracefulness in which he’d landed caused me to keep one eye on him as went forward with my morning routine.
Soon I walked back into the bedroom to find him struggling to walk around the bed. His paws curled up, unable to get solid footing. His body shaking as he tried to maintain his balance. He made it no more than three feet, and then slumped to the floor in exhaustion. I laid on the floor next to him, trying to comfort him as I hoped that it was one of the quirky injuries dogs sometimes get that they recover from after a few minutes. But after 15 minutes I knew that it was something more than that, and I did the only thing I could. Something I dreaded. I called Tracey at work and told her that something was wrong with her dog.
She arrived home, visibly upset that her best friend was in distress. As I carried his limp body to the car, his head laying against my shoulder, I did what many people do in this situation. I prayed to a handful of deities that I normally don’t let into my life, hoping that someone somewhere would take pity on a heart-broken little boy whose dog was sick. Or if nothing else, that they would hear the pleas of a desperate girl for whom this dog had been her shadow for longer than I’d known her.
Several hours and a multitude of tests later only proved what I’ve sadly come to know. That veterinary isn’t the exact science we all wish it was in these situations. The doctor offered several options, all involving major surgery, long grueling recovery periods, and most importantly, no guarantee that they would return our friend to the happy, healthy dog we both wanted him to be.
Our pleas had gone unanswered from all that we asked. Not because Tracey and I didn’t pay them enough tribute in our normal lives. Not because the request to help one little dog was insignificant in a world full of war, starvation and disease. But for one simple reason – they couldn’t. In the end, there was only one force that mattered in this situation. A force that I’d come to respect and hold above all others – nature.
Nature lays out the rules that we must all live by. And what is no doubt one of her cruelest rules is, although our lives are but a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of the cosmos, a dog’s life is a fraction of that. And yet many of us gladly agree to that contract every time we accept a dog into our lives and in our hearts. We gladly trade this moment for a decade of happy greetings when we arrive home, hunting trips, car rides, late night shared snacks and games of fetch or tug.
At first the trade off seems greatly in your favor. Until one day you notice that your friend is getting a little more whiter around the nose, is having a little more trouble getting on and off the couch, or is not seeing or hearing as well as they had only a several months before. And in the end, the contract becomes due, and its time to say goodbye for the simple reason that it’s the way nature dictates it has to be. Unfair? Yes. But no less true.
As the doctor came into the room to administer the only treatment that Tracey had left available to her, I cupped his head in my hands (that for the first time since I’d known him seemed so small) and looked into his eyes as we shared one last conversation.
I’m not going to be able to help you with the blog anymore, am I Ed?
No buddy. I’m so sorry. But there’s nothing else we can do.
It’s OK. Really. I’m exhausted. And I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I just want to sleep.
You will. Soon.
Thank you. Will I see KC?
Of course. Barley too. They’re waiting to play with you on the other side of the rainbow bridge.
I hope so. I miss them both. Thanks for letting me help with the blog. It was fun. His voice grew weaker with each word. Ed?
I was the funny one, wasn’t I?
Yeah, buddy. The tears that ran down my cheek stung my lips as a forced a smile. You were always the funny one.
Soon it was time, and his eyes began to close for the last time. Ed?
You know what I wish?
No, Gryph. What?
I wish we could play one last game of tug.
Me too, buddy. Me too.