Today I had the honor to stand by the deathbed of a dear and loyal friend. Today I had the privilege of being with him to ease him out of this life. And today I also had the responsibility of deciding that it was time for that life to end.
Today we put our dog to sleep. Over 20 years of pet owning, two dogs and eight (at least) cats, and I’ve never had to do this before. We’ve lost cats, but they’ve had a way of just disappearing. By the time we realized they were never coming back, we had grown at least somewhat used to their absence. We’ve never known in advance that today would be the day we would say good-bye forever. Anyone can tell you that I’m no animal lover. But I loved OUR dog.
We got Balthazar from the pound almost 12 years ago, when he was about eight months old, because Jake begged for a dog. We named him for the first Sholly to come to the New World. We thought he was part German Shepherd, part Shiba Inu, maybe part Collie.
It was a good mix, whatever it was. He was strong and gentle, smart and stubborn, protective and loyal. Once I had him tied up on the porch while some men were cutting trees in his yard. When they were done I heard them knocking on the side of the house, because he was so threatening that they were afraid to come to the door so I could pay them. Half an hour later, I heard him whimpering. I came out to find this vicious beast crying as he patiently allowed our three-year-old to pull on his ears.
He loved to run away so much that we designed an “airlock” on our fence to prevent it, but he always came back. He loved chicken so deeply that he jumped a three-foot-high baby gate to steal some once. But last night he lay in front of an open door and would not get up to go out. And this morning he turned his head away from the piece of rotisserie chicken I offered him.
We always said that we never wanted our dogs to suffer, that we would never put them through anything just to keep them alive because we would miss them, that we would let them go when it was time. It was time. They could try to stabilize him, the doctor said. They could try a transfusion. But after it was over he told us he was so glad we didn’t try to save him, that we had done the right thing.
Lorelei and William came with me. John is out of town, Emily was working, Jake was too upset. They were brave. We hugged him and petted him, and William patted me. Lorelei told him he was going to a better place. It was peaceful. It was easy. It was quick. His suffering was over as ours was beginning. Lorelei sobbed all the way home.
Dogs are naturally good, Lorelei said later. They must go to some kind of Heaven, maybe not the same one we go to. I’ve never been one to assert that all dogs go to Heaven, but now I find my theology is uncertain where MY dog is concerned.