A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself. Josh BillingsMy friend Glynn, over at Faith, Fiction, Friends, tells a poignant story today about his 'best friend', his 14+ year old Cavalier spaniel, Cody. Glynn is facing a tough decision.
And I remember when I had to face that same tough decision moment. It wasn't easy.
I had thought I'd get through it easily. Thought, we'd sit with Maxi as she took her last breaths, bury her and carry on.
I didn't know what I didn't know.
She was 15. Really old for such a large dog. A golden retriever cross, she had been in our family for the past eight years. Prior to that she lived across the street. But the husband didn't want a big dog and they left her to sit on the front porch all day long. Maxi, knowing where the grass was greener, used to traipse across to our front step where she stand, waiting, knowing, one of us would let her in. Eventually, she quit crossing over to the other side and just stayed.
And we were happy.
She was there for the arrival home of both my daughters. Ten years old already, I was concerned she'd be jealous, or possibly 'nasty'.
She was a great mother. I swear that's what she saw her role as. Alexis learned to walk using Maxi has her support. When she wanted to stand up, she'd use Maxi as her rock. Once up, Maxi would gently stand up with her. Alexis would take a step. Maxi would take a step. When it was time to sit down, she'd gently lower herself so that Alexis had something soft to land on.
Both girls loved Maxi. They'd dress her up in hats and scarves and pretty sweaters and Maxi would patiently let them. Once, when I was pregnant with Alexis, I'd walked to my favourite little french bistro with Maxi and tied her up at the post outside the restaurant's front window. I sat with my girlfriend in a window seat. Maxi could see me. I could see her. She was content. At one point, I watched a young woman walk up, see Maxi lying on the cement, stop, bend down and pet her. Maxi was a sucker for a good belly rub. The woman took off her red scarf and wrapped it around Maxi's neck. She then took off her large white framed sunglasses and put them on her head.
Maxi took it all in with equanimity.
It's what she did. It's how she did everything.
And then at 14 she got cancer. I hated to let her go so we had the cancer removed.
For the next year, whenever we went for a walk, passers-by would stop and pet her and say things like, "What a lovely old dog." "What a sweetie."
I'd agree and reply, "She won't be with us for much longer. She's getting rather old."
I thought I was doing it to prepare my daughters for the inevitable. I was actually doing it to prepare me.
And then, the time came.
We knew we had to let her go.
I arranged with a vet to meet us at a friend's farm. I had the girls draw pictures and write farewell messages to her and let them choose the blanket we'd wrap her up in for burial.
We arrived at the farm. The vet arrived after us and we all went out to sit in the long grasses where Maxi had loved to roam.
I wasn't ready. But it was time.
We sat in a circle around this lovely old girl who had given us so much love and joy and companionship and loyalty and pet her as the vet inserted the needle.
Her heart stopped breathing and I kept petting her. I couldn't stop. I started to cry. and cry.
I couldn't stop.
Eventually, my friend and the girls' father took the girls into the house to leave me alone with Maxi for just a little longer.
I knew she was gone. But I couldn't let her go.
We buried her on the farm. Out in a grove of trees. In the earth she loved so much to roam. On our next mountain hike, the girls picked the perfect rock as her headstone and their father engraved Maxi's name on it.
She's still there. Buried in that grove of trees. And she's still here, in my heart.
She was a grand old dame.
And if I could do one thing differently, I would not have waited quite so long before I made the decision.
Maxi's final days were not her finest. She had been ready to go long before I was ready to let her leave.
And even in her passing, I know one thing, Maxi has forgiven me for acting out in my human condition. She always did.