Editor’s Note: Since many of us count animals as companions and friends, and since many of us have dogs, we offer this guest post. You can read more dogs posts here. Read about beloved Belle’s quick end here.
Julie Kenney is an avid horsewoman, former Best Horse Practices Summit board member, and runs Blackberry Farm in Harpswell, Maine. As she looks ahead to a scheduled home visit from a small animal veterinarian, she shares this reflection of her Golden Retriever, Tucker.
If you’ve ever been blessed with an old dog, you know all about the slow wait. It’s subtle at first; those white hairs showing up around their muzzle, seemingly overnight, as if a footnote in the back of your mind.
Then there’s a flash in time when it hits you – your dog is getting old. Playtime isn’t as vigorous. They nap more. The hair coat doesn’t shed out as easily, and their white face hairs are multiplying fast.
But some things never change. If you’ve been gone three hours or three days, they are as equally excited to see you upon your return. They still love new toys, vanilla ice cream, dog biscuits, and the UPS truck. Certain words get them spinning with excitement: “Ride,” “Go,” “Cookie,” “Breakfast,” “Dinner,” and “Chores.”
Time doesn’t slow down, even for the love of a dog, so the wait continues
Your senior dog cannot jump into the truck anymore. He’s a little more susceptible to the cold. His eyes are less clear. He’s lost his hearing and his breath is stinky. But his nose and tail still work as well as ever.
As their decline becomes more noticeable, you become their watch-keeper, as they have been yours their whole life. I’ve told my old dog, Tucker, that it’s okay to let go as I kiss his sweet face. Dexter, the big black lab and his compadre, will continue to watch over me in his stead.
It is hard to bear witness. It’s painful and tears come on frequently, but I can do no less for my beloved companion.
I draw comfort from knowing that he isn’t in pain and he doesn’t worry about dying. Blessedly, animals live in the present. But their impending death are so often so heavy on their human family. The solid lump in my chest will fade with time and, for the most part, memories will fade as well. Those memories are like old Polaroids; the ink fades to a muted grey and the photo loses its bright colors. You are left with something that is softer and less clear. One thing that never leaves you or dulls is the feeling of being loved. You KNOW when you have been loved by a dog.
The slow wait is almost over. It is hard and it is much different than a fatal injury or a terrible disease that takes our companions before they have yet reached old age. The wait isn’t any easier; the goodbye just lasts longer.
Now you forget all about the times your dog came back smelling awful, as he rolled in something dead at the ocean’s edge. You forget that he chewed up the stuffed toy you just brought home or the time he ran off down the road, scared of the neighbor’s fireworks.
One day I’ll be able to remember my old dog with tenderness, laughter, and love, without the sharp pain of saying farewell. He will join all the memories of previous beloved dogs and that is where I will take solace.
Tucker passed away peacefully while Julie was tending to chores one recent morning.