Old Pepper had been declining more quickly over the past few months. Going on nearly 17 years old, she was a beagle-spaniel mix that had the color, independence, tenaciousness, and curiosity of both breeds. But although we can protect with salves, supplements, and scratches under the chin, the one thing we can’t protect them from is old age.
Her hearing was gone and you had to lightly tap or stroke her head gently to get her attention. Her vision had become cloudy so that when you held out a treat, she would lunge aimlessly several times before she was able to take it from your hand. Her gait had become incredibly fragile and even a sneeze could bring her to the floor. Every morning and evening I carried her outside to the oak she favored since she had trouble making it to the doorway. Where she used to fight me, she now would just lean into my chest, her head cradled by one arm, her thinning frame cradled by the other.
But she never quit. She adapted.
We had a deal. When it was time to go, she would tell me. But Pepper was not of that type of fabric. She was highly independent and never a lapdog. If she wanted your attention, she would come up to you and give you a long deep look until you paid her what’s due. And she only belonged to a pack of two. Not that all else were excluded – just that the loyalties were clearly set.
Thru my own treatment and after, she would follow me from room to room sensing my vulnerability. No matter where I moved, she would be there. And always facing the door, watching for any intruders, making sure no one came up and surprised us.
Now as old as she was, as hard as it was for her to get around, she always managed to make it to where I was sitting and lay down next to me.
But early Friday night, she had a lengthy seizure, one that exhausted both her and me and left her confused, and whining in some deep pain. I called the vet. It was time.
Some might say I made the right decision. I don’t know that I did. The only one who can render an opinion on that can’t tell me. I’ll be arguing with myself over that for a long time to come.
We came home afterwards from the vet, her collar with the tags attached bunched up in my pocket. We began cleaning up, took her blanket out of the bedroom, removed the cartons we put in the living room to block her from soiling the rug, the puppy pads we put down on the floor to contain her messes, her food bowl and the stains she left on the kitchen floor. With each bit of proof removed, it seemed to create an even larger sense of loss.
It’s hard to describe that attachment one develops with a dog. It’s more than just blind loyalty, or faith, or friendship. It’s a complete giving over, that whatever you are, I am. Wherever you are, that’s where I’ll be. And that we’ll both live forever.
It’s a bit of a devil’s bargain if only because you will most certainly outlive them. You would hope that the depth of attachment, the honest unencumbered love you have, will overcome the grief. Maybe it will…in time. The loss will always be there – but the memories attached will always remain.