My dog Ace died naturally, with me by his side, after he beautifully and lovingly said goodbye. And I am so grateful that it happened that way.
But Ace is the only dog I’ve had who has died this way. Every other dog in my life was euthanized, and so I’ve also experienced the other side, where you have to make the decision as to when is the right time. I know how heart-wrenching it can be, and I also know the associated feelings that can go along with it, such as the guilt that the responsibility can bear.
My first dog was our family dog Corky, who we got when I was just 3 yrs old. Corky was a beautiful, friendly and docile Airedale Terrier who I loved very much and the reason I became so enamored with dogs. When Corky was 13, he started having profuse nose bleeds. I don’t recall all the details, but as it turned out, he had a tumor in his snout, up near his eye. It’s possible that today there may be some options for treatment, but in 1980, there was nothing that could be done for him.
After spending a few days in the hospital, Corky’s vet recommended to my mom that Corky be euthanized. As a family, we agreed it was the right thing to do, as we certainly didn’t want him to suffer. My mom and dad and I drove to the animal hospital to say goodbye. I had told my mom that I wanted to be with Corky when it happened, and my mom planned to as well.
My mom talked to the vet, but he so discouraged her from letting us be with him, that my mom decided to side with the vet that it wasn’t a good idea. I tried to change her mind, but this was a time when people looked to their doctors, and veterinarians, as though they had some special knowledge or somehow knew best, although I certainly never agreed with that.
And so we went in an exam room, and they brought Corky in on a stretcher so we could see him one last time and say our goodbyes. He had been kenneled those past few days and his back end was arthritic and he was unable to easily walk, which was why he was on a stretcher. I’ll never forget the joy on his face when he saw us and how his tail wagged for us. He smothered me with kisses and I told him how much I loved him and how sorry I was. And then we left.
And even today, 35 yrs later, I can say it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Leaving him there, alone, after I’m sure he thought we had come to take him home fills me with such deep, deep sadness and regret. Later that same day, my mom also expressed her regret. She told me she felt the vet had left her without a choice, and she wished she had spoken up and stood up for what we wanted over what he thought, but it was too late. I vowed I would never ever let that happen again, and although I’ve lost dogs since, it hasn’t. I’ve been with every one of them before, during and after their final breaths.
Although this story still brings me to tears when I think of Corky in those final moments, I do know without a doubt, that even if Corky felt alone, that those feelings have long since died. In fact, they died the moment he did. For we are not our bodies; our relationships do not live in our bodies, nor does our love. Our hearts are connected, our love is eternal and the love really is the only thing that matters.