From the beginning, this blog has always been the domain of my four-legged family members—their stories told in their voices. But this post needs to come from me, because there’s no one else who can tell this tale.
Tomorrow will be one month since our dear Chico left us—31 days—744 hours—44,640 lonely minutes. It’s been a very long month, and yet it has sped by, as they all do. The good part is that I’ve survived that which I wasn’t sure I could. Whenever I imagined the day he would make that last trip to the vet, I felt physically ill, like there was no way I could do it, knowing of course that at some point I’d have no choice but to carry out that “great kindness” as my sister called it. It became my mantra that day…“a great kindness, a great kindness.”
The decision to make that final appointment came on the heels of a couple of not very good weeks for Chico. His miracle food, the canned duck & potato he’d been on since January, was no longer performing miracles. His sick-in-the-morning, no-appetite, diarrhea days were nearly as numerous as the “good” days. And what I realized was the “good” days weren’t so good anymore. He’d eat better, but still not enough to keep from losing weight. He’d not feel sick in the mornings, but still not have much energy. And he was struggling to stand. The final straw, the thing that tipped the scale, was how tired he seemed and how his breathing changed. In his last weeks, unless his bowels drove him up and out, he’d not get out of bed in the morning until I lifted him and helped him outside. According to the vet, his heart was failing.
So, on an appropriately grey, cloudy Wednesday morning, the 6th of July, we went for one last Tim Horton’s drive-thru. Chico hadn’t been able to eat his much-loved Timbits or help us with our breakfast wraps for many months, and it was like the light turned on when he was offered the first Timbit of many. And we could enjoy feeding him without worry of the certain disaster to follow in 12-24 hours.
During those last days, his interest in the duck & potato food had waned, and since any effort to augment his diet failed miserably, there were no treats or tasty alterations to the daily menu. So, when he was suddenly offered all the treats he could eat, it must have seemed to Chico like we’d finally come to our senses. It was one of the hardest things about his condition, depriving him of what he loved most of all … FOOD!
Once we arrived at the vet clinic, the treats continued with dried liver and Hershey kisses. Nothing was off limits, and he devoured each offering with enthusiasm. Watching his brightness return was heartwarming, but also painful, seeing how much life he could still muster for a treat. However, as soon as the treat was gone and there were no more immediately offered, he was head down, back to resting, his breathing shallow and slow, interspersed with bouts of sudden deep breaths.
I read that dogs experiencing heart failure can feel like they’re drowning because of the fluid building up in their lungs and abdomen. It’s not painful, but can be scary and stressful. A week ago, I had a dream that I was riding a bike, pulling Chico in his chariot behind me. We reached a curved wooden bridge, and as I started over it, heard a crash behind me. I looked back and the chariot and Chico were gone, along with a portion of the bridge. I looked down into the water below and spotted his head sticking out from under a bunch of bridge rubble. He looked like he was dead, drowned. I jumped down into the water, pulling the rubble from him and lifted his limp body up on the bridge. He raised his head, his eyes bright, and looked at me as if to say, “I’m fine, T.”
I cried when I awoke, feeling I had saved him in my dream but couldn’t in real life. And then I remembered what I’d read about heart failure, the drowning feeling. When I made the decision to take him to that last vet appointment, I saved him from drowning, just like in the dream. And it isn’t lost on me that when I pulled him from the water, I laid him on a bridge curved much like a rainbow.
But, no matter how timely or right or merciful, it was still the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. Take him there, leave him there. Our dogs trust us and love us unconditionally, so to make the decision to end their lives is an enormous and excruciating responsibility.
He drifted away peacefully, just as the name of the procedure suggests. Euthanasia comes from the Greek euthanatos, which means “easy death.” As the vet said might happen, he seemed to slip away from just the sedative they gave him before the overdose of phenobarbital. And it was like nothing changed. He was lying quietly with my arm around him before, during, and after. He slipped away into that “soft darkness” as my mother referred to it a few days before her own death.
My brother commented that Chico had “been such a trooper”. Those last nine months of his life were a series of challenges by multiple health issues, but he always got up for those ever-so-important walks (even when he was tired or sick), ate what he was offered (even when it was day 150 of canned duck & potato), adjusted to the dearth of treats and table scraps (although no doubt wondering how we’d forgotten how much he liked food), and followed me around the house with his eyes if he couldn’t manage it with his legs. A trooper indeed.
I miss you more than you can imagine, my sweet boy. You were a light in my life these past eleven and half years, and the rest of my life without you seems impossible. But thank you for the memories and the stories. These I shall hold close to my heart.
RIP Chico. Until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge.