When I got home today and looked deeply into my dog’s eyes what I saw was lingering resentment. They seemed to say, “I know where you took me this morning, and I haven’t forgotten.”
Because this morning, my wife and I took her to the vet. With an option to die.
Opinions vary as to this dog’s age. She is a 3/4 Australian Shepherd and 1/4 Labrador Retriever we rescued from a disreputable shelter in February of 2000. A veterinarian at that time told us that she was probably one-and-a-half years old. This morning, my wife told our current vet that the dog is 16; I offered fifteen-and-a-half; as I said, opinions vary.
Last June, while our good friend Ross was housesitting for us and we were in either Florida (wife and kids) or Omaha, NE (me), the dog went for a misadventure in our back yard and let out a loud yelp. (This is from Ross.) Thereafter, she had a limp, which turned out to be a torn cartilage in her left rear leg. We popped for surgery (not quite the cost of a car, but certainly the substantial downpayment on a lease), then when that didn’t take, we cracked open the credit card for another go-round. But neither took, and our heretofore athletic and boundlessly energetically crazy but faithful dog was limping around on three legs. My wife has been medicating her, and stretching that leg out and massaging it, and cooking special meals for the dog, and really doing even more than any dog should ever hope for. And the dog has been bright and shiny and incredibly resilient — but limping around.
This morning with the vet, I asked the hard questions. Starting with:
“What is the life expectancy for this dog?”
Answer: “You’re at it.”
We were evaluating another surgery, not because we were thrilled with the potential expense, but because the dog is clearly a part of our family. Her name is Gem — named by my eldest, now 22, when he was seven and was enamored of the computer game “Heroes of Might and Magic II,” wherein “Gem” is a sorceress character one can play — and she has been here through most of the life of one of our children, most of my daughter’s life, and every bit of the life of our youngest. Gem’s time is coming, as it is coming for us all, but unlike the rest of us, Gem can’t communicate when it’s time to give in. So I had to ask on her behalf.
Decision: No further attempts at surgery, because we would be looking at diminishing returns, and because the recovery period (nine weeks or more) may outweigh her remaining time on this plane. But, also, no need to help her out of immediate pain with what I’ll call “the big needle.” As the vet said, “We go by whether or not the head is happy.” Her head is happy. As my wife said, Gem is bright-eyed and eager to play; she just seems to wish she didn’t have this annoying limp.
She’s happy — except today when I came home. Think your dog doesn’t know what’s going on? Then I wish I had videotaped the greeting I got a bit ago. Yes, I may be reading into it something that isn’t there — a resentment at even considering having her “put down” — but at the same time, I have lived with this dog for 15 years, and I know her moods. An elephant never forgets. This dog is a rememberer too.
So, she lives on. For as long as either God or nature or she herself decides, or until my wife and I decide that she’s had too much, and that all further returns are diminishing.
At some point, I will be in the same situation. I certainly hope so, because I’m planning on a long life — there is a lot, lot, lot that I intend to do still. I hope that some day my children gather around and decide whether to turn me off or not, and I fight them every inch of the way.
For that reason, I’m awfully glad to see the glare in my dog’s eyes.