Yesterday I took Oreo to be euthanized. He has been my pet and friend and a big chunk of my heart for 16 years.
Quite well I remember coming home late one evening, from a long day of work, to find this strange, frisky dog on the carport. I assumed him to be a stray or to belong to a neighbor, so a couple of times I shooed him away. As soon as my back was turned, he would return with a slink, almost crawling, insistent that he belonged. The porch light came on and my wife came out to inform me that we now have a new dog. She and the kids drove across town to answer a classified ad in the newspaper. A friendly and frisky border collie mix needs a good home. Free! And so Oreo was now part of our family.
Somewhere along the way he became my dog. Oh, he belonged to the family, helped us to raise three kids, and kind-of/sort-of liked my wife. We played. We took walks together. And we had lots of conversations. Well, I pronounced the words while he wagged the tail. I think he appreciated that I considered him as an equal, which might say a bit about my self-image, but I think mostly states the value I have for pets. As a young boy I came to understand the importance of friendship with a dog. Life at home was sometimes rough. No dad around. But we lived next to what seemed to be an endless forest, and I had two mutts that loved to roam the woods with me. Thus Blackie, George, and I spent our summers and evenings after school. I learned lots of things, like how to enjoy my own company, and how to appreciate God’s creation, and especially that a good dog makes a mighty fine friend.
Oreo has tolerated a lot from this highly imperfect owner. We’ve lived at several different places. Along the way he has been snake bitten- right on the nose! And it seems he has been beaten-up by every dog in every neighborhood. He likes the ladies, but he is a terrible fighter. Anyways, it was all in vain, for long ago we saw the wisdom of having him neutered. And he forgave me even that indiscretion, a reminder of the unconditional love of such a companion. Moving to our present home was a radical change from the rural settings of the past. Oreo was confined within a chain link fence, and such proved a difficult adjustment to his carefree living. One day I noticed he had licked bare the tops of his front paws, an obvious sign that he was unhappy. So the next day we began what would prove a rewarding regimen of many years, our morning and evening walks. Very much he enjoyed these times, and all seemed well again.
About two years ago he ceased the walks, in spite of prodding from our younger dog and myself. No longer could his old bones and joints tolerate the pounding. Thus he confined himself to what I thought to be a pampered life in the backyard. Most days he would laze under the shrubbery. And he grew older. His demise was consistent and I’m sure common to all, whether dog or human. Cataracts. Soft food. Short temper. And, a noticeable change of personality. Family and friends began to tell me it was time to consider “putting him down”. But this was my friend, my pal, and in my estimation he had earned the right to love and grace. So I was stubborn about the matter. But, time can be rather cruel.
Three months ago we agreed he could no longer come into the house, because either he could not or would not control his bowels. He never seemed to understand, and would stand at the patio door for hours, longingly and pleadingly looking into the house. Sometimes I would relent, and usually it was not a good thing. He would awaken me at night with a sad bark, his plea to come into the house. I would go out to scold him, and then feel badly, knowing he simply was sad about the whole matter.
One night last week he barked again, several times. I went out to find him in a sitting position, unable to stand because of the combination of arthritis and a dislocated hip. And, thus I knew it was time. Still, I waited another week. The finality of the matter was not easy for me to admit. Maybe he would get better… Perhaps he would die in his sleep… And it became obvious. For whatever reasons, Oreo’s body was not ready to die. But it was time. It was the right thing to do. And, as the person who loved and knew him the most, it was my responsibility and privilege to take care of the matter. My old friend had always counted on me to do what was good and right. And this time I would not let him down.
Yesterday I called the vet and made the appointment. 3:30 p.m. Would I want the ashes and a memorial urn? No, I don’t think so.
I called him into the house, one last time to sleep in his beloved spot, sprawled out on the floor with sun streaming upon him from the window, oblivious to the rest of the day. And several times I sat next to him, just to scratch his ears and say some stupid things. He’s almost deaf, so it did not matter what I said. And he has come to the point that all he really wants is to be left alone. But these moments were more for myself than him. Once again I thought about this fine friend and loyal companion. In the quietness of the moment it seemed we confirmed, together, that the timing was right and the issue settled. There was peace.
I did not feel much like working for the rest of the day. And I am sure such would seem silly to anyone that has never loved an old dog. So I sat in my easy chair and listened to my mp3 player. I did not want conversation- just reflection. And in just a brief moment it was time to go.
Debbie went in to say goodbye. She did not say much, but there were tears in her eyes. She took a photo. But I will not see it. I do not want to remember Oreo as an old, worn-out dog, lying upon the carpet. He was an energetic and frisky fellow who loved to play fetch and go for long walks, and bounced with joy when his friends came along. Yeah, that’s what I will remember, and with a smile. Carefully I picked him up and carried him to the car. He seemed lighter than before, and later the vet would confirm that he was dehydrated and likely suffering from early kidney failure. He felt so frail. And yet, characteristically, he submitted to whatever I was doing, although surely he was confused. Or, just tired. He simply lay in my arms. And when I sat him in the car, he just stayed.
By the time we arrived at the vet, I was pretty much an emotional mess. I was determined to do my best not to be a crybaby- who wants to deal with this 52-year-old man bawling over an old dog? But, it was certainly a somber time as I walked into the lobby. The receptionist seemed to understand for there was little small talk. She ushered us into an exam room where the vet would soon come. And so we sat for about twenty minutes. I am glad there was a delay. It allowed me to gain composure and assurance this was the right . At first I was telling myself, Get control. It’s just an old dog! But I set aside that strategy, and found much more comfort by repeatedly telling myself, This is the most loving thing to do.
The vet and his assistant entered the room and right away it was obvious this was not an enjoyable task for them. They were professional of demeanor, which I really needed at that moment. Clinically he explained the process. He would give Oreo a shot to relax him, and thus within five minutes he would fall into a deep sleep. Then he would be placed upon the table and administered a dose of phenylbarbital. And quickly his heart would cease. He mentioned complications which could arise, but assured these were very unlikely. The lady sensed my distress and asked if I was sure that I wanted to be present? This was my friend. There was no way I would abandon him at this moment.
With the first shot, which seemed painless, quickly he lay down and slept like a baby. I have not seen Oreo at such rest in quite some time. The pain of his ancient body no longer seemed a hindrance. I stroked his dry and matted fur,and thought of how it once felt so silky. In my mind I pictured him running through green and rolling fields, with that big and broad smile, leaping with unbounding energy. Ahh, that would be nice! And I was at his side as the last shot was administered. My hand was upon his chest as his breathing became light. Then it was over. The doctor checked with his stethoscope. Oreo was gone. The nurse asked if I would like a few moments alone. I said no. It was over. My heart was not heavy, and I was able to walk from the room with composure and peace.
For many years I have believed that life is much more than the physical. Do dogs go to heaven? I am not sure. But I am convinced that a loving and gracious God has immensely gifted my life with this amazing friend. He has promised that He has gone to prepare a place for me, and that one day He will come again and take me to be with Him in that place, forever. And since that place will filled with amazing happiness and joy— maybe there will be room for a little dog that has proven to be my gift from God?
(If this all seems too sappy for you…get over it!)