A Fond Farewell To My Four-Legged Friend
Posted by Jill Chapin on Jan 8, 2006 - 6:04:00 PM
I recently put down our fifteen year-old dog. This is a sanitized way of saying that my husband and I ended Madison's life. For those of you who ever had to part with a beloved pet this way, you can commiserate with my kaleidoscope of emotions, vacillating between feeling like a savior one moment and an executioner the next.
We adopted Madison from our neighbors when she was four years old and they found her too rambunctious for their hectic lives. They invited us over to meet her in the hopes that she would win our hearts, and it was love at first sight. Maybe that was because Madison felt the same way about virtually everyone. She instantly fell hard for whomever would give her a friendly pat or a scratch.
And so, she left her first home without so much as a backward glance, wagging her tail as we ambled on down the street to her new abode. But I had no illusions about her newfound attachment to me; she would have moved in with anyone she deemed safe and friendly.
At first she was a fast-moving ball of white fluff zooming from room to room, such was her excitement in checking out her new digs. But as we showered her with attention, she soon settled down into our household's rhythm. Her running rampages were simply exuberant expressions of joy, and I could sense in her playful eyes that she was telling us, "Don't worry, I won't break anything. I'm just happy!"
Madison was smart. Or at least from my anthropomorphic view, I thought she was a genius. Whenever we went walking, she would prance merrily along, looking straight ahead. But if we should pass by her first home, she would look up and make her way jauntily to their front door.
Even more brilliant, she would often gaze contentedly out our front window, where sometimes she would suddenly bark rapturously. I came to realize that whenever she did this, she was simply saying hello to her former owner who would occasionally jog by our house.
What a grand disposition our little Bichon displayed-- never would she snap at anyone, always a willing partner in a cuddle hug. We used to travel with her because she was part of our family. But she grew older and so did we. It became more difficult for us to carry her with us, and so we began boarding her when we traveled, which became almost monthly this past year.
She also needed meds, a special diet, and for much of the year she wore an Elizabethan collar to prevent her from biting her itchy skin.
She coped with all of the indignities of aging with a disposition that would shame us mere humans. Once, when I collected her from her boarding facility, the owner remarked, "Madison has a sassy way about her. She struts around as if to say, 'I'm not old!'"
But old she was. Infirmity crept up on her, but we were reluctant to acknowledge it. For years we had witnessed a slow but steady decline. Then suddenly last month, we came to realize that Madison wasn't just aging; she was dying.
It began with her increasing disorientation. Although pretty much deaf and blind for several years, she could still navigate around her familiar surroundings. But recently she began bumping into places where she had never before ventured.
And then she began to have accidents, simply could not control her bodily functions, but all of this we attributed to the natural aging process. It was her sudden disinterest in food when I came to grips that her behavior was not only attributable to her getting on in years. She was getting ready to leave us.
When she deteriorated to the point of labored breathing and lying on her side for over 23 hours a day, I knew it was up to us to do what every pet hopes their loving owners will do - put her to rest peacefully before a painful ending claims her first.
One last blood test to see if a remedy could "cure" her proved fruitless. We declined the further expense of x-rays because we were advised that they would probably reveal tumors, and we were not prepared to perform heroic but ultimately futile attempts to delay the inevitable.
Enough. It was time to say goodbye. We held and kissed her one last time and said farewell to one of nature's most innocent creations.
Our friends recall how we had lately remarked how over we were with being pet owners. The expense of boarding her, medicating and cleaning up after her, being tethered to our home to feed her and let her outside, the deterioration of our carpet - this was all true. With candor and good humor, we had many a rueful laugh over how my husband could not afford to retire until the dog died.
But beneath our curmudgeonly complaining, we were acutely aware that although life without Madison would certainly be less complicated, we would sorely miss the uncomplicated affection of that loving and lovable dog. She made me feel both guilty for having complained, and so grateful for her companionship.
Goodbye, Maddie. For all the times I may have been less than patient, I owe you this tribute. Of the two of us, you were the far better example of pure, unconditional love.