…one man's best friend

A Promise Kept

The next morning came very early.  I was up around 5:00 a.m. As usual, Oscar was up the minute I stirred. But Ricky didn’t move.  He barely opened his eyes.  I took Oscar out for his walk and when we got back Ricky hadn’t moved.  I fixed Oscar’s breakfast and then went downstairs.  Ricky had awaken and moved to the end of the bed.  I picked him up and carried him outside so he could go to the bathroom.  When we came back in I tried to see if he would drink any water or even take a treat. But he wouldn’t.  I picked him up and just cradled him in my arms trying to take in every bit of the moment that I could.

I placed him on the bed.  I set up a bunch of blankets along one side.  All the soft, fuzzy ones he liked–those Sherpa blankets what are smooth and soft on one side and really fluffy on the other. But he didn’t want to. Instead he lay down near the foot of the bed on the comforter.  I didn’t have the heart to move him.  He would not move from the spot.

It was about 6:00 a.m. I got back in bed and tried to sleep a little more, sleeping sideways in the bed so that I could keep one hand on him.

For the next few hours I drifted in and out of sleep. I hadn’t showered or shaved since Friday night.  I got up and did just that.  I put on a nice pair of pants and a nice shirt.  For whatever reason I felt it was important to do that; to look my best.

My friend Jeff started texting me around that time.  He and his wife Dara were great dog lovers and amazing owners.  They had gone through this recently like so many of my other friends.  He asked how Ricky was doing, I guess hoping that my response would be a positive one.  When I told him what was going on, he understood and continued to text me with very consoling and comforting words.

It was a little past 10:00 a.m. at that time. Every minute that passed my heart sunk deeper in my chest.  The empty pit in my stomach grew larger. I lay across the bed one more time–sideways.  One arm was around Ricky, who was still in the spot he was hours earlier.  When I’d rub his belly or ears or the scruff of his neck, he no longer responded.  His eyes were just soft. My other hand was on Oscar who had joined us at the head of the bed. I fell asleep one more time.

I woke up at 10:41 a.m. a few minutes before my alarm was to go off.  I hated to leave Ricky but I knew that Oscar would need to go out.  I took him out really quickly.  When we got back in I checked on Ricky. I tried to see if he would eat a little treat but he only ate a small piece.

Knowing the doctor would show up soon, I tried to get everything in order.  I put a gate up by the door so I could leave the door open. I put some music on in the room; just some quiet instrumental stuff–nothing somber, just soft. I checked the clock. It was 11:00 a.m.  The time had come.

“Where was she?”  I thought to myself. I couldn’t bear to have to wait. I had managed this horrible waiting part so far. I went upstairs to see if I could see someone on the street. I noted that the trees in front of the dining room balcony needed pruning because they pretty much obscured my view.  But I heard a door close and could make out a tall woman with a medical bag making her way down the side walk.

Dr. Robin Holmes was a veterinarian who left her practice to start a service called Gifts of Peace.  She helps people find ways to help their pets transition. It takes a very special person to do this.  She sees people everyday at one of the saddest and most difficult days imaginable. To be able to help people find comfort at this time is a real gift.  She was so kind and empathetic.  She really was a blessing.

She came in and I couldn’t find my voice again. Everything I said had to be in whispers.  I brought her into the run.  She immediately went over to the bed and kneeled at the foot of the bed and started to pet Ricky.  For the first time in the past couple of days he tried to raise his head.  He even wagged his tail a bit.  I was shocked.  My boy was always a bit of a “player” and loved the ladies.  I couldn’t help but smile but the thought that perhaps he some how knew why she was there and that he was welcoming of it or maybe he was just flirting with her.

One of the first things she remarked on were his paws.  Everyone remarked about them.  They looked like he was wearing socks.  I was always fascinated by how he came by them.  I never knew up until then what his real background was.  I’d learn after he passed that he was Chihuahua on one side and Bichon Frise and possibly Australian Cattle Dog on the other.  I guess that’s where the coloring came from. His paws were always a connection to him for me.  Throughout a lot of this I would just rub them hoping it brought him comfort.  The last picture I took of him were of his paws.

One of the last photos I took.  People were fascinated by his paws--they would call them his socks.  Strange markings for a dog.  I wanted to make sure I captured them forever.

She got up and we both sat on the bed together and talked about Ricky.  Oscar got up on the bed and joined us.  A little jealous? So there we were.  The three of us all gathered around Ricky.  Dr. Robin talked about the procedure.  I had read up on it so I already know what would happen.  After a few minutes she said that whenever I was ready she would begin.  As painful as it was, I knew there was no point in delaying. She prepared the first injection and I got up and knelt by the side of the bed.  I wanted to be in his line of site.  I wanted him to know that I was going to be there every step of the way.

* * *

People talk about the compassion of such an act.  I have been blessed that my work puts me in touch with people of great caring and compassion.  But compassion, as I knew it up to that day, always had a return for the giver of compassion, leaving them feeling good about their act of kindness, regardless of the cost. There was no feeling good about this.  As an act of compassion it would leave me greatly saddened and grieving a profound loss.  The comfort of knowing I was easing his pain could not make up for the sadness I would experience.  I stared in his eyes hoping to find that comfort. It wasn’t there.  What was there was the memory of all we had been through. So few were the difficult times; so many the great.

* * *

As he looked back at me, I don’t know what he was thinking, what he knew.  I don’t know what dogs are capable of knowing or not knowing.  As humans who love our animals we project a lot onto out pets.  I don’t think he knew what was going to happen. I don’t think they can conceive of the concept.  But I hope as he looked back at me he saw a friend; someone who cared so deeply for him; someone who was so grateful to him for the life he had given me.

Dr. Robin gave him the first injection.  A cocktail that would help him relax and fall into a light sleep.  I just kept staring at him and rubbing his ears and paws.  She kept checking his tail and feet. The injection was slow to take.  She said she’d probably have to give him another. Very shortly after the second one he let out a deep sigh.  My heart broke into pieces. I knew without her telling me that this was a sign.

She asked me if we could switch places. The last injection would have to go intravenously into one of his hind legs. As she prepared the injection site I knelt at the foot of the bed and put my head on his back. She reminded me that once she had everything prepared, I should let her know and once she made the injection it would only take about a minute.

I tried as hard as I could to make every one of these last seconds count. I pressed my head to his hoping that through some mind-meld he would “hear” me.  I kept repeating in my head how much I loved him and that I was there. I wasn’t going to leave.  I kept repeating that promise I made those many years ago.

* * *

When I first got him, I didn’t want him to sleep in the bed. But he just seemed so scared that first night. He wouldn’t stay in the doggie bed I bought him. He just sat patiently by the side of the bed looking at me. Even when I turned the light off I could “feel” his gaze. Knowing full well that he was playing me, I got out of bed, picked him up and put him in bed with me saying, “Just this one time.” He scrambled up to the top of the bed, walked in a little circle three times, and curled up on the pillow. As I went to sleep I rolled over on my side, away from him. Then I felt one of his tiny paws on my back. It could have been reflex or a dozen other things. But I felt that he just wanted to make sure I was still there; that I wasn’t going to leave. If I hadn’t already, it was in that moment I promised him and myself that I would always be there for him—to protect him, care for him and love him. And I didn’t really know what I expected back. I know now what I wanted in return was to have him there when I came home; happy to see me and wanting to be held and have his ears and tummy rubbed. To keep that promise I needed to be with him through every single step on this last journey together.

* * *

She asked me if I was ready.  Without a hesitation I said, “Yes.”  I couldn’t prolong this any longer for him or for me. With Oscar by our side Dr. Robin removed the tourniquet on his leg.  I tried not to count the seconds.  She told me it would be very peaceful and it was.

I couldn’t stop staring at him; my little guy so small and frail. My hand never left his back.

In the end there was no sigh.  There was no twitch or odd movement.  There was not a threshold that was crossed.  There wasn’t a moment of transition.  He simply was and then wasn’t. He looked like he had simply fallen back to sleep. He looked the way he did when we woke up that morning.  But he wasn’t.

Dr. Robin said she was going to leave us alone for a bit. While I had cried a number of time over the past few weeks, the tears and emotion flooded out of me. I hugged him in that awkward position. Oscar had moved to the side of the bed where Dr. Robin had been and just lay down and looked at us.  I’m not sure it was 5 minutes or 15.  I wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen next.

I pulled myself together and went outside to get Dr. Robin.  When we came back into the room she pulled out a plush green blanket.  She said she brought it with her so that we would have something to put him in.  She was struggling a bit to get it around him.  She asked if I would help.

I had decided long ago that there was nothing I wouldn’t do for him no matter how painful it would be. I felt I owed him them.  But this was the hardest part.  Picking him up, even just a little bit, made it so clear that he wasn’t asleep; he was gone. Whatever life had been in him was no longer there. His body, free of life, was free of all tension. We swaddled him in the blanket. I noted the green color again. Green was Ricky’s color. The green had always been a match for his brown coat and green eyes. We waited for the people from Royal Pet.  I couldn’t really wait any more so I went outside and there he was, the guy from Royal Pet.

He came with a dog crate.  The crate was unassembled; the bottom half resting in the upside down top half. When he came in the house, Oscar freaked out a little.  I gathered him up and we sat on the stairs while the man and Dr. Robin went in the room.  I knew there wasn’t room for all of us in there and I wanted to keep Oscar calm.

Only a couple of minutes later, they came out of the room.  The only thing visible was the green blanket and his floppy right ear.  I gave it one more rub and then told the man it was OK to go.  I sat back down and Dr. Robin gave me a big hug. As I said, she was very special. It is such a gift to be able to give such comfort.

And just like that, my little guy was gone.

I waited a few minutes and then took Oscar out for another quick walk. Suddenly I had a splitting headache.  I took some medicine and then went to get into bed. I needed to just close my eyes and sleep.  When I got back to the bedroom, Oscar was already in there.  He was laying in the spot where Ricky passed.  I didn’t have the heart to move him and just twisted myself around him.  I slept for a few hours.  Oscar hadn’t moved.  I don’t know what he knew or what he felt.  But he slept in that same spot for days.

As the days passed and people sent the kindest words of comfort.  It was so nice to know that people understood and sympathized.  Many empathized, having gone through the same thing.

As more days passed, Oscar’s and my routine changed.  The first morning I was up at 4:30 in the morning and I dragged Oscar’s butt out of bed to go running–he needs to lose that weight.

In the book of my life there will be a huge chapter, maybe even more that one, where Ricky will be center stage.  But that chapter does close and the page turns.  It will be odd that Ricky’s name won’t be on those pages to come.  But he will always be a part of my life.  He made me a better person.

 

One little dog, with spotted feet and a floppy ear; demanding of your love but never selfish with his; bringer of comfort and joy; you changed my life and for that you will be forever in my heart.

 

 

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