Sometimes the Right Thing is the Hardest

This is a story that needed to wait until I was ready to tell it.  But time has passed, and with it, the deep grief I felt.  That is not to say I won’t drip some tears in the telling, but it is time for me to tell the story before I forget it.   We must all remember that sometimes the right thing to do is the hardest.

Barney had been coughing up phlegm for a couple weeks — congestive heart failure, most likely.  Sometimes, he coughed hard enough to lose his kibble, but mostly it was just watery, slimy phlegm.  Bubba, who was not his real dad, but his adopted dad, cleaned it up, led him outside, patted his back, and at least once caught it in his hand as if he was his real dad.  I know Bubba worried about me, who had loved Barney for twelve of his thirteen years, but he waited patiently for me to decide when the old guy had had enough.

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He had gotten so skinny.

As a pup, he was picked up at a local no-kill animal shelter.  He had a previously injured toe, and an ear that stood up more than the other.  He could run like the wind, and played hard.  While mannerly at mealtime, never begging or asking for attention, abandoned food was his for the taking.  He once ate an entire week’s raw meat out of grocery bags while I ran in to get a few copies made at the printer, and was in his seat looking innocent by the time I got back to the car!

It seems like he was with us such a short time, and yet forever.  When we knew it was almost time — he was getting skinnier and more lethargic every day — I texted the kids to come see him if they needed to.  The girls came and brushed him, the balls of fluff laying in the yard as evidence to their act of love.  One son lay on the carpet with him, breathing in his essence and remembering better times, tears streaming from his eyes.

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He had become a spectator.

Once I knew they had all seen him that week, there was one more thing to do.  We took him out to the dog park one last time.  We waited for him to walk our route, stopping for him to catch up, never letting him feel rushed.  He waded in the pools and drank from the muddy water.  His coat had become dull.  He laid down when we stopped.  He had become a spectator of the dog-sports he had previously participated in so passionately.

His appetite was almost nonexistent.  I boiled a chicken just for him.  That night he ate a piece and threw it up.  The next day he refused the chicken.  I think that’s when I realized there was nothing left for him.  During my lunch break, I called the vet and made his last appointment.  When I got home from work, we coaxed him to the car and lifted him in.

I chose a different vet this time.  The one my daughter had taken the rabbit to when she rescued it.  The one who told my daughter she saved a bunny’s life, and told me I should be proud.  The one with the old paneled office, and curtains on the windows, and gold linoleum on the floor.  We had trouble finding it, and passed the road a few times before we got it right.

It was a quiet ride.  Barney didn’t put his head out the window, or bark at the dogs on leashes as we passed.

When we pulled up, a couple holding a dog on a leash motioned us over, but they had the wrong idea.  They thought we were looking for the entrance to another building, and quickly redirected us next door.  Their young, strong Staffordshire Bull Terrier saw Barney and stood alert.  He pulled, and the man holding the leash was rendered off-balance.  The dog pulled harder, and the man fell, still holding the leash.  The woman commanded their dog to stop, but he didn’t, and the man was in danger of losing the leash.

Barney, in his last act of defiance, pulled at the leash I held.  I was surprised by how much strength was still left in him.  His ears propped up, and the hair on his back stood erect.  The stark difference between the two dogs in stature was alarming.  And so, Bubba, not his real dad, but his adopted dad, stood between the dog and Barney.  He put his hands on his hips and poised himself authoritatively and stared the dog down.  It was a loving act from a man to his dog.

Then I led Barney into the paneled office through the screen door with the homemade sign on it.  We were directed to a room with a gold privacy curtain.  Barney lay down on his side and watched the feet of people passing under the curtain.  There were decisions to make, and we made them all, and signed the papers.  Did we want cremation?  Yes.  Did we want his ashes?  Yes.  Did we want a clay paw print?  Yes.  In between each question, I asked Bubba, “Do we?”

Barney was hoisted onto a table.  Despite our encouragement, he would not lay down, so they let him stand.  A tourniquet was placed on his front leg.  I looked him in the eye and told him what a good boy he was.  It was the last thing I wanted him to hear.  “You’re a good boy, Barney.”

He always hated it when I cried.  While some dogs snuggle up to their humans, trying to comfort them, Barney would head downstairs to his den to wait out the tears.  It was so important I did’t cry at this time.  Breathe.  Silent tears felt down my cheeks.  “Good boy.”

The needle was pressed and inserted on a bulging vein on his leg.  “Good boy, Barney.”  His rear legs slowly sank to a sit.  “Good, good boy, Barney.  You’re a good boy.”  Slowly his front legs slid down the stainless steel table, and his head drooped low, finally resting on his paws.  “Good boy, Barney.”

The life left his eyes, and the vet listened to his chest.  “He is gone now.”

We stayed with him and petted him a few last times.  We thanked them.  They said they were sorry.  And we drove away.

What do you do after you have released one you love from his misery?  Bubba drove us to the meat store and we picked out the biggest, juiciest t-bones in honor of Barney, and grilled them up for dinner.  We cried a bit, and cried a bit less the next day, and less yet the day after that.  We cried again at the dog park, his favorite place on earth.  How lucky we are to have had a companion such as Barney . . .

Barney
He really was a very good dog.

Guardian of the Mailbox, Chaser of Frogs, Best Friend of Man.

Peace . . .

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39 thoughts on “Sometimes the Right Thing is the Hardest

  1. I could feel the love with every word and I’m not trying to be cheesy. I’ve been there. I know how bad it hurts. I tell my Schatzie so often how much I miss her but she’s with her first mom now. (my mother). They turn our hearts to mush don’t they?

  2. Very important to tell the story, and tell I when you felt right. You are very brave and write an heartfelt account of Barney’s last days, your love shines through your loss.
    You have a way to go yet but you have made the right decision for both of you.
    Best of luck in the future…thank you for sharing.

    1. 🙂 Not strange at all. I think we feel for all those innocent creatures who devote their lives to us. I do it too . . . Thanks for loving Barney with me.

  3. What a heart wrenching post. I can tell how much you loved Barney and wow, was he a lucky dog to have been cared for by you and your family. Sending you many, many hugs right now.

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss, Jean. I had a hard time reading as we lost two of our dogs within 30 days of each other. It’s such a difficult time. If you have a moment, please look at Pam Tanzey’s artwork on this blog post: http://bit.ly/19m1CZh She’s captured what our dogs are doing now that they’ve crossed the Rainbow Bridge. 🙂

    1. That’s awesome! I can’t imagine anything happening to our other dog right now. She is the one getting me through this so smoothly. I’m sorry for the loss of your dogs, too. Thank you.

  5. Jean, I have tears rolling down my face from the love I can feel and the loss I know you still feel. This was probably the saddest thing I have ever read. Barney would be smiling at how your words of love have affected so many.

  6. Pingback: Friday Faves, It’s snowing! | Living Simply Free

  7. Jodi

    What a celebration of Barney’s life. Those memories of his last days are beautiful and caring. Thank you so much for sharing this emotional story with us.

  8. I felt every aching word you wrote with tears streaming down my face, having recently having to make the same decision 😦

    “It came to me that every time I lose a dog,
    they take a piece of my heart with them….
    And every new dog who comes into my life,
    gifts me with a piece of their heart.
    If I live long enough, all the components of
    my heart will be dog …
    and maybe
    I will become as generous and loving as they are”
    Author unknown.

    1. That is a sweet, sweet quote. We should all be so lucky. I heard another quote that made me think of Barney the other day. Maybe you will like this, having had a recent loss, as well.

      “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
      ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

  9. So moving! We had to put our 18-year-old cat to sleep a couple of years ago, and reading your story made me feel so overwhelmingly raw. Thank you for putting it all into words.

  10. It is so hard…glad you could write this tribute to him…it is a necessary part of the grieving process and immortalizes him. We can all see how loved he was…

  11. Pingback: Good Dog, Barney | wholeyjeans

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