Seven to ten days before Friday: Tasha is having trouble moving about the house. The right leg that has steadily been failing sometimes operates like a limp, crooked costume tail lifelessly dragging behind. This is the point she has to stop going for walks as the dragging of that back leg looks like it might snap a joint given some of the awkward angles it occasionally rests at. Limbs bent at unnatural angles elicit my gag reflex. The big, trusting eyes and face of a 10 yr. old boxer looking up at you with the will to go for a walk but not the mechanics elicits my tears. It is easy to anthropomorphize the creature. I do. And during our last attempt at her most beloved activity, she peers into my eyes wordlessly saying: “I’m trying. I really want to go for this walk. But… But I can’t.” How confusing and frightening it must be for every creature that loses its mobility or the means to feed or clean themselves. This is the tipping point. We knew it was coming. It actually came slower than expected. She got in more walks, more treats, and more naps than the odds predicted. Beating the odds is a rare thing.
Friday: Decision day. Thankfully, degenerative myelopathy is mostly a painless process. As it has progressed, the dog has adapted to each new setback. But the setbacks are coming quicker and progressing geometrically. A simple limp from the bedroom to the kitchen exhausts her. She sometimes spins halfway around (“like rowing with one oar” as my wife says). Her back left leg is now starting to give out. Her behavior is changing. She seems confused. Forgetful even—thinking it is mealtime almost immediately after eating. The night before she broke into a bag of dog food on the floor while we were out for two hours at an event. She has never attempted anything like this before given ample opportunities in the 11 months we’ve lived together. Uncharacteristically, she peed in the house. She almost falls over when trying to “do her business” outside. It is painful to watch. Watching something you love die is always painful. My wife calls the vet and requests an appointment for Monday to euthanize the dog. My wife will spend the next few hours questioning and agonizing over this decision even though it is the right one. She always makes the right decisions—she has a sixth sense about these sorts of things. I cannot be trusted with such decisions lest I search for one last miracle or duct-tape “solution” (I would have loved to be a neighbor staring out the window watching me try to salvage Tasha’s quality of life in a vain attempt to make walks still possible. On our last outing, I tried to tie the back right leg up to her mid section with an ace bandage—my weak attempt didn’t hold for more than a few seconds and even the dog looked at me with a WTF expression. My attempt to squat behind her and move one back leg at a time with my hands around her ankles must have looked equally strange or comical. Thanks to my upbringing, I have no issues with making a fool of myself—it comes in handy in loving and caring for others.) It will be a long, emotional weekend.
Saturday (4:30am): Already she has woken up several times to go out and had loose stools. Hard to say whether this is a result of chowing down on nearly a pound of her younger canine brother’s dry dog food two nights ago or part of her degeneration. Having not bothered to get on the bed (a favorite resting spot) the previous day she does so around 2a.m. to wake my wife from whom Tasha seeks and gets the reassurance and comforting she needs. Near 4:30am, she pops her head up from the foot of the bed again. I take her out back. I walk outside wearing only boxer shorts intending to help her should she have trouble with her footing. She looks at me like I’m crazy. I back off. We come back in, limp back to the bedroom, and she stares at the door again. I take her back out and realize on our just-finished trek back to the bedroom that she had diarrhea on one of the rugs (our upstairs hardwood floors are covered with a hodge-podge of runners, welcome mats, and carpet remnants so she will not slip on her way to eat or go out). She finishes up outside. I soak some paper towels with warm water and wash the shit off her back right “elbow”. I pour some baking soda on the carpet. I wait for the offensive spots to dry by writing about how my dog is dying. By trying to accept her impending death.
We adopted her from a local shelter knowing she didn’t have much time left (as much as anyone knows such unknowns). But the averages would never have predicted what a pure and gentle spirit we would discover in Tasha. She immediately became an integral part of the family, a loyal companion, a delightful distraction from our current houseboundedness, the most excited front door greeter you’ll ever meet, and a moderate annoyance to our existing dog, an 8 yr. old Shih Tzu, not given to acts of charity, who has waited out Tasha’s stay with reluctant acceptance and small Machiavellian maneuverings such as his blocking access to the bed or stealing her bones.
There is no easy way to say goodbye.