I know why they call them “man’s best friend”. They are unconditionally loving, overlooking your failures, always responding, eager to please and somehow we learn to read each other’s faces.
There was always plenty of noise in the house and she listened well, knowing when to get up and respond, or to stay put until called. When the children were young and full of energy, as she was, hearing the noise of her claws clicking on the kitchen linoleum was constant—she was engaged. Any time someone was coming or going, she was the sentinel monitoring the activity. But not so much these days, it was just her and I; she knew when to get up or not.
I remember trying put my shoes on and sneak off one day to head across the main road to see my neighbor without her. It didn’t work. Her keen ears could always tell the sound of the x-country ski boot, my tennis shoe, or even a flip flop! She knew my next move by the sound of preparation.
Part of our day throughout the years included taking a walk or bike ride in the woods that surrounded our home. The neighbors had developed their ATV trails and we used them for walking, running, biking and skiing in the winter. We all enjoyed this setting; it was a wonderful place to call home.
“Should we mow today, girl, or wait until Thursday?” the place was quiet now, activities had slowed down and the listening ear had much less demand these days. It helped to converse with her, always a knowing look coming back at me. Her look responded to my tone, and now more than ever, my visage spoke to her.
I, along with many others I’ve talked to, have concluded that dogs are a wonderful gift from God; they are a tool in His Hand to demonstrate His love and care for us.
I remember how our youngest daughter, the one who begged for a puppy, would love to trick our canine into feeling like something big was happening, either a thief was present and she needed to respond in a protective mode or a visitor had arrived and we needed her welcoming skills. She was the classic Golden Retriever – effervescently wiggling, body swaying, scrunched up a bit, and swooning with love.
The process of letting her go was extraordinarily painful. I remember our final day together. On Monday evening, we drove down to one of her favorite places. Years earlier, our friends had turned a piece of land into a place of adventure, fun and most of all hospitality and love toward anyone who visited them. This was displayed through smells from wonderful cooking and the sights; it was a hobby farm perched on the ridge along Lake Champlain, and the sounds of a horse whinnying, chickens clucking or the faithful dog barking as someone pulled up the long drive. It felt like home, even though we all usually left before bedtime. This would be her selection, if she could tell me where on earth she would like to spend her final 24 hours, this would be the place.
That Tuesday, August 1st, would be an emotionally consuming day by the time I pillowed my head that night. I tried to contain myself throughout the day, not wanting her to pick-up any more of my emotional scent than necessary. Thankfully, we were at a place that felt comfortable and held many good memories for us. When she was a pup we’d bring her down on our 4-H fun-days; she’d follow the horses as we’d ride, or cautiously go over and look at those curious birds pecking, pecking, pecking at the ground. And the people! So many people coming and going, stopping to visit; dropping something off, picking something up, and the holidays could not be beat. It was golden retriever grand-central and fit her enthusiastic personality nicely! Now, 13 years later, she was moving slower, her white face, surrounded by her reddish-golden coat, was tired. She had become the ole girl now, like the one she’d follow around as a pup learning the pathways and routines of the ridge.
As the afternoon sun grew warm and I looked at her lying in the thick green grass, it was bitter-sweet. So many memories tumbled through my heart. I needed to focus upon the good ones, if I did not, if I thought too much about all that had brought us to this day; I would not make it through. The relief of having sold the house 20 days earlier was good, but the strain of moving and now losing her was weighing upon me; so much loss, grief and pain, the temptation toward bitterness was great. The conversation earlier that morning loaded additional shame and blame upon me for doing what I thought was best for her. I was left to decide, the weight of the decision was heavy. And I was only halfway through this day. Like a mother trying to present a peaceful front to an unknowing child, I got up from the porch rocker and went to her, “Come on, girl let’s take a walk”. She got up with a bit of a grunt and gave me that look indicating it was worth it; just being together was worth it.
As I drove her to my veterinarian friend’s place for an after-hours appointment, I cried. I called a friend while driving and crying, who had recently euthanized their dog. He encouraged me that it was the best thing to do. That helped some; I needed some encouragement in this dark hour.
I was to face one more major hurdle before I spoke her name to her one last time. My friend, the vet, had a young assistant who wanted to intervene, offering to take my girl, obviating the appointment. She meant well but I could not consent. I alone knew my already desperate attempts to place her with someone and her inability to thrive in a new family, not eating, nor engaging with life around her; I had spent the past 3 weeks trying to leave her with different people only to find that she was shutting down and would not stay without enduring major stress. I was so distraught and desperate, I considered it, but when I asked if she had other dogs and learned she had 4 already, this was my relief sign from God that it was not an option. So we continued on.
I let her out of the van to sniff around one last time. I could tell she was reading me well. She got out and looked at me, wondering… was I leaving her there… what was happening. I called her back to the van, her place of comfort, her place of belonging, with me. She laid down. With me beside her, petting her, the injections were given, she was gone.
Our dear friends, Ed & Lisa and their children–also gifts from God, had provided and prepared a burial place; I drove there, nearby, sullen, sad, crying, broken-hearted. Yet I knew it was best. Our dear ole girl was resting safe, no more worries for her.