Last night Beauty was put to sleep.
It's hard to explain why. The progression from being a little sore last Friday and being treated for arthritis-type symptoms to having no use of her legs at all on Tuesday afternoon was rapid.
What caused it could have been any number of things, from a simple slipped disc that an operation might have cured her readily and quite thoroughly to the most likely suspect, a tumour on the spine that had spread. We chose not to know, because the diagnostic procedures, operation and possible recovery would have been long and painful for such an old dog. Or, the diagnosis alone and potential results would have been painful enough for us, as it would have had to have been done under general anesthetic, and depending on the prognosis, the euthanasia would have occurred with a phone call and without a proper good bye - an unbearable thought.
After her trips to the vet here in Toronto, and an overnight stay that was tearful and anxious as we wondered whether she'd come home at all - we almost regret that we were given hope that a trip to Guelph for a visit with a neurologist would make the decision easier. If it weren't for the fact that a massive dose of steroids was the only thing making her comfortable and seemingly bright and pain-free; if it weren't for the fact that the world is such that it's frighteningly, horrifically, grossly expensive to even get to a place where you feel your decision is based on your dog's welfare alone; if we didn't have a vet who spent more than two hours of her own time helping us come to this decision, you would be reading a different letter. You wouldn't be reading a letter at all - we'd just be broke with an old dog that required extra care.
The truth is, Beauty was the best dog we ever had, either of us. She was rescued almost ten years ago from a rotten life we'll never know about, and was spoiled silly and treated like our baby ever since then. She has been there almost since the beginning of Steve and Marla, and was our friend, our pet, our companion and our guardian. It was a rough adjustment for her when a human baby came along, and she aged rapidly. When she found out that the new addition to the family meant that there would be food dropped on the floor frequently and that Josephine would love her to distraction and there would be more walks and hugs galore, well, she managed to appear almost grateful at times.
The decision, which didn't feel brave but cowardly, came because there was no way to tell her that it might be okay at the other end of a long struggle, or that the goodbye before a night in the hospital just might be the only one. We couldn't know, and couldn't stand with her on that precipice any longer. Falling asleep in her Marla's arms seemed to be the kindest thing to do, for us and her.
Beauty has been cremated, and her ashes will be in a common grave at the Ancaster Pet Cemetery. We didn't accept the offer of a paw print, or her remains returned because we have a house full of her memory: hundreds of images of her sleeping in uncomfortable positions, five million black hairs, claw marks on the kitchen floor, nose prints on the windows, food in the cupboard, and bones we'll be finding for years after they've been hidden. And already, five times today, requests for Beauty from Josephine.
When you see us, your sympathetic glances will be enough. Nice words and kind things to say will only get a choked up "I know", or "Thanks". The veneer of composure that we're wearing is the thinnest covering for our broken hearts, and all it will take is an "I'm sorry about Beauty" to break it. Our eyes are sore and teary, we have been sleepless for a long time, and we can barely keep ourselves from worrying our daughter with our shocking grief.
When you have a good dog, it's never for long enough and you hope it's never for too long. The balance between what is too little and too much medical intervention is precarious. The insufficient communication between a human and dog has never before seemed so flawed, and to answer the questions in those sad brown eyes was impossible. We can only hope that we gave Beauty a good life and a good death, and we cannot know for sure. We only know we are bereft, and that she will no longer be in any pain.
Yes, a world where it's only $185 to cure your dog and over $4000 to put her down would be a better one. I'd have moved heaven and earth to help Beauty - it was easier to just move heaven.
Steve, Marla and Josephine Good