It’s just past daybreak and my husband is calling my name.
“Bear fell down in the yard and he can’t get up. I need help getting him back inside.”
Bear should be our six-year-old 105lb Lab/Pyrenees mix. Now he only weighs 75lb. His skin has turned yellower with each day that his liver cancer has marched on in conquest. His eyes have lost their zest. His heart for living has disappeared.
I throw on my dressing-gown, fighting against the sleeves which want me to stop pushing them back to normal, and together we walk out into the early morning. Five a.m. on any other morning in Texas is a welcoming time of day. The birds are stretching, the air doesn’t stick to the skin; all is calm. But not today. Today my dog lies helplessly in the far corner of the yard, and his dejected eyes follow us to his side. I wrap my arms under his belly and my husband holds up the rear. We daren’t see if his legs will hold, so we carry him across the grass, through the sliding door, up the steps, and into the living room. While he has been sleeping with us at night, we want him to lie on the rug rather than the hard wood floor. My husband lays a sheet on the floor beside him and prepares to sleep with him once more.
Minutes later I hear the familiar sound of Bear, my white-haired beast, walking into the bedroom and lying down by the bed. Even this close to death, he strives to be near us both. He circles and circles, afraid to start sitting in case he collapses. My husband leans forward to support him.
We took him to the vet a few weeks ago. He was too thin and had gone off his food. An ultrasound told us that there were shadows on his spleen and it looked like the cancer was moving toward his liver. Would we like her to do an aspirate to confirm her suspicions? We’d already put too much on a card we shouldn’t have used. We took him home, not knowing when we would have to say goodbye.
And then he began to eat again! We cooked him grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken. We made meals with organic rice and fried eggs. We took him for small walks at any time of day he wanted to go. We sat on the floor with him just to keep him company. We told him he was loved.
And now it’s eight a.m. and Gerry is calling my name again.
“It’s time. We have to let him go. I don’t think he has much longer. Will you call the mobile vet?”
And I’m sitting in front of the laptop. I’ve left four messages and spoken with two receptionists. No one has time.
Until my call is answered by a woman I will be forever grateful to.
“Are you booked up today?” I ask.
“Yes, we are.” My spark of hope flickers once more. “What’s going on?” she asks.
She cares. She actually cares about my reason for calling.
“It’s our dog. He’s dying, and I think we need to…
My voice chokes up for a second.
“Where do you live?”
“We’re about twenty minutes away, but none of the closer places would see us.”
“Bring him in. We’ll take a look at him as soon as you get here.”
It’s so quiet in the car. Four adults now—two were teenagers when he joined our lives.
We back up to the front door of the clinic and have to get a stretcher to carry him in.
And now here we are on the floor of a room set up to simulate a living room specifically for this time. The vet has explained exactly what she will do. The IV line is already in. We have as long as we want to say goodbye.
And we stroke the long white hair that drove us crazy one last time. And we kiss him and flatten our hands up against his warm body, feeling the shallow in and out of his struggling lungs and wishing our love could change reality.
And we look into each other’s faces and silently agree. It’s time.
And we let him go.