My dog Cassie is dying. It’s not a shocking or unexpected thing. She’s been dying since I’ve first met her, and I don’t mean this in an “everything alive will one day die” kinda thing. I first met the girl when she was 14 yrs old, she came to live with me permanently at nearly 16, she’s heading towards her 17th b’day, and the life expectancy for a lab is 12 years. She’s officially older than sin, she’s had a good innings, I’ve known all along this was coming, et cetera. But now she’s circling the drain at an increasing speed, and it’s going to boil down to two things: either she dies on me, or I will have to call it. And wise statements notwithstanding, this sucks.
I’m not sitting about obsessing about it. I’m still working, eating, sleeping, walking around, etc. She might be getting more hugs than normal, and perhaps more than she deems appropriate, but that’s about it. But it is a big deal, and it’s a load on my mind. As much as anything, it’s a practical issue; her needs are changing daily, and they don’t always match either what she wants (she’s a meathead) or what the rest of the pack needs. There’s a tendency to want to pander to her because This Could Be Her Last Day, but that wouldn’t be fair on the rest of the bunch. It’s my job to balance that, so I have to think about it. I’d be grossly neglecting my responsibilities if I didn’t.
So I think about it. When I put her to sleep at night, I wonder if she’s going to be there in the morning. When I wake up and find her still there, I wonder if today’s going to be the day. And then we get on and have the best day we can have. And then we do it all over again. And it’s hard.
A lot of the advice I get (unsolicited, as per usual these days) is to run away from all of that. Shouldn’t have taken her to the vets, so you I wouldn’t know, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Should just take her to the vets and let them make the call. Should have had her put down as soon as she got wobbly on her pins (even though she was otherwise perfectly happy? Yeah, right.). Shouldn’t have taken her in in the first place; she was always a heartache waiting to happen.
There’s very few things I know, and one of them is that there’s no love like the love of an old dog. Dogs are born loving and, in the right circumstances, practice all their lives. Cassie emits a whole lot of high-grade love. I’m not going to turn away from it just because these days it hurts.
I’m pretty sure that’s OK. I’m pretty sure I’m meant to feel grief at the impending passing of an animal I’m attached to. I’m pretty sure I’m meant to get attached to animals who are part of my pack, even when I know from the onset that their life expectancy has already been exceeded. I’m pretty sure that I’m meant to worry about whether I’m handling this right; whether I’m doing the best I can for everyone involved. I’m pretty sure that loving comes with a whole bundle of joys and sorrows attached, and you can’t just pick the bits you want. Maybe that’s half of what love is: to buy into the entire package. Cassie probably knows, but she’s not telling. And I don’t fully understand the alternative. If I give up feeling my feelings, what am I leaving myself with?