Requiem for An Old Dog

"It was a hard Thanksgiving," said Jane yesterday morning, summing up the past few days.

And, yeah, it was.

It was a GOOD Thanksgiving, though, just hard.

For those of you new to the blog (Welcome! Now grab your Kleenex!), my ancient dog Sydney died on Wednesday. She'd been in failing health for a while after suffering a stroke in September of 2007. The we had this bizarre bee incident and we knew that she was in the final chapter of her life. In March, we moved her with us from Texas to New York and her heart began to fail her. My daughters have been trying to process the idea of her loss in their own unique ways. Syd was almost 16, and the loss was inevitable but that's a pretty hard lesson to internalize when you're eight or ten years old.

On Wednesday, I noticed that Sydney's belly was distended and she seemed uncomfortable so I called the vet for an appointment. I had found our vet after quite the search. I knew it would be impossible to find someone as wonderful as our mobile vet in Austin but I was unprepared for how much I would actually DISLIKE the first vet I visited with our cat Edward. (Note to vets everywhere--just don't even start with the product pushing because I can get THAT from a used car salesman--and he or she is probably a better actor.) So, I set about visiting local vets, basically conducting a series of interviews to find the vet who could help us if Sydney began to suffer.

And then, as luck (or fate) would have it, Sydney had one of those heart episodes right before I had to pick Jane up from school and I upset. (I'm not one of those people who is all dainty when crying--no single tear rolling down my alabaster cheek or anything like that for me. I look more like I've been in a terrible fist fight and I used my FACE as my primary defense.) (Dudes. It's BAD.) I told my friend Mary Anne about Syd as we stood there waiting for the kids to be let out. She said, "Who is your vet?" and I explained all the problems we've had finding a good vet and how we really wanted a mobile vet because we had four pets and one of them (who shall remain nameless but whose name starts with "SCOUT") is so incredibly car sick. "I should give you my husband's card," she said. "I'm not saying you should go to him but he's a vet and he makes house calls. You could just go TALK to him."

I loved her very casual promotion of her spouse and well, let's face it, I was ready to visit SATAN if he could help my old girl. So I made the appointment and went to meet Dr. Garretson, who turned out to be this very calm, lovely, gentle giant. He talked to me for maybe 20 minutes, completely unhurried. I explained my philosophy regarding Syd's care (Okay, I KNOW it's a lot of links to follow. I'm sorry --I think that's the last one.) and we talked about ways of keeping her comfortable in these last months. At no time did he make me feel like I was a LUNATIC for scheduling an appointment with a vet to which I didn't even bring my DOG. He never made me feel as though he thought perhaps I should be seeing another doctor entirely, if you know what I mean. In fact, his entire office staff seemed to think it was perfectly normal that I was interviewing the doctor to see if he was worthy of putting my dog to sleep.

So, on Wednesday, I arranged an appointment for 11:15. My mom (SO much to tell about my parents' visit!) and I ran some errands and then I brought her back to the house and loaded up Sydney and we drove to Dr. Garretson's office. As I was sitting in the waiting room, I started chatting maniacally with the other people waiting there. Syd was such a ambassador, you know, with her little stump of a tail. Everyone in the waiting room gave her a scratch on her head and seemed to love the stories I kept telling like a possessed person. Like the one about the time I took her to Ana's preschool for show-and-tell and when she realized that some of the children were afraid, she laid down as flat as she could make herself to the floor and let them crawl all over her. Or how when anyone ever went under water in the pool back in Austin, she would race around, barking madly. (It was so annoying, we always ended up putting her in the house.) (But sweet, you know.)

Anyway, then we went in to see the good doctor and he got down on the floor with her and felt the old girl's distended belly and immediately diagnosed her with pulmonary insufficiency and said, completely without drama or excitement but with gentle certainty, that it was time. We talked logistics and he kept handing me Kleenex--again, totally unhurried. I asked him if she was suffering and he looked right at me. "Yes, I believe she is."

And there it was, see. The decision was made. I called Coop and we talked through the options. I could have taken her home and had the doctor come by the house later but I honestly didn't see what was to be gained by the girls watching her die. Coop said he was leaving his office and would join me within 20 minutes. I called my parents to let them know what was going on and then, since Dr. Garretson's office only has the two exam rooms and I was crying all over one of them, I offered to sit out in the waiting room until Coop arrived. The doctor said, "No, we've got this other one we can use." (Love him.)

So, I sat on the floor with my Sydney and I talked to her and rubbed her head. I told her all the things she'd be able to do without that old body and how much she'd brought to my life. I...well, I thanked her for seeing me though some dark days in my life before I had Coop and my girls. She was very uncomfortable and had a hard time lying still but she ended up with her head on my leg and I got a nice long time to love on her.

Coop arrived and we went through all of the diagnoses and options and came to the same conclusion. It was just time. All along, my biggest fear was that I wouldn't KNOW when it was time and maybe we'd let it drag on too long and she would suffer needlessly. But it was pretty clear there, at the end.

The doctor gave Syd a sedative and she went to sleep--so to sleep that she was snoring and her tongue was hanging out of her mouth. Coop and I rubbed her and told her we loved her and the doctor gave her a little more anesthetic and she just...eased over into the next world. It was really peaceful.

We loaded her up and brought her home and then my dad and Coop dug a big hole in the back yard. We picked the girls up from school as normal and told them (heartbreaking) and then we had a very lovely ceremony in the backyard just as the sun was going down and we buried her. The girls were very sad and put lilies on her grave and then after a while, they asked if we could get a puppy. They weren't being callous-- I think they just wanted to know that the balance of our household would stay the same. (And by balance, I mean that my husband and I should remain utterly overwhelmed and outnumbered. We're down with that.)

So, my heart is really sore but I don't feel incapacitated, exactly. I just ...MISS her. Even though there wasn't much left of the funny, silly dog she was when she was younger, I miss her presence at my feet. But, you know, I'm comforted by knowing that we gave her such a good life and also by knowing she didn't suffer.
Rest in peace, Sydney. You were a great, great dog and one of the best friends I've ever had. I'll never forget you.


ccr in MA said…
I'm sure this sounds demented, but that's a lovely story. You want the end to be so peaceful.

I know what you mean about hoping you'd know when it was time. I'm getting close to the end with one of my cats, but we're not there yet. I think. It's so hard to be sure. I hope I will be sure, at the end.
hollygee said…
Oh, I know, Barb.
I lost my Fitch (cat) early in August. He'd been in my life for 18 years (he was 4 when I got him, so he did very well) and I miss him so much. Chips is a dear sweet cat and I love him, too. But he isn't Fitch.

And I'm getting Chips a companion cat this weekend.

May your pain ease.
Amanda said…
I understand the girl's impulse for a new beastie. When one of my cats dies, I usually rescue another one from the local pound/shelter. It makes me feel a little better, that I'm able to save another creature. Makes me feel a little better about my loss, that without that loss, this other wee creature may not have had a chance.
hokgardner said…
I'm sitting here with tears streaming down my face. I'm thankful that you found a vet who was so kind and understanding and who helped you and Sydney have scuch a peaceful farewell. My thoughts are with you and your family.
What a beautiful post, Barb. My thoughts go out to you and your family. I heartily admire your dedication to getting a vet that actually seems to like animals.
Oh, geez - I'm not even an animal-lover, and I'm crying...
Pixie said…
What a beautiful tribute to a much loved pet -- thank you for sharing this.

Having just unexpectedly dealt with saying goodbye to one of my beloved boxers, I know the turmoil involved with making this decision. I know in my heart I made the only one to tell my girl how much I really loved her, and I hope that you know that you did the same.

May the breeze on your cheek bring wonderful memories to mind and may the sparkle of the stars always remind you of the love in her heart.
Mrs.Q said…
Rest in peace, Sydney.

And good for you, Barb, for being determined to find a good vet, and accepting that it was time. Lots of good thoughts coming your way.
Anonymous said…
I don't know how you just managed to make someone who never cries sob like a baby.

Goodbye, sweet Sydney.
DK said…
Aw, hon. Such a good girl. I know she's at peace tonight.

Have I said this to you before? Have you ever read The Lovely Bones? There's this scene where her old dog Holiday dies and comes up to heaven and oh, he's all young again and wiggly like a puppy, and oh, gosh, I cried harder at that than anything else in the book (and I cried a LOT at that book).

I like to think of Syd being all happy and silly and wiggly. Maybe she and Wolf can keep each other company.
Anonymous said…
My sympathy for your loss. It was a touching story.
Kerry said…
I am so sorry for your loss. Syd's story is so similar to my Erin's that it's eerie. Our Erin died a few days after Thanksgiving 3 years ago.

I'm so glad that you were sent the people you needed to help you through this.
Unknown said…
OK you should have poted a SOB warning!!!!! My dogs are now crowded aorund me with heads on my lap worries about me. i told them one of their buddies just went to the other side and says its appyu there.

i am so sorry but happy for Syd. Hugs
Miri said…
I am so sorry for your loss. You gave your dog a beautiful life and a peaceful passing.
Anonymous said…
sounds like if love could have saved her, she'd have lived forever.
So sorry for your loss.
Karen said…
I am sitting here crying, but they are happy tears. I am so glad that you found such a wonderful vet to help Sydney. Now you can keep all the good memories alive knowing she had a great life and an easy time passing.
LaDonna said…
Thanks for the Kleenex warning this time, Barb.

I'm so glad you found a good vet who understands the attachment that people and pets form with one another. He gave you your chance to say goodbye in your own way. I admire you for being able to be there for Syd.

I lost my childhood pet when I was 27. He was about 15 years old, too, but he lived with my parents until the end. I remember, not long before the end, going to their house and seeing how he was having such a hard time going up and down the stairs into the backyard. I looked at my dad and I told him "When it's time, just do it. Don't tell me. Just do it. You can tell me when it's over."

Every visit with my old dog was such a gift after that day. And when it came time, I at least had the comfort of knowing that he knew I loved him and would miss him.

Rest in peace, Syd. You will be missed.
Anonymous said…
My heart goes out to you, Coop and the girls. Sydney was a true treasure and will live forever in your hearts.

Two years ago when we lost Max, it was in a very short time also that my kids were wanting a new puppy. I think it is proof that life does go on. Hugs.
Marion Gropen said…
I'm so sorry that your time with Sydney has come to an end. It's so sad when that happens. We're all mourning with you.
jen said…
Thanks for sharing. I am so touched by your story. I am giving my stinky, naughty dog many, many love scrooches after reading that entry. My thoughts are with you.
Tiny Tyrant said…
crying for you honey.

You loved her so much and she gave back so much to your family.

Candy said…
Oh, I'm so sorry, Barb. I still read your blog and was sad to see she passed away, but you made me get all teary. ((HUGS)) for you and the family.
Suna Kendall said…
I will miss her. I thought about you a lot this weekend.
Oh, I've had my cry for the day. What a nice tribute to a lovely dog. Thank you.
knittergran said…
I'm so sorry about Sydney. I hope it's some consolation that he had a great life with you, and with the people you introduced into his life a.k.a. your husband and daughters....
knittergran said…
Oh, good grief. I've been drinking Kahlua. I meant she. She had a great life with you all.
So sorry.
Ream O Rama said…
Barb, I am so sorry to hear about Sydney. I know he will be missed.
MadMad said…
Ugh. I stupidly did not heed your Kleenex warning, and now have to go change shirts. Before I do, though, I am so sorry. And so happy that it sounds like the ending was peaceful - exactly what a sweet dog like that would want. A big hug.