It is unfortunate that dogs, perhaps the most loyal, loving and friendliest companions we will ever have, are subject to the ravages of time.
At one point, our four-legged friends were all sprite puppies, barking at inanimate objects, constantly bounding around with fervor and generally just being about the cutest thing on Earth. And as they grew older, they developed their own personalities and traits. They went from adorable playthings to true companions and a devoted relationship and dedication was built between owner and dog.
As time marches on, that relationship only grows in importance, whether you raised your friend from a stumbling puppy or you adopted her when gray already streaked her muzzle.
Being a dog’s best friend is perhaps one of life’s most enjoyable experiences. But it can also be one of the most heartbreaking.
No matter how much we might resent it, dogs, like all living creatures, will age.
Often, this is a slow process. You may notice that there is far more gray hair around her mouth and eyes today than in the picture you took of her a year ago. She may not be as spry in her movements. Maybe she isn’t as interested when you throw a ball for her to fetch. Vet bills can rise as ailments begin to take hold.
None of these things appear overnight, but after a while it becomes apparent that your friend is truly a “senior” dog, and you know that her time by your side is limited.
It is a heart-wrenching process to see play out.
One day, she won’t greet you at the door as she had done for years. With her hips under siege from arthritis, she may struggle to get up. This animal that would once bolt past you as you traversed a staircase now needs to be picked up and carried those final few steps because she just can’t quite make it.
Her hearing and sight may begin to fail. Just a few weeks ago, it seemed, she could hear a can of dog food being opened from several rooms away, but now she does not come bounding at the sound.
There could be incontinence issues. You’ll be upset at the sight of a wet floor, but she will give a look that seems to say, “I tried to get outside and couldn’t.” You will sigh and move on, upset more at her health declining than the mess you have to clean.
The highlight of her day, a walk around the neighborhood, goes from a pleasurable experience to a strain on her body, and her slow, wobbling gait makes her age evident.
Other effects of aging will also arise, and you will begin to question if her quality of life is at a level in which her time by your side should be continued, or if you are hurting her by refraining from doing something that you know will hurt you emotionally.
More often than not, she will let you know when it is time. Often dubbed, “the look,” your friend will meet your eyes with an expression on her face and in her eyes that says, “I trust you to make the right decision, best friend.”
And you will.
Knowing her final days were ahead, you have likely been spoiling her for weeks, but nothing will compare to how lavishly you treat her after the decision has been made. It is a way to give her some comfort in her final hours, but in many ways, it is also a show of gratitude to a friend who was always by your side. Always there to comfort you when the stress and strain of everyday life weighed down your shoulders. Always there to provide you with hearty laughs. Always there no matter what decisions you made in your outside life, and never there to judge you when you got it wrong.
And that is why her final day is so hard.
As you drive to the vet’s office, or when they arrive to your home, you will long for the ability to explain that she no longer has to hurt anymore, you love her and you want to do the right thing.
While she takes her final breaths, you will continue to have that thought; I’m doing the right thing. And, if you are like me, you will remain stoic through the process for that reason.
But sometime that night, you will see her empty bed. You will pour out her water bowl. You will put the cover permanently on the dog door. You will look to give her a bit of your leftovers, and find she is not patiently waiting for her treat.
You will no longer be stoic.
If you are considering adopting a dog, do not let this deter you. For years, dog ownership will be an extremely happy, rewarding and pleasant experience life has to offer. And though it ends with a depressing, tear-jerking day, it is a small price to pay for years spent with your best friend.
And if you are fit enough to be a dog owner in the first place, your adoption will be the best thing to ever happen to him or her.