The Cookie Chronicles | Chapter 25-The long goodbye
A dog’s parting gift
December 24, 2020
Most dog owners grow accustomed over the years to the painful fact that these wonderful creatures are not blessed with long lives. Depending upon the breed, they average as little as eight, and rarely more than 15 years will mark the course of a full life.
For someone like me, who has had only one dog, anticipating the inevitable loss of her cannot be tied to any past experience. The easy way to deal with Cookie’s mortality is simply to ignore it. Until you no longer can.
Time marches on, and once Cookie reached age ten this past summer, it was impossible not to notice the years taking a bit of a toll. Her teeth have become problematic, requiring annual dental surgery and sometimes removal. Her energy is more and more limited; her sleep time longer and longer. She’s putting on weight. And by some estimates, nearing her allotted lifespan.
Common wisdom is that small dogs tend to live longer than big dogs and mixed breeds longer than purebreds. This is good news for Cookie. She’s part terrier, and some terriers average 15 or 16 years. She’s part poodle, and small poodles are in the same league. And she’s part chihuahua, also averaging around a 15-year lifespan.
Even so, she’s well past mid-life. So far, her health is good, and she’s as sharp and opinionated as ever. But we’ve seen friends whose dogs deteriorated to the point where the poor creatures were horribly crippled by debilitating disease, and yet their owners were simply unable to let them go.
How do you prepare for the loss of your best friend? How do you know when it’s time to do the hardest thing you’ve ever done? When is too soon, and when is too late? With any luck, we won’t have to face these questions directly this year or next, and maybe not for another half-decade. But face them we will.
A wise friend who just went through this wrenching time with her dog posted some helpful words on Facebook.
“In the last two months,” she wrote, “I came to realize that our time with L--- was nearing the end. She was a great communicator, and she taught me how to understand her. A few months ago, she gave up her own bedroom and moved into mine. She was able to get me up for walks three to four times a night. Our prayer time, I called it.
“In all kinds of weather, windy, rain, icy, lights, and darkness. Sometimes I sang while she checked out the surroundings. But mostly, I welcomed the silence.
“I learned from her… patience, slowness, and listening to nature. It was in the last week that things became harder for her. Getting up on her back legs was difficult to do on her own. I got to help her. Her every step was an effort, but she insisted on taking our walks.
“Then one Friday night, her legs could not hold her body up. I gave her the best comfort care I could. Saturday morning, our small family met and said goodbye. Hard as it was and is, it was time to let our sweet L--- go.”
It may well be that the greatest gift and most important lesson we can receive from a beloved dog is wrapped in such heart-rending emotion. Somehow finding the courage and strength to accept their mortality, and using that to help us accept our own.
Cookie and I have chatted about all this, but she doesn’t really have any particular concerns. She lives in the moment and happily follows a well-established routine. Her self-awareness does not include worrying about her future. This is a wonderful gift in and of itself. So much of being human seems to be caught up in planning for, dreaming about, worrying about, or simply fearing a future that never comes. As John Lennon memorably stated, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Perhaps the wisest plan is to focus on the potential happiness within each unfolding moment. Whether that moment brings a treat, a walk, a belly rub, a nap, a romp in the garden, a friend at the door, or something totally unexpected, we can count on Cookie to welcome it with unbounded joy.
Until the day arrives that she does communicate that the end is near, we will cherish each and every one of these precious moments. We will give her all the love we possess. And at the right time, we will do what is best for her, not what is easiest for us.