I just put the dog to sleep.
I’ve slept on the couch for the last two nights to be closer to Jackson and react when he wakes, and sure enough, I was able to lay with him on his bed and pet him to sleep minutes ago.
In another nine hours or so, we’ll take him to the vet to be put to sleep. I can’t bear to look at the clock.
That knowledge made for a hard night in our household. Our eleven year old understood that it was her last night with him; our six-year old gathered that, but didn’t have quite all the details. They knew that he wasn’t truly going “to sleep,” however, and their response of anguish and love was both unsettling and soothing for my wife and I.
Unsettling because of our own struggles in dealing with Jackson’s end of life issues. He’s 15, barely. As a springer spaniel, that’s no small feat. As an incorrigible springer spaniel – “he’ll grow out of it,” they said. They were very wrong – living to 15 after all that he had done is unbelievable. Two emergency surgeries to clear intestinal blockages and remove portions of his intestines, numerous emergency vet visits for eating “welcome Baby!” cigars, homemade play dough, chicken bones, an ACL reconstruction and a variety of items that I’ve found in the yard as I’ve mowed over the years – “How did that pass through?”
Soothing, because he’s been with us for every location on our marriage journey. We’d been married eighteen months when we got him, and he’s been with us in each of our apartments, and has bounced with us as we’ve relocated from city-to-city, apartment to apartment, and house to house. For fifteen of our sixteen years of marriage, Jackson has been beside us, eating whatever we forgot to put out of reach. A fixture in our family’s life.
He’s also welcomed our two babies home with us. He’s let them pull his fur as we’ve come running over to pry off those little fingers, and yet he’s slept beside cribs of those same children when they’ve been sick, repeatedly.
As I’ve maintained, he’s not a particularly good dog, but Jack’s one of the nicest I’ve ever known. (And the issue of the “good” comes down to poor, inconsistent parenting, without question.)
The vet didn’t think last summer that he would make it to Christmas, and sure enough, the last few months have been a struggle for him. Another Christmas with him came and went, however, and we’re grateful. In the process, though, it’s gotten harder with every step and new failure of a bodily function, but we’ve rolled with the punches. Cleaning the house, sometimes daily baths for him, aren’t that big of a deal, especially when we know that our daughters are watching how we deal with the aging of a loved one.
The harder issue has been the failure of his mind. He’s been wandering, pacing, head-butting blank walls while open doors stand inches away, growing increasingly agitated with each passing week. I left Denver hurriedly a few months ago while we were editing “Through My Eyes,” afraid that he wouldn’t last long enough for me to return. As always, he’s rallied somehow. They’ve never had a patient who has stayed so physically healthy that they could watch his mind deteriorate and try different medications to address his issues. We don’t know if that makes him lucky or not.
Ultimately, you can put us in the CS Lewis camp when it comes to animals in Heaven. Watching her dog dying against the backdrop of a teacher who said that “animals don’t go to Heaven” was taxing on our youngest. Our oldest got my message – “sometimes the situation calls for simply nodding even when someone is wrong” – but our youngest is struggling to resolve the conflict in authorities. While I appreciate her solution – “my teacher is older than you and therefore she knows more” – I see me walking through it again with her: “I’m wrong a lot, but not today.”
I wish we didn’t have to decide anything, but he’s so tough, so resilient, that we do. And at long last, we’re comfortable in knowing that his time is here. He’s been a beloved companion and friend, and Dad’s only other boy in a house of girls.
He’s awake again as I type, trying to get to his feet, looking to pace aimlessly. Today will be a day of eggs and pizza but no further rallies. He’s been a great dog and had a good run, and as you hope with loved ones, will leave a void in our lives while we cherish the laughs and marvel at the stories.
And, as our eldest reminded us last night, by tonight, he’ll be healed and know where to walk, or even run.
Sometimes, as we struggle for what we tell our children to help them navigate the world, they help sort things out for us, too. I appreciate my wife and daughters for many reasons, and their perspective is one of those.
But as the sun peeks over the horizon and through the trees, I still can’t look at the clock.