Monday, May 24, 2010
The Last Ride
In early October, I wrote that Wolfy was doing reasonably well at 14. For a long time I wondered who would go first, Angel or Wolfy, and when it turned out to be Angel I wondered how Wolfy would do as an "only dog."
Pets give us so many things to wonder about. And when the pet is elderly, the wonderings are endless. Most of the questions center around their comfort, or lack thereof. At some point they stop being energetic, waggy, sometimes silly creatures, and we start wondering what they need. Is he uncomfortable? When does discomfort become pain? Is he okay with this med? This dose? Is he panting because he's hot? Anxious? Because he has to go out? Some other reason?
In recent months, this sort of thing got pretty dizzying. I mean for me, but also literally for Wolfy, as he reacted badly for a few days to a med change. Then we fell into a pleasant routine. The weather improved, and every morning I gave him his pills and then attached a 25' horse lunge line to Wolfy's collar and the other end to the back door knob. He loved sleeping outside--in the sun when it was chilly, and in the shade when it was not. He drank from his water dish occasionally, but he mostly slept until 2:00 p.m., when I brought him back in for more pills and a meal before I left for work. Then more pills when I got home seven hours later. His gait was poor, and occasionally I had to help him get up. But I thought as long as he ate his dinners and slept peacefully, we were okay. And for a while we were.
Then on Friday last week he suddenly didn't want to stay outside any longer. It was a big change. In the house, he slept less and panted more. Panted and panted, more and more. We added a fourth dose of pills, but it didn't seem to help. He was clearly in pain. I took a long look at the situation yesterday, Sunday, and decided I couldn't put him through one more day of this. I awoke this morning certain of my decision. That certainty remained through my shower and my tea, but stopped as soon as it was time to pick up the phone an call the vet. So hard. So hard.
A year earlier, I had made an appointment to have Angel put down, but when we left the house to head for the vets, she took the four porch steps in a single bound. We went back in the house, and I canceled the appointment. This morning when Wolfy and I left the house for one last walk, he fell down those steps. There would be no cancellation today.
He and I always walked to a certain spot on the road. This morning he wanted to walk further. We did, and it looked no different from the road before it--same plantain, same garlic mustard, same brambles--until I spotted a bright pink Sweet Rocket. Was this a sign? Was I supposed to see it and recognize that something beautiful could bloom and grow 800 feet from where I originally planted them 30 years ago? Was I supposed to know that Wolfy would bloom and grow--and run and wag--in his next place? I don't know.
When Jill adopted Wolfy from the shelter 13 years ago, he was so eager to get into her car that he hit his head on it. Today he required a lot of help to get into mine. He loved cheese, so I brought a plastic bag of cheddar pieces with us, intending to feed them to him all the way to the vet's. But he was in such distress that he didn't want any. The vet assured me that I was doing the right thing, but for once I didn't need that reassurance.
When Jill died, nine years ago this coming Friday, one of the first signs I had from her was her car. Suddenly, that model, that year, that color was everywhere. Before I realized it was a sign, I found it remarkable that a 1990 red Oldsmobile was the most popular car in the county. Since then, the car has shown up at difficult times, sometimes singly, sometimes in numbers. On the way to the vet's this afternoon, Wolfy and I were on a two-lane country road with a big dump truck coming toward us in the other lane. It wasn't a passing zone, but without warning I found myself facing a 1990 red Oldsmobile in my own lane. I think I smiled. That car made itself known in such a strong way, intruding on my weepy, blurry grief, literally entering my space. There was no way I could have missed it.
So I'll go home tonight, and for the first time in 42 years, no dog will be there to greet me. I don't know what that's going to be like. But I know without a doubt where our Wolfy is now, and who is with him.