(First, a job update. I continue to apply for jobs and go on interviews, and in my spare time I’m working on starting my own business. No details for now in case it doesn’t pan out, but I figure one of three things will happen first:
- I will get a full-time job.
- My business will become profitable and support me.
- I will go broke, get evicted and live on the mean streets of Austin.)
So Maude isn’t doing very well. Her arthritis and kidney failure have combined forces to render her back legs tricky and unreliable. One minute she’ll be standing up, the next she’ll have sort of rolled over into a sitting/laying down position. She has trouble going up our front steps after we’ve taken her outside. We built a little ramp for her to use, and she uses it when she remembers it’s there, but otherwise she does this sort of clumsy scramble up each step. Sometimes when she drinks water, she falls into the bowl a little and gets water on her face.
I can’t imagine any of this is much fun for her, but for me to watch it is terrifying. I’m reminded of a time several years ago when I was holding her in my lap on the sofa. I was scratching her ears and I felt something fall and hit me in the arm. I picked it up and saw that it was one of her teeth. I was horrified, and of course I freaked out. “OH MY GOD, MAUDE, ARE YOU OKAY?” I cried. She wagged her tail and looked at me like, hey, when can we get back to you scratching my ears?
But that was 2005. Now it’s 2013 and she’s 13 years old, at least, and I don’t know how much time she has left. There is still tail wagging, thankfully. She gets excited about food and treats and going outside. She likes to explore the yard, albeit very, very slowly. She likes to sit next to me in bed and lick my forehead. She likes when I give her little pieces of vegetables I’m chopping. She can’t go on neighborhood walks anymore, but we put her in a little secondhand stroller and wheel her around, and she likes being out and about with us. Of course I don’t know this for absolutely sure, but she seems like she isn’t in any pain.
But sometimes there is no tail wagging. Sometimes I put her down on the bed, and instead of moving around and getting comfortable like she usually does, she lets herself sort of fall down wherever I’ve placed her. Sometimes I tell her it’s time to go outside, and instead of standing up and moving towards the door, she just lies there and stares up at me.
The decision of when it’s time to let your dog go is one I’ve never made by myself before. We had to put our childhood dog to sleep when she was 11 and the vet discovered that she was positively riddled with cancer. My sister and my dad were driving to St. Louis to take my sis to college at the time, and since this was before cell phones, my mom and I couldn’t call to consult them. But that decision was an obvious one for my mom and me to make, and we did the right thing. The hard part was later that day, when we flew to St. Louis to meet my dad and sister, and we had to tell them that the dog they’d said “see you soon” to that morning was dead.
This decision is different. First of all, it’s mine and Brendan’s to make. We are not 20 years old, and there is no medically-trained mother here to tell us what she thinks we should do. We’re 34 and 35, and she’s our dog, and second of all there is no obvious, hard-line evidence telling us what to do. Some days I see her lying there listlessly and think, it’s time. Other days I get ready to give her treats and she jumps up and down on those tricky hind legs like she’s 4 years old again, and I think, how could I ever have thought it was time?
Maude is my best friend. I know she’s just a dog, and I know I have another dog, too, but that’s just how it is. No disrespect to her sister Moki, but Maude and I are close in a way I’ve never been with another dog, not even my childhood dog. Maude and I lived alone together for years, with no boyfriends or housemates or other dogs. Just us. For a while in my mid-twenties, Maude was the only reason I could think of to get out of bed. If I didn’t get out of bed, Maude wouldn’t be able to eat or go outside, and I loved Maude, so I got out of bed. I don’t know if I’d say she literally and definitively saved my life, as I was hardly suicidal at the time, but she definitely saved my living. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to feel Maude’s breath on my ear, her face buried in my hair, and think, I may not have much going for me, but how could I ever not do right by this dog?
Also, Maude is not just a dog. If you’ve ever met her, you know she’s got a certain gravitas about her, a seriousness that to me indicates a bit of depth. I’m sure I’m projecting some of that onto her, but not all of it. My friend Sarah says that Maude has the je ne sais quoi, and I think that’s the best way to describe it.
I have plans for what to do with her after she’s gone. I’m going to have her cremated by herself. It’s a more expensive option than having her cremated with other dogs, and before I researched this I didn’t know they even did that. I guess they have that option for people who don’t want the ashes back. But I want her ashes back. I’m going to save most of them in an urn, and put a little bit in a brass screw-top canister that I will hang on a chain along with the tag from her collar. I don’t know if it’s something I’ll wear around my neck forever, but I’ll definitely need it for a little while.
I wish that deciding when it’s time to let her go was as easy as deciding what to do after. Obviously if she seems like she’s in pain or she takes a definitive turn for the worse, it’ll be a less difficult decision, but right now I’m really struggling. The thing I’ve heard people say the most is that they’ve regretted waiting until it was too late, but they’ve never regretted maybe doing it too soon. I can understand the first part, but the second part escapes me. What if I did put her down too soon? What if she had some good months left and I took them away from her?
I still wake up in the night and feel her there next to me, but now I check to see if she’s still breathing. How could I ever not do right by this dog?