Saying Goodbye to a Dog

Yesterday was a rough day. I called the vet to make the dreaded appointment to have my best friend of 12 years put to sleep. It felt weird scheduling her euthanasia. I guess I always thought something major and disastrous would happen and I would be forced to make an emergency visit to the vet and have to rush a goodbye before either of us was ready. But it turns out, that’s not always the case with dogs. Sometimes dogs stay healthy and happy and just get old and their bodies start to deteriorate.

That’s what’s been happening with Athena. I have written about her before and I have mentioned before that when I got her, it was for purely selfish reasons. My youngest son had been mauled by a large dog when he was about 6. For years after, he was horrified of dogs, big and small. Around the time he was turning 8, I decided that we needed a dog. I looked for a while trying to find the perfect pup. I saw an ad on Craigslist for German Shepherds for sale. I didn’t know much about backyard breeders then, and I guess I’m glad I didn’t, because if I had, I probably wouldn’t have even gone to look at these puppies. When I showed up, there were 6 or 7 pups in a crate. All full blooded German Shepherds. Parents on site. All of the other puppies had those shepherd ears that stuck straight up and paws that were big and clumsy. Athena was sitting in the back of the crate, one ear up, one ear down. The runt of the litter. I immediately fell in love with her. She was only 5 weeks old, which I knew was too young to take from her mother, but the people selling her insisted that mom quit feeding the pups and she was ready. I left with her that day. A tiny little pup, sitting on my lap on the ride back home.

I was working in a liquor store at the time, and my boss was part of the reason I even went to look at these dogs. He thought a German Shepherd was exactly what I needed. He let me bring her to work with me every day. For the first two years of her life, we were inseparable until I changed jobs and had to leave her at home.

I can’t even count the hours we’ve spent cuddled up on the couch or in the bed, the hours spent taking long walks. The times she’s sat with me and nudged me with her nose as I’ve cried at night trying to figure life out. She’s been there through the good, the bad, and all the ugly. And there’s been lots of it.

Like I said, when I got her, it was for selfish reasons. My kiddo was scared of dogs. He was only 8. I thought if I got a big dog, whose lifespan was only about 10 years, I would end up kid-less and dog-less around the same time. But, as love goes, once you fall for someone, you don’t ever want them to leave. It’s the same with dogs. Athena, over the years, has listened to my frustrations and my heartbreaks. She laid beside me when I was under the weather physically and emotionally. She has never judged me for a second even when I was judging myself. She’s just loved me.

And now, she can barely walk. She can’t feel her back legs most days. She has little to no control over her bladder or her bowels. I can see the guilt on her face when she has an accident, even though, I don’t get upset with her or try to make her feel bad. She turned 12 in August. She has lived longer than I expected, but now I know she will not live as long as I would like her to.

So I made an appointment for next Thursday. Like I said, it’s weird planning for a death. With people, you may know it’s coming, but you rarely know the exact day and time. And I guess sometimes it’s like that with animals, but not in this case.

As Athena lays quietly beside me, feeble and graying, I still remember her as the rambunctious puppy who used to go scrapping metal with me and taking long walks around the neighborhood. She’s only been on 2 walks since we moved to the beach. I took her once around our neighborhood and once to the beach, both times were painful and stressful to her. That’s the thing about dogs, they will make themselves uncomfortable just to keep us happy.

It took awhile for me to realize that she will try to live forever just to be with me and it’s my responsibility to not let her suffer if I can help it. I know Thursday is going to be probably one of the worst days of my life. I am trying to go into it with a positive attitude that if reincarnation is real, then maybe we are just helping her get to her next best life. If heaven exists, then maybe we are just helping her get there.

All I know is that she has been the best girl and I will miss her in my soul every day. But I guess my sister said it best, the pain of losing a dog is better than the pain of never having one to begin with….or something like that.

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