All We Can Do
(CW: animal mortality)
There’s no good way to say this. My dog is dying.
On some level, we’ve known this was coming for a while now. I’ve even been saying that it’s coming for a while now. He turned 14 years old in October. It’s been getting harder and harder for him to walk or even stand in some parts of our house, and his energy and mind have been declining for months. This week we got the diagnosis: cancer. We are doing our best to make his last days or weeks comfortable, but it is hard to know that our time left with him is short. Somehow, part of me still thought we had more time.
The kids have each been taking it a bit differently. Our middle child was shocked by the news. Our eldest took it more stoically at first, having expected it, but he cried later that evening. Our youngest goes in and out of paying attention, sometimes sad that he has to go, sometimes looking ahead to getting a new dog. This is all normal and natural given each of their ages, I think. They’ve all known him for their entire lives.
Cooper—that is his name—is the first living thing that I was ever fully responsible for. My family had cats when I was growing up, but although I loved them they were mostly my parents’ responsibility. For fourteen years, J and I have cared for Cooper and loved him, and we’ve done our best. Now we have to be responsible for the end of his life, too.
I knew in the abstract that we would have to make this decision some day, but now it is here and it is even more difficult than I expected. He’s not as strong or fast or steady as he was, and he gets confused or forgetful. But we still see glimpses of his old self each day. He can’t walk very far anymore, but he still wants to go out to smell the fire hydrant and the neighbors’ fences. He still has good days, or at least parts of good days. I want for him to have as many good days as he can. I want for him not to suffer. I worry that we will make the wrong decision, either too early or too late. I already feel terrible guilt over it, and it hasn’t even happened yet. I feel guilty for wanting him to hang on as long as he can. I feel guilty for wanting him to go quickly.
(I’m not looking for advice. I hope that is not ungrateful of me. I appreciate you letting me work through this with you.)
Wednesday night after we got the diagnosis, when I was putting the youngest to bed she said “I don’t want Cooper to go.” I put my hand on her head and stroked her hair. “I know,” I said. “I don’t want him to go either. But all we can do is try to enjoy the time we have with him.”
I’m trying my best.