Tough day today. We had to put down our 14 year old yellow lab, Vanilla. I treated her better than a dog the past few days. It made me think about how I treat everyone, all the time... and it made me think about Scott McClellan.
By the lake, before the vet
With people, you don't get a chance to plan out what to do on the day they're going to die, or the days before.
People generally don't die on schedule. And often, when you know the end is near, the dying person is already partially gone. That's what happened with my mother, 14 years ago when she was near passing. Between the morphine drip, the pain from her cancer, and what might have been Alzheimers, she was all there to even have a conversation with, let alone, do all the things I would have liked to do. I did tell her that I'd miss her as the person who most enjoyed hearing my good news and the new things I was up to. She told me to keep on telling her, that she'd be listening.
My father passed away when I was 11. He was 52 and he'd been having chest pains that put him in the hospital. But in 1962, they didn't do bypass surgery, at least not at the hospital he went to. The docs sent him home. We played cards that night and I won. Considering he'd made money to send home, during WWII, while in the army, by playing cards, it became clear to me, years later, when I was an adult, that by letting me "beat Dad," he'd given me a gift. As an entrepreneur, I published hypnosis and subliminal tapes with the message "I can beat Dad." The experts had used the phrase because research had shown that the phrase was a powerful one that made a difference.
I beat dad, that night and then, he died. my 52nd year was a scary one to get past. I made sure I exercised, did not smoke cigarettes and got checked regularly.
The past few days, as the time approached for putting Vanilla down, my heart changed a bit towards her. I became a bit more tolerant of her failings. She'd been incontinent for months, soaking the rug with urine and half the time, though she tried, not making it out of the door before she pooped on the floor. Cleaning up poop became a twice or thrice daily occurrence. For a month or two of that time, it was pretty bothersome, cleaning up the poop, especially since I work at home and was the one to clean up most of it. I would get irritated and annoyed. I would yell at her as I put her outside, even though it might be too late.
But the last few days, it didn't bother me as much. I let go of the irritation and annoyance. Looking back, I could have let go of it altogether, from the beginning. She'd been a good dog for a long time and didn't deserve my ire.
The last few days, I gave her extra treats and extra attention. I don't think her brain was working as well, in the end, and most of the time, she was just interested in getting food. In the past, she'd had a weight problem. We'd gotten that under control, but for this past week, it didn't matter, so she feasted every day, and I grilled a burger for her to eat, as part of her last few minutes.
Before we went to the vet, we stopped at the local park where Vanilla used to run into the lake. She loved the water, as most Labs do. This time, with her withered, weakened hips, she limped slowly, sniffing everywhere she went. We remembered the way she'd repeatedly run down steep, 50 foot embankments to dive in the creek, when she was younger. I was prepared to carry her the last few yards, if need be, back from the lake. She'd dropped from her peak weight of around 90 down to 52 pounds. But she made the walk on her own.
On the drive to the vet, from the park, we decided to have her cremated along with the other dogs the vets put down for the week. The cost was a bit less and the decision was to make a donation of the difference in cost to a lab rescue facility.
We waited outside, not in the office, with Vanilla, until the exam room was ready.
The veterinary tech asked us sign a document affirming that she hadn't bit anyone in the past ten days. The vet came in, gave her a mild sedative that took a few minutes to act-- and left us with her, alone. Vanilla was already lying down, head up. I'd wanted to give her the burger, which I'd brought in a baggy, as she was injected with the euthanizing drug. The vet objected, saying she might vomit. Better to give her the burger just before she was sedated. I gave her a piece. The vet injected her with the tranquilizer. Vanilla settled down. We talked to her, petted her belly. When she was younger, she'd push our hand, with her nose, to her belly, telling us that was where she best liked being petted. No nose nudging in those final moments, but we knew and petted her belly. I snuck her another little piece of burger.
Her head slowly dropped as the tranquilizer took hold. The vet came in, shaved off a bit of hair on her rear leg, inserted an IV and connected a syringe with a lethal dose of phenobarbital. She checked that we were ready, then gently pushed on the plunger.
Vanilla's head sagged, and gradually dropped, her eyes dulled. I closed them. The vet listened for a heartbeat. It was gone.
Later, my other half saw a butterfly and wondered.
Recently, anticipating losing Vanilla, I've been looking at dogfinder.com. They have tens of thousands of dogs available for adoption. Not surprisingly, there are more yellow labs than any other dog. Vanilla was as good a dog as one could ever have. I can't imagine how hard this is going to be for her lifelong companion, our other dog. He's never known a day, outside when he stayed overnight at the veterinary hospital, when he wasn't with her. We're giving him a lot of extra attention.
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