Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saying Goodbye

“Oh, these sweet, sweet creatures who love us and bring us so much joy and depend on us to make this difficult decision.” That’s what my friend Carmen wrote to my wife and me a year and a half ago when we had to make the painful decision to put Gloria’s beloved dog, Buddy, to sleep. He had a brain tumor covering fully one-third of his right lobe and there was nothing at all to be done.

Now, we find ourselves needing to make the same decision about Max, a dog who has been at my side for thirteen years. I haven’t had a relationship (outside of family) that has lasted thirteen years!

Two years ago, Max had surgery on his left rear leg to replace a tendon that had worn away somehow. The doctor opened his leg up, drilled through the bone and essentially tied in a new tendon to keep the bones operating properly. The recovery was long and painful. But it eventually worked. For a time Max was able to walk on both legs, run even, with little or no sign of pain or discomfort. Last summer, I noticed that he seemed to be having the same sort of trouble with his right rear leg that he’d had with his left rear leg that led us to approve the surgery of two years ago – something, by the way, that I would never have imagined I would do for a dog, but I’m glad I did… I fretted and worried and took him to the veterinarian. She put him on anti-inflammatory medication and gave us some pain medication as well, for when it was really acting up. He’s been on the anti-inflammatory meds ever since and we’ve generally given him a pain pill once a week or whenever it seems necessary.

Last week, he injured his right rear leg running in response to some neighborhood dog barking or something and it’s been downhill ever since. He can no longer put any weight on his right rear leg. He cannot ascend stairs on his own. I have a sling that I put under his mid-section to help carry the bulk of his weight as he lumbers up the stairs, hopping his front feet up a step and then hoisting his weak back legs up a step with the help of the sling.

Max is fourteen years old, nearly fifteen. He’s had a great life. He’s traveled to more places than many humans I know. He has been swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, and Big Gull Lake in Ontario, Canada, and, of course, Lake Michigan. He explored deserts and mountains and dunes and woods.

Tomorrow we have to say goodbye. He’s suffering and it’s time. I’m sad, of course, but I’m also beyond words grateful for the years of joy that he’s given me, the years of companionship and love that he’s provided. I know he knows that I’ve always loved him. I know he knows that I’ve always thought that he was/is a “good dog.” That helps, a little.

In this holiday season many of us try to take a moment to count our blessings, our joys, things for which (or for whom) we should be (are) grateful. Max has been a blessing, a joy, a treasure. Tomorrow I will execute the final act of my responsibility for Max, even though it’s the last thing I want to do. I will say goodbye and Godspeed and thank you and I love you and always will.

When I adopted Max from the Animal Shelter on Grand Avenue in downtown Chicago, they told me he was called “Maru.” but I didn’t think that name fit at all. So as he lay curled up on the floorboard in the front of my Subaru Justy as I was driving him home I tried out different names. When I called “Max” he lifted his head up to me and raised his ears. That’s how I knew that was his name.

Tomorrow I’ll say goodbye to Max. I’ll remember him forever.