My first baby celebrated his 18th birthday today. It was a low-key celebration, just a special treat after dinner. He doesn’t ask for much anymore, just belly rubs and good food.
At 18, he can no longer hear, his vision is going, and he can barely make it down the block and back. He sleeps most of the day away. We’ve had him since he was just a little puffball, and yet, even after 18 years, I’m not ready to let him go.
Bailey has been the very best good boy. He has put up with cats and a tortoise and two little boys. He predicted both my labors, a true story, which was published this past year with Chicken Soup for the Soul. He never chewed the furniture or the toys left strewn across the floor.
But his tail no longer wags.
He finds it hard to get up in the morning. He doesn’t play with his favorite toys and can’t hear when we call him. I know his time on earth is growing short. I know his quality of life isn’t what it used to be, but I’m not ready to let him go.
I grew up on a farm and have had numerous pets over the years. I’ve had my share of pets pass away. No matter how many times I’ve gone through this, it never gets easier. Bailey is my buddy. We used to run together back when we were both younger. We’d take long walks through the city together. He could do all sorts of tricks: sit, down, roll over, dance on his hind legs.
But he takes a long time to lay down, his joints not functioning as they used to. His legs slip out from underneath him without warning and he falls to the floor. Sometimes he can’t control his bodily functions, and he’s forgotten how to ask to go outside.
I’m still not ready to let him go.
He has been a part of our family since the first year of our marriage. Bailey was around for five years before we had kids. He has been with us through three moves. He was run over when he was a puppy but survived without any lasting deficits. We joke that it only made him stronger.
And yet, the joy in his days is long gone. He’s afraid of being pet because it may knock him off balance. He has to be lifted in and out of the car and can no longer climb the stairs in our home. But I’m still not ready to let him go.
How do you know when it’s time to say goodbye? He doesn’t deserve to suffer. He deserves more than to sleep his days away. He doesn’t understand why he can’t get around anymore. He gets scared because he can’t hear or see like he did when he was younger.
How do you say goodbye to your best buddy? How do you tell your children the dog they’ve had their entire lives is starting to suffer, and it’s cruel to continue to let him suffer only to appease your guilt?
How do you come home that first day after he’s gone?
I’m writing this now because I’ll be unable to once he’s gone, and I know the time is coming. It’s true that we don’t deserve dogs. Bailey has given more to us than I would have ever imagined. One day, our boys will grow up and tell stories about their childhood dog to others. I will read his story to any grandchildren we might have one day. We will put his ornament on the tree each year and think of him.
But for right now, I will give him extra treats and extra belly rubs and make sure he’s as comfortable as possible because that’s what you do for a very good boy.