It’s 4:30 A.M. The house is quiet. As I lie in bed I realize that for the first time since the first few years of our marriage, I now live alone with my wife: no children and no pets. Our boys moved away years ago. Now our beloved Lab, Dixie, is in dog heaven.
About this time each night, I’m used to hearing her chain clang against the water bowl as she quenches her thirst. In her old age, she moved around a lot at night, unable to find a comfortable position to lie down as her hip joints had deteriorated.
Just a year ago, she would still catch a Frisbee in her mouth. In her prime, she was an awesome Frisbee catcher. She was fast and agile. She could catch one Frisbee even though she already had one in her mouth. She would drop one on top of the other and bring two, even three back at a time. She was a smart dog.
However, the last years had brought devastating changes. Many times she was unable to navigate just two steps coming into our house. Her back legs would give way and she would dig in with her front paws and her eyes would look up at me with fear and pain.
Having a geriatric dog was difficult. She could no longer control her bowels and her breathing was labored. Rising and lying down was slow and awkward. She never lost her sense of smell and the desire to go for those walks was still there, but the ability was not. After a hundred yards or so, she was struggling. She sometimes collapsed on simple walks.
Having Dixie put down was emotional. I used about half the box of Kleenex in the veterinarian’s examination room. The vet was kind and professional. She allowed me to be alone with Dixie as the first shot slowed her breathing and sedated her. The veterinarian came in and administered the final shot through a vein in her leg and Dixie died peacefully. She lived 13 years and gave our family joy, laughter, lots of fun and two litters of puppies!
The veterinarian gave me the assuring words that I did the right thing. I believed it was a gift of mercy but there is still some guilt. Taking life is always difficult. Some will never do it. However, for me, it was more humane to release Dixie than to hold on to her and allow her to suffer every day just because we loved her.
Yes, the house is quiet. But I can still hear our boys saying, “Dixie!” as she would release on command. I can still hear her shake on command after coming out of the pond with a duck decoy in her mouth. I can still hear her panting in the back of the Nissan after such an experience, so exhausted from retrieving she had to lie down. I can still hear her howling whenever she heard a siren. I can still hear her bark whenever the doorbell rang. I can still hear her paws scratching on the hardwood floor as she struggled to rise in her old age. I can still hear her walking behind Tina as she followed her around the house from room to room to room. Dixie always wanted to be where we were.
Even though she’s no longer here, she will always be where we are. For each of us, she will always have a special place in our hearts. Thanks for the memories, Dixie. You were a gift from God.