Saying Goodbye

"Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together."

I know, it sounds corny. But a lot of pet owners find solace in this little poem, including me. When you lose a pet you lose a member of your family. They may not be a human member, but that doesn't mean they don't leave a hole when they go.

I found out today that Danny has a tumor. Where it is growing could potential cause serious issues with him urinating and may begin to cause him pain soon. We don't know if it's malignant or not, but we're eagerly awaiting the biopsy results. Everyone asks me "What are you going to do?" and I don't know.

I work at a vet clinic so seeing owners make these heartbreaking decisions is nothing new to me. I have been there to console them. I have been there when they asked "Am I doing the right thing? What would you do?" And I always tell them the same thing:

"It is a great gift to be able to recognize the pain they are in and say goodbye. It is a great act of selflessness to be able to say "I love you enough to let you go". We always second guess ourselves: Is it too early? Should I have tried just one more time? What if he could have recovered? You know your pet the best. You live with them, you love them, you know them more than any other person. If you feel, in your heart, that it's time to let them go then you are making the right choice."

But it's still hard to face it yourself. It's damn hard. Will we euthanize Danny? At some point, probably. I would never want to see him in pain. He still has a lot of pep in his step and I know he has good days ahead of him. When I start to doubt the good days, or when I think the bad days are starting to out-weigh the good, then we'll let him go. I would never keep him holding on because of my selfishness. I love him too much to see him suffer. The exploratory surgery he had today doesn't seem to have slowed him down. For a 13 year old dog with slight cataracts and cancer, he's boppin' around like nothing's wrong.

He was my first pet as an adult. I was 17 and living on my own in a one bedroom apartment when I decided I wanted a dog. I tried to adopt one dog, but the lady sold him out from under me. Then I called another lady who had one schnauzer left from her litter: a solid white puppy. Yes, I bought him. Yes, it was probably a backyard breeder. Do I regret it? Never. Not once have I looked at him and thought "God, what was I thinking buying a dog like that?" He's been my bud for years and when I finally have to say goodbye it may kill a part of my soul. I know saying goodbye to Cooper killed a part of me.

Cooper came to me when he was about 3 years old. I found him wandering in traffic in the industrial part of town. I pulled the car over and opened the door just to try to get him out of traffic. He trotted over and hopped up into the car. He sat down and looked at me as if to say "I'm ready to go home now." So I took him home. He was never great with cats (he likes to try to eat them) and was mostly blind in one eye due to a botched cat-eating attempt. But he was gentle, and smart, and...special. There was something about him that just latched on to me. I trained him to be a canine good citizen and got him therapy certified. He loved visiting people and showing them his tricks like singing Bingo or throwing trash away for me. I was about to enter him into a new therapy program when he suddenly got sick. He started coughing and hacking and would end with a regurgitation of what looked like water. My regular vet wasn't able to see him as she was out of town at a conference. The first relief vet told me he had kennel cough and sent me home with antibiotics and a cough suppressant. When that didn't help I took him to another vet. They told me he probably had heart failure and I would need to spend hundreds of dollars on diagnostic treatments to determine the severity of his condition. I knew he didn't have heart failure, the regular vet had seen him only months before and given him a clean bill of health. The regular vet finally came back to town and was able to see my Cooper. She took one look at him and ran a blood test to find he had a very, very severe case of pancreatitis. When I heard that my heart dropped. I had just recovered from a 3 week bout of pancreatitis and I knew how much pain he was in, had BEEN in. I told her to do whatever she had to to make him comfortable. Two days later we were told he had stabilized  enough to go home. I came and got him and as we were walking out of the clinic he laid down on the sidewalk and refused to move. He was taken back into the clinic and I was told that he probably needed more iv fluids. I said okay, do whatever you have to. At 3 in the morning the next day I got a phone call from my vet. I will never forget the words she said:

"Kate, I'm sorry to wake you up. I heard the machines beeping and when I got up to call you to tell you he was passing he was already gone. Kate, I'm so sorry." 

He was gone. I never got to say goodbye. He died in pain, wondering where I was and why I had left him alone. Four years later it still haunts me. We had him cremated and his urn sits on a shelf in the house. I always said I would bury the urn in the backyard, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. He was an inside dog in life...I just couldn't bring myself to sentence him to an eternity outside without me. Maybe I didn't want to be without him. I still miss him. I still pass his urn and swallow the tears. I miss him. He was my familiar: a part of me in animal form. Losing him was like losing a limb. I didn't know how to function at first. But, I guess time at least clots the wound, if it doesn't heal it. I've learned how to walk by his urn and his therapy vest. I've taught myself to not look at other huskies and think of him constantly. I've adapted, in my own ways. But I will forever miss him. He was a part of my heart.

Losing Danny will be just as painful, but not in the same ways. He was my first. He was there when I was married. He was there when I brought both kids home. And I know he won't always be there, that he can't always be there. But it doesn't make the leaving any easier. I'm just hoping that maybe this time, this time, I'll get to say goodbye.