Life’s Brevity

Despite the human qualities we’ve managed to breed into our dogs, there’s one thing we’ve not been able to change:

Dogs’ lives are shorter than man’s.

That means most of us who love dogs will share our lives with several beloved pets.

It also means that we’ll have to “man up” and end the lives of some — the ones who are in pain, the ones facing incurable illness.

As Dallas’s breeder has reminded me several times since I purchased him, that’s a contract between us and the pet, and it must not be broken.

Now before anybody starts worrying, this is NOT about Dallas. He’s fine, thank you very much; he’s young and healthy and plans to be here for a long time!

But as we were taking our walk this morning, we came across a lady and her Husky.

I imagine this was a beautiful dog — once.

I imagine it was young. And healthy. And strong.

But I never knew it then. All I’ve ever seen is the old dog. The one barely able to drag its hind legs. The one who typically crumples to the ground every time it tries to potty. The one who “dribbles” long before exiting the house because it can’t hold it any longer, despite having parents who regularly are home to tend to its needs. The one whose eyes seem to indicate he’s straddling two worlds now.

‘How’s he getting along?’ I asked her.

‘My dad says we need to put him down before the ground freezes, or we’ll have to have him cremated,’ she tells me. ‘But we just can’t. Not yet.’

On one hand, I empathize with her. I’ve been there. I, too, had a dog that begged to be put to sleep. A dog whose soulful eyes followed me as he lay in pain on the sofa. A dog who often soiled my apartment and fell over when trying to lift his leg outside.

I, too, didn’t want to make that choice. But it was the right thing to do and somehow I managed.

She will, too. At least she has a husband and they can heal together. I was young and single, so I wept alone.

Putting a pet down is one of the harder things I’ve had to do. Pets become members of our family, providing companionship and unfailing loyalty. They call forth our best traits, enabling us to give unselfishly, prompting us to exercise, and calming us with wet kisses. They’re babies who never become mouthy pre-teens, model children who never ask to borrow the car or increase their allowance; they’re happy just to be near us, even if we’re not rich and famous. Or “cool.”

Chances are, I’ll outlive Dallas. While I’d prefer he simply pass away peacefully in his sleep, I know that might not happen. I pray I’ll have the courage to do that one final kindness for him, when the time comes.

Just don’t expect me to do it dry-eyed.