The worst part about loving animals is saying goodbye. The more you have and the more you love them, the more often you have to go through losing them. But the other option, not having them, is unthinkable.
Our chocolate Lab, Gigi, died on Feb. 2. Her health had been steadily declining for some time, with arthritis and old age taking their toll. She could hardly walk and had to be helped up often, and spent most of her time lying on her bed, but she still wanted biscuits and attention and didn't seem to be in actual pain, so as long as she still seemed to be enjoying life, we didn't have the heart to do anything to hasten the end.
Then on Feb. 1, she tried to go outside to potty, and fell. She often fell, poor girl, but we could always help her get back up, and she'd be all right after that. Not that morning. She couldn't get up, even with both of us trying to help her stand. We got her onto her bed and put her where she could reach food and water, and went to work. Neither of us have jobs that consider an animal's health crisis an adequate reason for missing work.
When we came home, she hadn't moved. Not at all. And she seemed to be in a half-comatose state. No response to petting. Wouldn't take food or water. The next morning, when she was still in that state, it was obvious it was time to let go. We laid her to rest in the back yard.
Gigi came to us in 2007 as a stray. Our basset, George, had been an only dog for a long while, and he was outside on his lead enjoying the sunshine when an appallingly think brown dog with fly-bitten, bleeding ears came down the driveway. George was not a fan of other dogs as a rule, but he allowed her to share his shade under the deck. She wouldn't let us anywhere near her, but we put out food and water for her after we took him inside, and she stayed under the deck. It was a couple of days of constant coaxing and taking George outside to help us convince her we weren't going to harm her before she'd even let us speak to her without running and hiding. That Sunday afternoon, I was on the deck and she was in the driveway trying to sneak over to the food and water, when I called her “Gigi.” It was short for Good Girl, which is what we'd been saying to her all along, and her head came up, her ears perked, and she trotted right up the steps to sit on my foot. Apparently, she decided if she had a name, she must be our dog.
It took a lot more coaxing to get her inside, but once she was in, she was home. She took over the couch and that was that.
We got her spayed, and the vet said he thought she was between 2 and 4 years old and had had at least one litter of puppies. Possibly more. His theory was that she was being used as a backyard breeder. She was so underweight and so hungry all the time that we probably overfed her trying to get her up to a normal weight, and in spite of lots of exercise, she got fat. Her ears healed, but she always had scars from the flies.
And she was a good girl. She was easy to teach, and eager to please, and in spite of too much energy for a house the size of ours, and a lot of chewed-up belongings, she settled in quickly. She and George loved walks, and she pulled us along at a dead run most of the time, until we discovered that a harness made her walk nicely, whereas a collar just made her pull. She was so tireless that once I took a walk with her with my cell phone in my pocket, just to see how far she would go before she wanted to stop, and we were quite a long ways from home before she sat down in the shade and announced she was through. I called my husband, and he came to pick us up in the car.
Anybody could pet her and she loved attention, though she reacted badly to a neighbor once when we were walking and one of them called out a name. I suspect that was the house where she'd been living, starving and ignored outdoors, before she got away and found us. We didn't stop. Nor did we have any intention of giving her back if they had claimed her. They didn't try.
Once she started to age, it was a rapid decline from an energetic, walk-loving girl to an old lady who wanted nothing more than to lie around, but she held on for a good couple of years even when I thought she was likely to go at any time. She had regular vet visits and we tried to accommodate her aging issues as best we could. She still wanted to go for walks even up to the last week or so. We never took her far, just into the empty field across from the house, and it was sad to stand there with her and watch as my husband took Jack, still young and energetic, away on a real walk, while Gigi watched them go and wanted to go, too. I even bought a wagon with the idea that maybe we could load her into it and take her for a walk that way, but she was so stiff and sore that getting into the wagon was too much for her.
We still expect her to be there. I have to stop myself from wishing her good night when I say good night to Rocky. My husband still pauses and expects to have to step over her at the foot of the bed, where she slept at night. Jack is spry and gets into bed with us, but the floor at the foot of the bed was as close as she could get.
For now, Jack is an only dog and we expect to leave it at that for a while. When he starts to get older, and is, we hope, a little less territorial, we'll find a second dog in need of a home and take him or her in. Or a dog will find us, the way Gigi did.