A big part of my heart is still broken over the loss of my beautiful rescued Saint Bernard Monte earlier this year. I still cry over that big lug, spend hours looking at his pictures, and long for him with a pain that is sometimes shocking.We were a great team.
Letting go of Monte was one of the most emotionally difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. When I realized what I had to do for him, I felt almost paralyzed – I stared at the phone in my hands, unable to make my suddenly thick and clumsy fingers move to press the “contacts” button and dial my vet’s number. I stood there numb, unable to work up the courage. I almost handed the phone to my husband, unsure that I’d even be able to speak if Dr. B answered her cell phone. My gaze wavered between Monte and the phone shaking in my hand dozens, maybe hundreds of times before I worked up the courage.
My veterinarian is a good friend and colleague. She knew why I was calling before I even had to tell her. All I could say was, “can you please come to our house? We need your help.”
It was very important to me that Monte’s last hours were spent in our home. Because he could no longer walk more than two steps unassisted (and even those two steps were a struggle and exhausting for him), I knew bringing him to the hospital would be painful for him – Jim and I would have had to carry him into the van and into the hospital. I was happy that I had purchased some of Monte’s favorite meal, lamb, and gave him as much as he desired. I stuffed a Kong, and think my heart audibly snapped when he tried to eat it and it hurt him so much he yelped and gave up. I held it for him until he was finished. We also gave him the ultimate forbidden fruit, sharing chocolate chip cookies; which he’d never had before but obviously loved.
Even now, months later, sometimes the last minutes hurt me too much to talk about them. The awkward, thick clumsiness of both my fingers and my words returns just thinking about that day. How do you describe an earthquake of the heart? I sit here at my laptop squinting at the screen through the tears that always come back; me, so used to being very wordy, left without a way to describe the enormity of such loss.Yet, I know that on dogster, I don’t have to. You all understand. If you don’t yet, someday you will, and that’s what I actually want to talk about today.
Jim and I were absolutely floored with the outpouring of support we received after losing Monte. Cards came in from all over the country, some from people we hadn’t even met but that were touched by Monte’s story. Perhaps best of all were the tributes we received from people all over the world who said that Monte’s story helped them understand and live better with their own dogs.
Many people told me that they were shocked at how we chose to help Monte to the Bridge – in our own home, right by his side. Many said that they wished they had been able to make such a choice for their dog, but that it was too painful so they dropped the dog off at the vet’s office and came back later to pick up ashes and a bill for services. Many of these people also told me how much they regretted that decision later.
Much like it’s hard for us to make a living will and admit our own demise is inevitable, it’s hard for us to plan how we want our dogs to spend their last minutes on this earth. Nonetheless, I ask that dog owners consider this inevitability. How do you want your dog to spend his last minutes?
Few would answer “alone.” For me, it was very important that Monte’s last minutes were surrounded by the people who loved him best. The last gift he gave us was that of a smile and a wagging tail; I doubt he would have been smiling or wagging had we dropped him off and left him with strangers for these final moments.
You can give your dog one final gift, perhaps one of the most important gifts you will ever be able to give him – the gift of not making that final journey alone. It’s not easy, and you will need support. Likely, you will need at least one friend or family member to accompany you to hold you up when you feel like crumpling with the weight of loss.
The soul of a dog is comprised of equal parts devotion, commitment, and loyalty. We reap the rewards of this generosity of spirit throughout the time we are blessed with their companionship. We are financially responsible for our dog’s well-being throughout their lives. When that life comes to an end, we exchange our financial accountability for spiritual liability – we must pay, not with dollars and cents, but with our pain and sacrifice, a tribute to the wonderful memories we’ve been blessed with. Our dogs give us everything they have, and in these last minutes, we must tap into reserves of strength and return the favor that they are due – devotion, commitment, loyalty.
I regret that Monte had to die. I don’t, however, regret how he died. That, despite the pain for everyone involved, was as perfect as such an awful event can be. I took the effort to create a wonderful final memory – of sharing with him his favorite treats, seeing his eyes light up through the pain as he processed the deliciousness that is a chocolate chip cookie. He was in his home. He was kissed, scratched, hugged, sang to. He was surrounded with love, so thick it was palpable, covering him like a blanket.
On that day, I was required to pay a final debt to him. As I mentioned in his tribute, I sacrificed a lifetime of my own pain that day to save him from his. This was the price levied for all those wonderful lessons he taught me, the millions of times he made me laugh over the brief years we had together.
What is right is not always easy, and what is easy is not always right. All dogs deserve love and the support of their people when making this, their last voyage. It’s the last gift you will be able to give your best friend.