Last week, I said goodbye to my perfect spaniel. After I wrote the post outlining the details of his cancer, I was flooded with messages of support and love. Those notes gave me so much comfort. Both in knowing that I’m not alone with the immense struggle that is deciding when to release a beloved pet, but also that because everyone echoed that I’d know when it was time… and that it was probably not too soon.
I was completely devastated when I lost BT. Part of that was timing. I had to put her down two months after Tim died, and my bank of emotional energy was completely empty. Having to make a life or death choice for a living thing, especially Tim’s beloved pet, put me in a headspace I hope I never return to. The day she died, I couldn’t do anything but lay in bed and stare at the ceiling. I had never felt more hopeless. It was the only time in my life that I didn’t see the point to living anymore, but Eliot and Pascale got me through to get up and tackle another day.
Watching Eliot decline the last few weeks, I remembered how completely bottomed out I felt with BT. I worried that letting him go would destroy me, especially right now. Fall and the holidays used to be my favorite time of the year, but since losing Tim I slip into a depression every October like clockwork. It doesn’t let up until January, and I push through the holidays with a mix of over the top planned activities (aka wine) and lots and lots of naps. I’ve been feeling low for months, and didn’t know how I was going to say goodbye to my best friend on top of everything else.
After I wrote that post, I started looking at Eliot. Really looking at him. Every week that passed, he had more fits of anxiety/pain than the weeks before. The pain medication I had for him calmed him down most of the time, but not always. Then it started taking two doses, and I realized that our good days were mostly marked by him sleeping quietly in his bed. He wouldn’t greet me at the door when I came home. At first, I excused this because he was a deaf, old dog that slept soundly. He couldn’t hear me come in, and I had been used to the habit of finding him asleep and slowly waking him up with cuddles when I came home.
But he started waking up slower, and if he was awake when I came home he could only slowly waddle up to me. His happy, rolling yodels were gone. He stopped rolling in the grass after his afternoon walks (a favorite tradition) weeks ago. He got pickier about the treats he would take. He withdrew, and spent most of his time on his bed instead of in the living room with me and Pascale. He could see us from the corner, but he didn’t come up to engage as much as he used to. Toys were no longer fun or interesting. Walks seemed like a struggle. I knew we were getting there, so I made an appointment with an at-home euthanasia service for right before Thanksgiving.
The day after I made the appointment, he had a terrible morning. The next morning, he had another. No amount of pain medication calmed him down. He kept trying to climb into the bathtub (a place of comfort for him), but his hind legs didn’t work well enough and he’d get stuck halfway over the tub. I had to go pick him up, only for him to try it immediately again. Pascale ran to me whining every time he tried, because she knew something was wrong. It got to the point that I had to close the door off to the bathroom, and then he just walked up to me and cried.
He needed me to make him feel better, and I couldn’t. I called the service, and had them come much sooner.
His last day was a good one. The night before, I couldn’t sleep. Really, I couldn’t sleep for that entire week because I was so worried about him. Every sound woke me up, because I thought he might be in pain. Around midnight, I moved my pillows to the floor and laid next to him on his bed. Pascale jumped down with me, and the three of us slept in a chain. Me with my hand draped over his forearm, fingers mixed with his long, white feathers. Pascale with her head rested over the crook of my knee.
I made him an egg scramble for his last breakfast with bacon, cheese and ham. Throughout his life, I would sometimes think about what Eliot’s perfect last day would be like — what final gift I could give to him. I always thought the beach or some kind of swimming, but when it came time for that actual day he was too sick to enjoy anything.
Instead, I sat on the floor with him a lot. I rubbed the inside of his ears, his favorite, stroked my finger down the groove between his eyes to his forehead. I told him I was sorry he was sick, and that I would do anything to make him feel better. That he was my best boy, even though he was kind of an asshole his whole life and stubborn as all get out till the end. Told him that even with all the dogs I’ll have for the rest of my life, there will never be another one like him. I thanked him for loving me, because despite everything, he loved me more than a person deserves.
When the vet came, it was peaceful. He walked around a little bit while the pain medication and sedative kicked in. I could see him falling under its spell, because his eyes got a little wide. He waddled over to me, and I helped him go softly down. I held his head up in my palms, his fuzzy jowls folding over the sides of my hand, and rubbed his ears while he shut his eyes. Held his face and tried not to cry until he was completely under.
Pascale laid next to us while he slipped away. I bent over him, completely lost it, and sobbed. It wasn’t a hopeless feeling. More like I couldn’t hold on to all of that love anymore, and it just spilled out of me. I stroked his head until I felt the warmth start to leave. Pascale bent down over his face, closer than I’ve ever seen her dare get to him, and directly sniffed his nose a few times. When she realized he wasn’t breathing, she licked him once on the nose and then laid down next to him with her paws draped over his. And he was gone.
I don’t feel hopeless like I did when I lost BT. Before the sun set that day, I felt confident it was the right decision. He didn’t have any bad episodes on his last day. He even sniffed out a I’m sorry your brother died stuffed dog toy I had gotten Pascale, and played with it for a few minutes because he was spoiled until the end.
Of course I cried, a lot. I still do when I think about how much I loved him, how much I miss him. He was my first real love. The one who taught me what it’s like to love someone as much as your own skin. Eliot softened me, taught me what hard choices are and what they feel like. I have a thousand good memories of him, and just as many pictures.
Saying goodbye to him felt like saying goodbye to the innocent person I used to be. The one that didn’t know how hard life was, or how much it hurts to lose. I miss her almost as much as I miss my spaniel.
But I’m okay, and Pascale is too. He was a terribly complicated dog, but we both loved him. He loved me more than anything in the world, and I can still feel it. That kind of bond never fully goes away.
Eliot, October 12th 2005 – November 12th, 2018