Not long ago I commented to my sister that if there was one thing spiritual I could believe in, I would want it to be reincarnation. Wouldn't it be great do have "do-overs?" She replied, profoundly I thought, with the first law of thermodynamics: Matter cannot be created or destroyed. I was surprised, but this comforted me. We may not know exactly what happens when we die, but we do go on, albeit in another form.
I was also recently looking at a picture of my two beloved dogs, Maddie the labrador and Nestor the border collie who died in 2007, and it struck me how much Maddie had aged in the last two years. There was so much more white on her muzzle and tummy, and she was definitely slowing down and having a harder time recovering after a walk. I remembered the times that the three of us used to take walks in the woods down by the Sangamon River. I would let them off the leashes, and they would both run straight for the water. Nestor was a wader, so he wouldn't stay in the water long before he would come back to me and try to start a game of chase through the woods. Maddie loved swimming, and would stay in the water for a long time. Then she would get out and start on a solitary exploration, taking in every smell from every creature who had walked those woods before us. She would wander through the tall grass so that I would only be able to see the ridge of her back above it. She was untiring, and I would usually have to go track her down when it was time to go. She would resist, but she knew there were treats awaiting when we got home. Besides, riding in the car was another of her favorite things.
Lately those car rides seemed to be the only pleasure she had left. This past Saturday I got a bit of a shock when I stroked her back and could feel her spine. Her hip bones were becoming very visible as her appetite was declining recently. I'd had her at the vet a month or so ago, and he said she was anemic. He gave me some medicine, but said that labs her age often simply lost the ability to make red blood cells. He told me to let her eat anything at all she wanted-anyhing. I bought some liver and boiled it, then boiled rice in the same water. She loved it, but that didn't last long and her fatigue and lack of appetite came back.
Last Sunday I took her on a walk down some local trails, and before we hit the two mile mark she was panting and several feet behind me. She had never been behind me before. When we got home she sprawled in the floor and slept the rest of the day. After that I tried for the next two days to get her to eat something...anything. Monday and Tuesday the only thing I could get her to eat was treats. She turned her nose up at bacon and extra sharp cheddar. Things I never knew a dog would ever refuse. I worried that I would come home from work and find her dead, but I didn't. But Wednesday when I got home she could barely lift her head, and all she would do is take small sips of water. I knew that it was time to let her go. I called the people I knew would understand how this moment feels, and we cried together. I took my pillow and blanket and got in the floor with her overnight. She could still occasionally manage a thump of her tail on the floor.
She could barely get into the car for that ride this morning, and didn't lift her head to smell the air. The vet said very little. He knew I knew it was time to let her go. It took only seconds for her to go to sleep. Now I am home. My husband is at work, and there is no one at my feet, looking longingly at me to request a pet. Her bowls have been picked up. The house feels very empty. But I am glad her suffering is over. I don't know if I waited longer than I should have, but whatever form her matter has now become, I hope it involves rivers and woods.