It is my longest relationship with a boy.
Nearly 13 years together. In my bed for thousands and thousands of nights, and I LIKE hearing him snore. For the first two years of my marriage he wedged his 100 pound body between me and Serge in the double bed (only size that would fit) in our tiny railroad apartment in Brooklyn.
He knows me more intimately than anyone else drawing breath on this planet. He likes being in the bathroom with me, follows me while I clean the house, has watched me have sex more than I care to admit. He has traveled all over the United States, from chasing deer in the Utah mountains and splashing around in the Great Salt Lake to swimming in New York City's East River and dipping his paws in the Washington Square fountain in the West Village. He's crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge countless times on foot and by taxi and I only now realize and regret I never took him over the Brooklyn Bridge.
He is the great love of my life. He was by my side when I was an impetuous twenty-something who took him everywhere in my forest green Dodge Durango. He barked at the men I dated and was right, they never lasted. I eventually wore his dog collar as a garter when I got married to the only guy he never barked at and should've brought him along as best man/maid of honor. He was by my side during the tumultuous New York City years, waiting for me in the window of 151 Berry Street in Williamsburg after every overnight shift at ABC, was sitting at the window of our home in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City when my daughter was born and was there to welcome home my first son. He rode shotgun in the moving truck from Utah to Pennsylvania and was in the same room in our old farmhouse as I laughed and cried and cursed until my Charlie took his first breath of air.
I've been preparing myself for this time, the sunset of his life, since the first moment I brought him home when he was 8 weeks old. We all know that's how it goes with pets. The clock immediately starts ticking. Anything after ten years will be icing, I thought, after reading the life expectancy for black labs is 10 to 12 years. Despite several near-death experiences involving a speeding semi, a belligerent Brooklyn Pit Bull named Roxy and dangerous spring run-off that nearly swept him down a raging Utah river, Max gracefully met 12 years this past April. Frisky as ever, bounding around, mischievously stealing food from the table, leaping up onto my bed at night without a hitch.
It happens fast — the end. That's what I'm realizing now. Nearly imperceptible at first.
Weight loss, no more leaping around the backyard with the same old pep, the joyful frisking gradually dissolving into a tired amble. Lately he doesn't even stand up when I come home. A month ago he was still following me from room to room in his usual fashion, constantly underfoot, not wanting me out of his sight for even a minute while I load the washing machine, scrub the tub or even just attempt to pee in private. Now, more often than not, a tired tail thump is my greeting upon returning home. Instead of him dancing excitedly around my legs it's me getting down onto the floor to lie next to him and rub his bony body. Nose to nose, I look into his eyes and tell him how much I love him, what a good boy he is and how important he is to me. I tell him I'm sorry I didn't take him on walks as much after the kids were born but that I always loved him just the same, more even, for gently tolerating all the ear and tail pullings from the very people who stole my attention from him.
He knows how much I love him. I know he knows. He knows I'm his mama, the one who controls the food and the treats and now, recently, the one who can take away the pain. He comes up to me and stares intently into my eyes while whimpering quietly in the back of his throat and I know.
The limping started a couple weeks ago and escalated to the point he couldn't walk and was shivering in pain one morning as I got ready for work. I called my neighbor and good friend, Dr. Dr. Holly (two PhDs!) who is a veterinarian of the highest order and a girlfriend of an even higher order. She checked him out and said maybe bone cancer, it's hard to tell without X-rays. But I don't really want to know. It doesn't matter. At this point it's about pain management and walking the hellish line of deciding what is most humane for my baby. She gives him injections that help with the pain and inflammation and he always rebounds spectacularly, but I can feel a deadline looming. It has settled heavily into my soul, stinging me when I walk in the door and he remains in his spot on the floor, tail thumping the carpet quietly in lieu of the excited tap dance that was my welcome once upon a time.
Fuck that deadline! I don't want to deal with that deadline. I can't be the one to decide when death is better than life for this dog of mine who has lived and breathed my life with me since I was 25-years-old. Waking up together, going to sleep together, all the small things; breakfasts, lunches, dinners, morning walks, sunset strolls, just sitting at the front window watching the world go by. With me for everything crucial that has ever happened to me; boyfriends, break-ups, marriage, births, deaths, Utah, New York, Pennsylvania, divorce. During those first nights after separating, when the kids were with Serge, it was Max who clambered up onto my bed and nuzzled me while I sobbed. Full circle; just him and me again after all this time. It's unfathomable to contemplate a life lived without him underfoot, next to me, behind me, waiting for me. He is my constant companion — my greatest friend.
I want him to go quietly in his sleep, his avocado-sized paw clutched in my hand, waking to find that he slipped away at some point in the night with his mama's arms wrapped around his body. That's what I want. For me and him. I can't play God with my dog, and yet I know I'm going to have to be the one. The heavy responsibility of deciding when it's time is my job as his mama, what I signed up for when I walked away from his dog family nearly 13 years ago clutching his tiny, shivering body to my heart. And it's how I'll see him out; clutching his old, tired body to my heart until his very last breath and beyond.
This article was originally published at The Girl Who. Reprinted with permission from the author.