The last good days of a very good dog - petsitterbank

The last good days of a very good dog

Our dog can’t get up without help anymore, and what it comes down to is that she’s dying. I hear her breathing now, on her quilted bed by the woodstove, settled in for a long January night. We think that she’s 15. We adopted her years ago from the only rescue group in town, and at the time they didn’t know how old she was either, only that she’d been tied to their front gate one morning in February and her ears were frostbitten by the time they cut her loose. But she was alive and finally free of the type of person who leaves a dog alone in the predawn darkness. So we think she’s 15. What we do know is that our two boys grew up with her, and that makes this even harder. It seems that every 15 years or so my wife and I find ourselves in this same situation — broken and wondering what to do with an empty collar. In a few days, that will be us again.

So after months of mask-wearing, distancing, and dying, there’s this: a dog that needs to take one final trip to the vet. I’m not up for it, but it’s what comes next.

Our families have avoided the worst of the pandemic, with our older son testing positive the same day President Trump announced his own infection. Unlike the former president, our son didn’t need specialized care and continued his classes at home, online, much as he had been doing in his dorm, although now without a sense of smell. Then there was my uncle who died quietly in his chair one spring night—not of COVID directly but from the hospital’s reluctance to readmit him even as an infection from recent surgery brewed inside him. My aunt woke up alone that morning, and now, for her, that’s how each new day starts. Recently my nephew and niece each tested positive and their vaccinated parents are bracing for what may be their turn.

It’s the not knowing that wears you down.

On the counter, next to Moxie’s nail clippers and anti-inflammatory pills is a new bottle, a seven-day course of amoxicillin. Nearby there’s a fine-tooth comb that she no longer tolerates. So when we boost Moxie to her feet, she plods about, leaving tufts of fur behind. Once she’s up and moving she still dutifully follows, herding us along just as she always has, reminding us of what we’ve always suspected — that she’s part shepherd. She wears a harness with a handle now, and when it’s time for her to go outside, we swing her smoothly—like a suitcase—from the porch to the ground. Outside she brightens, scooping mouthfuls of snow. She still has good days, but they aren’t all good days. My wife and I discuss how many bad days a dying dog should have to endure. When she starts to get cold, we swing her back up on the porch. More time by the woodstove. There are still good times in those bad days.

But for Moxie, those bad days are building up. We’re doing what we can to make sure they’re not all bad days, but our local clinic is nearly impossible to get into. Because of COVID, they’re down two vets, so we’ll need to book an appointment three weeks out just to put down our failing girl. We’re doing our best to keep her comfortable, but we worry it’s not enough. Last night we bought thick gauze pads, Neosporin, and a roll of bandages to wrap her infected elbow. The wound there is weeping and round and raw. We sit down beside her, Denise and I, one of us gathering the dog in our arms and the other disinfecting and wrapping and taping.

When is the moment when you know that it’s time? When is the moment when you scoop her in your arms and drive? It feels close. That moment will come even as the pandemic grinds on, and while I’m not sure when this virus will release us, I’m now certain that its final days will come. The weeks ahead will no doubt bring more bad days, but I’m certain that good days will start to pile up again. It’s what comes next.

Snow falls lightly on our porch tonight. I load the woodstove with dry maple and ash, and it soon blooms into light. And by the fire, an old dog settles in for what will be at least one more night.

George Rogers is a high school teacher and writer living in northern New York. He reports that not long after he wrote this essay, Moxie died peacefully at home, surrounded by the humans who loved her.

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