The dog died last week. She died because I backed over her in the driveway. By the time I got the car stopped, she was underneath screaming in pain. When I tried to move her, she howled in protest and snapped at me. I didn’t know what to do next.
I called my husband, who had already driven most of the way to work. I told him what I’d done and started crying. He just said two words; “I’m coming.” I got a blanket out of the back of the car, covered Goldie up, and sat next to her. Before he arrived, I had these brief glimmers of hope. Maybe she was just shocked and she’d start walking any minute now. But I knew deep down it was time to let her go. In truth, we should have let her go long before this.
Goldie came to live with us eight years ago, after my husband’s Uncle B died. She was six or seven when we got her, so she was fourteen or fifteen years old last Wednesday. She had a heart murmur. She had cataracts on both eyes. She couldn’t hear. She had arthritis in her front legs. The reason I didn’t check for her in the driveway before I pulled out was simple. She slept twenty-three and a half hours a day, and I wasn’t expecting her to be up.
On her first night to live with us, she went straight to our bed and jumped up on it. When we shooed her off, she went all over the house, sniffing and crying. She was looking for Him. Uncle B had become ill quite suddenly and after a brief hospital stay, had died. Goldie had been one of his last earthly contacts, his hand holder, his true friend.
She’d smoothed his way into the next world with more love and affection than any human escort could have provided. As she nosed her way around our house, I could picture her laying with her head across his fevered body, sniffing through the contents of the trash can trying to find something edible, and perching on the edge of the toilet to drink as her owner lay on the couch waiting for his human family to come and check on him.
When we went to bed that night, she settled on the floor next to me. I heard her several times as she woke up and cried. I’d reach down and pat her head, and she would go back to sleep. For the first two or three weeks, she wanted to be right with me. I tried to be calm and understanding, because she’d been through so much. At the same time, I knew I could never give her the same amount of time and affection as Uncle B. I wondered if we’d made the right choice in bringing her to live with us.
My husband’s uncle was a retiree, and he took Goldie everywhere he went. We’d sometimes notice them driving around in his old blue sedan. One time I saw him coming out of the grocery store, back to the car where Goldie waited. He opened a candy bar and handed it to her the moment he opened the door.
I don’t think Goldie even had an understanding of what dog food was until she came to live with us. She constantly begged for table food, and was extremely overweight. She had terrible gas for the first two weeks, and her over- the- top snoring earned her a berth in the Garage Hotel for country dogs.
She eventually settled into her new role. Goldie was not our sole companion, and she didn’t have to take care of us. She was part of a noisy, busy, multi-dog, multi -child family. She was free to be a dog, and she took to the role with relish.
She quickly became the overlord of our other two dogs, dominating the food bowls by snapping and growling at anyone who dared eat in a way that seemed selfish or greedy. She made sure that everyone had their share, but of course, she always wanted the top choice. On the rare occasions that we allowed the dogs our left-overs, we had to watch and make sure she didn’t hog them all for herself. She also made her feelings about her accommodations clear. If we came home and it had gotten cold during the day, she would greet us by walking back and forth to the heater we’d set up in the garage until one of us turned it on. She knew herself, and wasn’t afraid to fly her Golden flag.
She was an intelligent dog. She figured out that if she ran alongside my right rear tire when I was exiting the gate, that I wouldn’t be able to see her. Once or twice a week, I’d come home to find her sprawled out sleeping in front of the gate, waiting for us to come home after a day spent in total dog debauchery. At heart, she was an unrepentant tramp.
She brought us presents. A dead rat, given with the same joy a three year- old offers a scribbled drawing. A cow bone dripping with slobber. When we arrived home after work, she led the other two dogs in a rousing production that demonstrated her dog prowess. As soon as one of us pulled in the gate, the three would get into a nudging contest, shoving into one another and growling. I never understood the theme of the production, but I did understand that she was the choreographer, the director, and the star.
She loved going for walks down our country road, and constantly pushed my pace. She always made sure I noticed the dead frogs, and the snake skins, and the trash someone had thrown on the side of the road. Except for the restroom breaks, which became more and more frequent as she aged, she was an easy walking companion.
She was just easy. Her eyes sparkled with mischief, she had beautiful golden fur, and she never barked at you for leaving her alone all day while you went to work. That is why we kept her for ourselves when she might have been happier in the home of another person who could have given her their undivided attention. We were selfish, because she was just such a great dog.
Her domain started to get smaller and smaller. First, she started barking at the clothes on the clothesline. She thought they were intruders. Then, she started sleeping more and more. The vet said she had a heart murmur, and the sleeping was her way of protecting herself. It happened so gradually; first the vision, then the hearing, then the limping. By last Wednesday, her whole world was the short distance from her bed to the food and water bowls.
Six months ago, my Dad gently suggested we should have her put to sleep. We justified. She’s not too uncomfortable. She’s still eating. These are the lies we told ourselves. As in the beginning of my relationship with this dog, I was again conflicted. When is it the right time to choose life or death for a being that depends wholly on you?
Sitting in the driveway, petting her while I waited for the inevitable, I thought about her life, about all of the light she had brought into it, and how terrible I felt to be the one that caused her demise. As my husband’s car roared up the driveway, I said goodbye, knowing that we couldn’t cause her any more suffering. She had too many strikes against her, too many to ask her to continue.
We made the choice to have Goldie put to sleep because it was forced upon us by my carelessness. Running over her was not in my death plan for her. I thought she would just go to sleep and not wake up, and I knew it would happen soon. In my mind, her peaceful passing would make it more tolerable. When you love, though, death is never tolerable. And I did. I loved Goldie. I hope she knew.