Walking Your Best Friend Home
My personal space is remarkably empty. My shadow, the one that followed my every step for twelve years, is somewhere chasing squirrels again. Happy and healthy.
Meanwhile, his beloved humans are where we were before he left, still thinking we hear and see him in his usual spots: under our feet, in our bed and in the little sliver of sunlight that he always managed to find as it changed its position on the floor according to the sun’s position in the kitchen window.
Buster took his job as my best friend seriously. We always said that he woke up in the morning, put on his boots and got to work straight away, checking off his daily tasks as he went:
Give a big kiss on the face when Mom comes to drag me out of bed. Check.
Lick up the coffee she spills somewhere in the house every morning. Check.
Sniff the entire perimeter of the fence when I go outside so she knows it is secure. Check.
Alert her every day at 8:30 on the dot that its time to feed me by running from her feet to the door and back as many times as it takes. (She’s late with it sometimes, but it’s ok.) Check.
Sit no further than one and a half feet away from her while she works. Check.
Overlook the incident when she accidentally steps on me when she gets up. Check.
Tolerate that silly “other” beagle she brought home to keep me company. Check.
Lie on her towel while she’s in the bathtub every night. Check.
Lick her nose when she kisses me goodnight. Check.
This is just a tiny cross-section of the things that Buster did for me throughout his twelve and a half years as my best friend. Dogs pack a lot of love, hope and forgiveness into their short time on the planet. In fact, we could learn a lot from them. Lessons in loyalty, empathy and unencumbered joy are illustrated right before our eyes in the form of four legs, fur and honest eyes.
Unfortunately, not all dogs get to see the best in humans. But as we animal lovers throw stones at the members of our own species who mistreat and abuse, the creatures on the receiving end are teaching a lesson. Kick me and when I’m done hurting, I will forgive you and sit at your feet. Abandon me and if I see you on the street someday, I will forgive you and provide you companionship. We could learn a lot.
Animal shelters are full of senior pets that were given away because they made the terrible mistake of getting old. I’ve heard people say, “My dog got old so I had to give him away.” The idea of that pains me on the deepest level. I have so much gratitude for Buster and all of the things he did for me and can’t imagine having done anything else for him in his senior years other than to love every gray hair on his face, carry him when he couldn’t walk, thank him until I couldn’t say it anymore for his friendship and ultimately be the last face he saw as he closed his eyes for the last time.
Every person who has had to make the decision to help their pet move on from this world knows that it is one of the hardest decisions to make. Grown men cry. The pets that are left behind grieve in their own ways. The second-guessing is the worst part of it. Did we make the right decision for him? Was he really ready to go? Did he understand we were doing the best thing for him? I believe that as hard as it is, walking your friend home for the last time is the last, most loving and most important thing you can do for them. Buster’s vet, Dr. Judy Torcia, calls it the gift of peace. A beautiful gift, but the hardest one to give.