I knew last night that today would be her last day. I made the call first thing in the morning, to get it over with. I showered and dressed and didn't dry my hair. My spouse unfolded the ramp for the last time, and I put on her old leather leash and the collar with the "canine good citizen" tag and led her up the ramp into the back of the station wagon for the last time.
At the vet's they'd worked us in from sheer kindness, and we had to wait in the parking lot a while. Every few minutes I'd look in the rear-view mirror hoping that she'd fallen asleep, but I could see her German Shepherd ears still sticking straight up, like the bell-towers of Chartres.
I'd not had time for my morning meditation at home, so sitting behind the wheel I put my hands on my knees, breathed, and watched my thoughts and my heart twist and swirl with sadness, fear for what was soon to come to Lexi and eventually to me and to my loved ones, guilt that I was doing this, more sadness. Then I tried to visualize a kind of golden glow inside the car, enveloping both Lexi and me. (Here I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have worked to bring Buddhist meditation to this frantic land.) What can I say? It kept me sane.
My dogs never will expire peacefully at home. For the last four, I have had to make the decision, the appointment, the drive. I have held them to the last, stayed with them to offer the last comfort I could, but also to expiate my guilt. Why should I feel guilty about putting an end to the misery of a terminally ill dog? Because of the immense relief that comes as a result of this action. Nothing makes you feel free like getting rid of an old, sick dog. No more calling in vain; no more endless waiting at the door; no more struggling to brush coat and file nails; no more cleaning up the rug....
The vet came out shivering--it was sleeting--with a needle in her hand. "I'll give her a sedative first. It usually takes about ten minutes to work. Then I'll be back." I held Lexi while she got the shot. Then I crawled into the back seat and reached over and rubbed her third eye the way my husband used to rub our babies to put them to sleep. She kept sitting up, looking more and more crumpled, and I thought maybe I would have to help her lie down. But she finally did it by herself, and I kept rubbing and stroking and not talking because I didn't want to make myself cry.
When the vet and her assistant returned, I held Lexi's head, and she never felt the needle going into the vein. Over the next few minutes, very gently, she subsided. The vet listened to her heart and said, "she's gone." I closed her eyes and we slipped a pink blanket under Lexi and carried her inside.
You'd be surprised what an empty space a dog leaves who's been mostly asleep for the last three years. Wolfie--who learned from her how to be a good dog, who never once tried to mount her but kept all other males away from her, who used to wait by the door for her to return from her aimless wanderings in the yard--has been staring out the back door a lot. When time came for the afternoon feeding ritual, I didn't quite know where to place the two remaining bowls.