Saying Goodbye to Our Old Dog, the Phase of Life He Was Part Of

A few weeks ago, my old dog collapsed in the kitchen just as I prepared to leave for the weekend. Although it was no surprise, of course, it always is. We knew the end was imminent, but it was just never the right moment until it was. 

I took him to the animal hospital, rocking him in my arms as we waited for the vet, and changed our airline reservations. When the sleeping medication took hold, we saw him relax into a rest that had been elusive for a long time.

Rudy and her dog
Our dog had been with us when our kids were still teens. (Photo courtesy of Christine Kouwenhoven)

My dog was ready to go

We think he passed even before the second injection stopped his heart. There was no doubt that he was ready to go, wherever that may be, to the heaven we imagine for our pets who deserve it without reservation, whose hearts we know can’t be stilled.

Since he’s left, I have felt a bit of guilty relief. We loved him dearly, but I can’t say there was much pleasure for him or us in the final few months of his life. Yet I still open the door cautiously, thinking he will be behind it in the corner he tended to end up in, always waiting at the threshold to go in or out.

An old dog helps us remember.  (Photo courtesy of Christine Kouwenhoven)

Or I listen for him to stir in his bed under the table, to howl for help in rising, in getting outside where every blade of grass was a novel to be read at his leisure, although sometimes not mine. An old dog teaches patience.

An old dog also helps us remember. 

Of course, he was a velveteen puppy once. And when he joined our family, so were the kids, now grown and flown to college and flown again to real life. We were all in a tumble of activity together in those years, chasing balls, running hither and yon, and playing in the thick grass. Every blade was a short sentence, a few words to be read quickly, on to the next thing. All of us are eager, energetic, and young.

Our dog connected us to times gone by

The sadness of an old dog passing is the letting go of the times they inextricably link us to, the span of years, ten, fifteen if we are lucky, of a phase of our lives. This old dog was in the school years, the one before him, infants and toddlers, preschoolers. If we are dog people, we overlap them. The puppy I have now, perhaps she will take us (she has promised!) to retirement. 

I think of the construction paper garlands we made as children, each dog interlocking with the next, connecting the mini eras of our life. Each dog leaves a special dog-shaped memory.

Our dog was still in his prime when my kids were teens

Our old fellow reached sixteen and a half, a remarkable run in human years more than a century. I remember being sixteen. I am so much older now, as the saying goes.

This dog was still in his prime when my kids were sixteen, a robust buddy as they drove down the street away from him, one by one. Young dogs are patient, too, in their way. He watched them go; he welcomed them back. 

Perhaps that’s why we frequently found him stuck around the kitchen door in his dotage. Was he waiting for them to return? Was he headed out to find them? Did he know he had done his job, a good dog, and was he ready to fly too?

More Great Reading:

Once Kids Are In College, Dogs Replace What’s Missing In Our Hearts

About Christine Kouwenhoven

Christine Kouwenhoven is from Baltimore, Maryland where she works as the Grants Manager at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Over the years she's had a number of poems and essays published in a variety of publications including Grown & Flown, the New York Times, the Baltimore Fishbowl, Plants & Poetry, and Maryland Bards. She has an M.A. from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. You can find more of her work at poempost.

Read more posts by Christine

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