That conversation lasted a long time. The facts were not complicated:
- we are doing everything we can, but we do not have any real options, since he would not survive the treatments;
- he is not in pain … yet … but he is not happy;
- draining the fluid gave him relief, but it is only temporary;
- we will not send him away to the hospital again;
- we cannot allow him to become that sick again;
- he is a proud dog and it hurts him to fail us, but if he gets any sicker, he will begin to fail, and he is worth more than that;
- he deserves to be free from pain and fear;
- we do not want his last memories to be my carrying him to the car at 3am, driving frantically to the emergency vet, all of us petrified of what is happening; and
- we understand we can never repay him for what he has given us, but we owe him at least his dignity, our respect, and some peace.
The conclusions resulting from that conversation were somewhat more complicated.
We knew that eventually, we would have to help him pass. We just didn’t want that to be now. We owed him a chance to fight, once again, to see if the relief he is experiencing would give him the strength to heal. If we felt it was time, if he let us know, we would have to act. He told us he wanted to come home from the hospital, so certainly he would be able to tell us sadder truths, too. In the meantime, we had to make every moment he was with us special, so that his last days or weeks or, if there could possibly be more miracles in this dog’s life, months, would be something that we could look back on and say that we had done good for him.
I bought a pizza for dinner; I hadn’t actually cooked for anyone but him for weeks, and we were sick of takeaway. Besides, he used to love eating the crusts and sausage, and I hoped he might be up to it now that he was feeling more like himself. I was right. M hand fed him sausage and pizza crusts, along with one of her fingers that he seemed to think was another piece of crust. She managed to keep smiling as he bit down and tugged at her finger. She told me that she couldn’t help but smile, it was so nice seeing him strong and able to bite down so hard again. He even drank his Gatorade — orange, this time.
That night, I wanted him to take him to his old stomping grounds, places where he used to love to walk, places where he would stop and sit and stare, listening to the sounds, smelling the air or the ground, just taking it all in and experiencing as much as he could. He was still too weak to make it on his own, though, so I helped him into his wagon, and out the door we went.
The first stop was Daley Plaza, where he liked to sit on a bench, stare at the lights and the fountain, and smell the flowers. He met a few new friends that night, people amazed to see an old white pit resting in a red wagon rolling down the sidewalk, pulled by me, and accompanied by a woman fighting to stay strong and positive. Along, of course, was a very patient red nosed pit mix called Sophie. He had raised her from a puppy, steadily by her side for more than thirteen years. One man walking alone asked about him. Visibly moved by our explanation of the reason for the whole scene, he knelt down next to the wagon, rubbed Dexter’s head, hugged him, and scratched his back, before softly telling him that Saint Francis would be watching over him.
So on we went to Daley Plaza, so that Dexter could stare at the lights dancing in the fountain, listen to the water, and smell the flowers.
Our next stop was a strip of dirt and grass along the sidewalk next to a vacant lot. He used to love to patrol it so much we called it Dexter’s Alley. When the wagon approached the spot he liked to mark, I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see him clamber out of the wagon, big grin on his face, front legs on the sidewalk, dragging the rest of him out of the wagon and towards the dirt. Before I could get over to help him, he made it out, walked over towards the fence, and relieved himself of all that Gatorade. He turned and walked back to the wagon, paused, and looked up at me to help him get back in, as if to say “We have one more stop to make, get me up there, let’s go!” So on we went, to the little public plaza where Sam’s Hot Dogs used to stand, where he had his favorite patch of grass. Every walk he took seemed to end up there, in one way or another, so he could plop down, take a rest, and smell the grass.
It was in this spot where a couple of weeks ago, the night before we brought Dexter to the hospital, a hobo walked down the sidewalk and asked if he could say hello to the dog. Before you laugh, this guy really was a hobo … white hair, dungarees, his t-shirt stuffed into his back pocket, carrying a nearly empty bottle of water … all he was missing was a bindlestick and a 1950’s nickname like Lefty, or Lucky, or Knobby. I could have sworn I saw soot from a coal fired locomotive under his eyes. In most cases, I would say no, but this time I said “Sure, come on over.” He walked over and sat on the grass next to Dexter, who didn’t seem to mind.
It’s almost time to go, huh? It won’t be long.
Yeah, he’s getting up there, fifteen years now.
Fifteen, huh? That’s a long time. He’s a lucky guy. Not much time left. That’s OK, though. We start dying the moment we’re born.
Alright boy, well, come on, Dexter, let’s get you home. You have a good night, OK?
Dexter got up, walked over to the hobo, and started licking his face. The hobo scratched him behind the ears, and Dex just kept on licking and wagging his tail.
Come on Dex, let’s go. Hey, do you want another bottle of water?
We kept a couple bottles of water in the bag we carried on Dexter’s walks. I handed a bottle to the hobo.
Thanks, I’d love one. You take care.
You too. Stay safe.
We walked off, Dexter strutting along. Time to go home.