A little while ago Dad and I decided to sit down and get all of the mats out of Bootsie’s fur and give her a trim. Between the pandemic and her multiple surgeries to remove her cancerous mast cell tumors, a visit to the groomers just wasn’t possible.
Dad and I laughed at how relaxed the sweet, 14 year old rescue dog was laying on the studio table in their home, “Would you like some cucumber slices for your eyes?” I asked in a soothing voice, “Or perhaps some water with strawberries floating in it?” She was truly enjoying this spa day.
While we worked, we whispered sweet things to her that she could not hear, and quietly worked our way through it all. Dad and I chatted a bit now and then but mostly we did this in silence. It felt meditational. Almost ceremonial. I knew in my heart that this would be her final grooming.
In the afternoon of the second day of this massive de-matting project, Mom, who is recovering from knee replacement surgery and had been sleeping a lot prior, joined us. She sat at the other end of the table and turned on a movie. Our quiet-as-a-temple activity took a strange turn when she cued up Ben Hur of all choices then proceeded to talk to the screen when the plot twisted, hollering things incredulously like “Did he KILL him?! Is he dead?!” to a movie which she has undoubtedly seen already.
Dad and I sort of chuckled under our breath at the situation. We finished our project despite the added, humorous soundtrack, and Miss Bootsie was much more comfortable.
It is two weeks later and Bootsie is now gone. Yesterday morning a vet came to Mom and Dad’s house to help her “cross over”. It’s been really difficult. Medications disguised the signs that would typically come when your dog is too tired to keep doing. Prednisone made Bootsie hungry, so she continued to eat. Pain medications masked some of the discomfort of her cancer and likely, her failing legs.
But in those last days it became clear that while we knew she would never improve – she was fourteen after all – the cons were now outweighing the pros.
I had invited myself to dinner the night before, and when I called to ask Dad if I should bring ingredients to make dinner or use what they have, he told me they’d made an appointment for the vet to come the next monring.
As I drove to their house that night for dinner I knew the one thing I wanted to do was go to our ice cream shop Meletharbs and get some ice cream. Bootsie always loved licking dollops of whipped cream from the take-away container tops, and tonight she would get some!
When I arrived at Mom and Dad’s and came through the door, Bootsie got up on her now very skinny somewhat wobbly legs, and met me in the doorway. I do not remember a time when she’d ever done this before. Certainly not in the last six months. I crouched down and gently rubbed behind her ears and she stood there a long time, enjoying it.
When we all went to the kitchen to work on dinner, Bootsie came along. Another rarity. She plopped herself down in the middle of all of us while we bustled around, and when we headed out to the deck to eat, she joined. She watched me with great interest while we ate our chicken, rice and salad. I cut her a small piece of chicken and hand fed it to her. The first time in her life ever that she ate something from the table (aside from the time I caught her sending couscous flying by flicking her tongue in the plate of an abandoned meal). She got many many more bites of chicken from me that night.
We laughed and joked at the fervor with which she gobbled the chicken, and the joy she clearly got from it. When I cut her off, she shuffled around to Mom’s side of the table and looked up at her hopefully.
It was confusing, really, to see this old, ailing dog perky as a puppy when just earlier in the day, her legs weren’t really working right. But the end was the same. She wasn’t going to improve. She had had a good long life. In fact, she was definitely the oldest of all the dogs who were ever loved by my parents.
As I watched her that night so happy and content, being filled with treats and showered with love and pats, I thought what a good last night this is. She doesn’t appear to be in pain. She isn’t struggling despite the cancer and her generally failing body. She didn’t pant in discomfort.
The next day, Mom, Dad and I gathered around her while the vet helped her, and Mom told Bootsie all the things she already knew. And slowly, peacefully, she just left us.
I’m really glad we could give that to her. It’s least we could do for all the love and joy she gave us.