My morning was easy today. That’s a seemingly good thing, but today it was quite bittersweet. For months now, the morning routine around our house has centered around the race to get Clyde and Ladybug, our geriatric Dalmatians, outside to go potty. Most days, despite our best efforts, there would be a little mess to clean up, another dog bed to wash, and perhaps a quick bath for one or both dogs. But it was ok. They were sweet dogs doing the best they could while dealing with bodies falling victim to advancing teenage years.
Jim and I had been talking about “it” for a couple of weeks. If you have companion animals, you know the conversation. You bring it up gently, you discuss quality of life. You talk about options, but then it becomes clear that there are no options. We can’t turn back time. We can’t make old legs work again. We can’t wave a magic wand to restore vigor to arthritic joints. We can’t erase the quiet frustration so clearly visible in precious old eyes.
Clyde came to us from the Tulsa Animal Welfare Shelter. I would guess that he was around 11 years old when we got him. Scarring indicated that he had extensive surgery on a back leg at some point in his past. Someone had once cared enough to do this for him. Clyde stayed with us for about three years.
Ladybug was found walking along a busy street in Tulsa by some friends of mine. She was a quiet, gentle girl. Truly a lady in every sense of the word, she was an easy fit into our home and hearts. Ladybug was likely 12 or 13 when she came to us. We had her for nearly two years.
Clyde was a joyful boy…silly at times. Ladybug was dignified and sweet. Neither dog appeared to suffer from any past abuse or neglect, as many people seem to immediately assume of a homeless dog. Both were extremely pleasant dogs.
How these dogs and others like them find themselves in need of a new home in their golden years is something completely beyond my understanding. I cannot for one moment imagine any reason that would cause me to abandon a sweet old companion, but I also know that I can’t criticize when I don’t know the circumstances. Life can take some pretty profound turns at times. We all eventually learn that lesson in one way or another.
Perhaps their owners passed away. Perhaps an owner had to move to a healthcare facility and relatives could not/would not accept responsibility for the dog left behind. I could guess all day. I do feel in my heart, however, that each of these dogs had known loving owners, and in the end, I think I got proof to support that notion.
Both dogs had been in a steady decline for a couple of months. Jim and I made “the decision” and set the appointment. After a couple more days of serious spoiling, we would let the two go together. It seemed fitting really; they had been our little old couple all along.
We have played this scene out more times than I can count. It’s part of the territory when you have taken in homeless dogs as long as we have—especially when you have an affinity for the old guys. This time, however, there was something different. Something so very beautifully different.
Ladybug, who was so riddled with arthritis, slipped out of this life very easily and quietly. She nibbled on a hot dog that I held for her, listened to me and Jim as we told her what a wonderful girl she was, and then, seemingly with a sigh of relief, she was gone.
Clyde too enjoyed a hot dog as our wonderful veterinarian skillfully inserted the needle. At first, as the drug entered his vein, Clyde seemed a bit surprised. Then, as he started to slip away, the most amazing thing happened. He started wagging his tail. Not just a reflex, or a dog showing good-nature to the end. He started vigorously wagging his tail. The kind of wag you see when your own dog is beyond happy to see you. Clyde’s tail wagged with pure joy until his heart beat its last beat.
Jim and I have never seen that happen. My veterinarian has never seen that happen. I am still touched and amazed by that wildly wagging tail. Whatever your belief about what comes next after this life, I am here to tell you that I believe Clyde received a great welcome to the other side. In my heart, I believe that the person who once cared for this funny, spotted boy, came to reclaim a best friend.
We will miss Clyde and Ladybug. Their departure leaves a conspicuous hole in our daily routine, as well as in our hearts and minds. But we won’t dwell on their passing. We loved them dearly, and then it was their time to go. We should all be so lucky to leave this life surrounded by love with a little turkey dog still stuck in your teeth, and with a wagging tail to assure those who remain behind that there is something very grand beyond this existence.
We have people tell us all the time how great we are to take in senior dogs. Trust me when I tell you, we really aren’t that great. We get far more from these dear old souls than we could ever possibly give back in kibble and dog beds. In honor of their memory this morning, I will use my new-found spare time to smile and imagine sweet Ladybug and dear Clyde safe in the arms of those who loved them before.
Who’s to say…?