Oliver was not just our family dog. He was our yoga partner, our running partner, our alarm clock, our resident comedian, our touchstone. He warmed my feet after a cold run by laying all of his 80 pounds on them, and he was an excellent spooning partner. He was only 7 years old, and we had barely loved him for 4 1/2 years. He was taken from us by an aggressive cancer that left him skeletal and weak, a shadow of his former self. But he never lost the love in his eyes, and the wag in his tail, albeit a weaker wag in the end.
As we watched him slowly die in front of our eyes, the frailty of life - and its temporary nature - was thrust upon me. This once strong, barrel-chested animal that could knock over a 200-pound man with merely a nudge was reduced to limping across the house in a matter of a few months. And there was nothing we could do but relieve his pain with copious amounts of medication and continue to love him until we knew it was the end.
I drove him to the vet this morning knowing it would be THE day. His abdomen had swelled up over the night, and he was having trouble breathing. He had a look on his face that practically begged for me to make it all go away. When I arrived at the vet, they led me into a room with a squishy, comfortable sofa. I sat down, and Oliver looked up at me with a puppyish alertness that I had not seen on his face in a long time. I invited him to hop up, and he tried so hard, but just could not get there. For the first time since we had adopted him, I was able to pick him up - he had lost more than 30 pounds of his body weight - and I put him on my lap. He placed his head on my chest and I stroked his swollen belly, listening to his racing heartbeat and irregular breathing. For several minutes, I whispered to him all of the things I needed to tell him - how much he meant to me, how he'd healed my soul and spirit so many times, how I loved him - and he relaxed into my body as if to signal that he was ready. It was a most special moment. It was our moment of goodbye.
My husband arrived, and the vet prepped Oliver for the procedure. I had never been a witness to this before, but my husband had. He tried to assure me that it would be quick and peaceful. My husband crawled on the floor and laid on Oliver's chest whispering the same loving words to him that I had a few minutes earlier. Oliver lifted one of his front legs and placed his paw on my husband, as if to embrace him. It was their moment of goodbye.
When the time came, the vet administered the drugs, and we both gently stroked Oliver's belly. The quiet overwhelmed the room, it was smothering me. The vet checked his heart, and told us that he was gone. But he wasn't. He was laying right there, and I just felt like he was going to hop up and scurry out the door with us and hop in the car and come home with me, sniffing and biting at the wind out the car window, with his ears and jowls flapping.
But that would be a memory now.
His lifelessness was startling, but a relief. He was no longer in pain, and I desperately hope that he slipped away feeling our hands on him, hearing our voices telling him how much we love him. I was not prepared for the stillness, for the quiet. Or the anguish.
My husband's early morning winter runs won't be the same, and it will take me a while to get used to practicing yoga without Oliver stretching beside me. And there will never be another foot warmer like him.
It's so hard to say goodbye to the creatures we love, even when we are middle-aged and should seemingly be able to accept life's cycle. Love everyone and everything in your life at all times, because you just don't know when the chance to do it will be gone forever.
Oliver, my yoga dog
4/26/06 - 6/10/13
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." ~Anatole France