The hardest part
February 20, 2014
Not today Rigby, not today. I had told him that dozens of times over the past year, mostly lightheartedly, because, you know, he and I joked around a lot.
Rigby, named after Eleanor, was an Airedale terrier mix, so he was tall, like a mini-carrot on toothpicks, with a Fu Manchu beard and crazy, old man eyebrows.
His body was getting old. His legs were getting weak. His torso was filling up with lumps, so many that we stopped counting or monitoring their growth.
He loved to eat, loved to walk and loved to be loved. At 12 years old, he was actually in amazing shape. But I knew it was his last season of camping. His last Christmas.
It wasn’t until I could see his breathing had stopped and his pain was over that ours really began.
That’s what we told ourselves, our son. We were preparing ourselves. But it didn’t help. I’m sure it never does.
It was a Friday afternoon when he fell. A friend and I had to pick him up as he scrambled for traction on our hardwood floors. It was unlike him, I thought, to fall in such a way.
But his energy and ability to move only continued to deteriorate throughout the weekend.
Saturday night I got my Therm-a-rest out so I could sleep in the living room with him. I didn’t want him to die alone.
As I got all nestled under my quilt, he gave me that look like I was insane, and got up and wandered into the bedroom.
It wasn’t the first time he’d given me that look. We lifted him on our bed and took turns sleeping on the couch so we could be near him. I kept hoping he simply wouldn’t wake up.
Sometime in those days of worry (and after having covered the entire house with area rugs and kitchen mats), we discussed what had to be done.
His breathing was so labored at times, particularly at night, I would lie there and listen and worry and wonder why I hadn’t called yet. We had to let him go.
Rigby hated the vet. Don’t get me wrong, our vet is wonderful, and we love her, but Rigby began to shake whenever we pulled into the parking lot. You could see fear in his eyes. I didn’t want his last moments to be in distress.
So I called a number I’d been holding onto for years, hoping I’d never need it. Dr. Linda Reznicek performed in-home euthanasia.
I had actually called her two years ago when we thought his health was failing.
When I called last month, she was just as warm and understanding, listening to my questions and concerns. We talked about the logistics — scheduling and fees.
My husband, practical and pragmatic, yet just as emotionally attached and torn, Googled her and found her website, http://www.goodbyeathome.net, which answered his questions and concerns.
We were on the same page and knew it was the right thing to do.
Even if Rigby rebounded, he would never be to what he was. We were coercing him and carrying him to meals and potty breaks.
At least we knew he would go knowing no hunger — enjoying tuna-drenched kibble and able to feel the rain on his beard.
I called her back to set a day and time. Through a number of texts and teary phone calls, we decided on Thursday.
As often happens through tears and cellphone calls, there was a miscommunication, and Linda knocked on my door Wednesday afternoon.
After realizing who she was, I tearfully said, “I’m not ready!”
She came in and met Rigby. He wagged his tail, the first time he’d done so in days. Later, she alleviated my fears and told me he was ready. His eyes were tired.
He would soon be released from this pain and would be in a much better place. She knew he would, because if she didn’t believe that, she couldn’t do what she does.
My mom believes he wagged his tail because he knew. He was ready for her.
Linda returned Thursday afternoon. The rain had stopped. She knocked on the door and we were ready this time — as ready as we could be. Rigby wagged his tail but didn’t lift his head as she bent down to pet him.
Then she began the necessary steps. The act wasn’t so hard. I was more concerned about his comfort and pain.
I remember reading, and know from experience, that dogs are extremely intuitive to emotions, so I tried to remain calm and loving. It was my job.
It wasn’t until I could see his breathing had stopped and his pain was over, that ours really began.
We cried for several minutes, then somehow the mood lightened somewhat as the practicalities set in.
I think I began to feel at ease that he was going with a person who truly understood our love for him and would take care of him, even though he was already on his way over the Rainbow Bridge. (This was a term and place I had yet to learn, but quickly warmed to.)
We carried Rigby to her truck, which had a sign that said something about animal hospice — something I hadn’t noticed before.
With some experience with hospice care, it made me even more comfortable sending him with someone who believed pets needed hospice just as much we did.
I don’t think being there for Rigby in those final moments was the hardest part.
It was the moments and decisions that got us there that were the hardest, second only to the hours after we knew he was gone.
But we’re thankful for Dr. Linda Reznicek for making those moments full of peace and love, which is what Rigby brought our family for 12 years.
Freelance writer Katrina Paz lives in Grass Valley.