I'm sure you've heard about elderly couples who die within weeks, or even days, of one another. Well, I'm not suggesting that our two male dogs were married or anything, but I think they did share a similar companionship. Rufus died on May 2. Yesterday, exactly two weeks later, Toby died. While I watched Grey's Anatomy the other night, when they put Doc down, I felt a stinging sadness but also a sigh of relief that I didn't actually have to be in the room when it happened for our dogs.
Rufus was old. He was deaf and he was going blind. His arthritic legs failed to carry him up the stairs at times, so sometimes my mom had to do the work his body couldn't. Picking up a large, ailing dog is not easy but my mom did because that's how much she loved him. When he couldn't even lift himself up off the floor anymore, and when he started going to the bathroom in the house, mom knew it was time. One morning, while cleaning up a puddle in the kitchen she said, "I just can't do it anymore." I don't think she was talking about cleaning up pee. She couldn't see his dignity stripped away from him any longer. When I came home from work that night, only Toby was there to greet me at the door.
Toby started his medicine the day Rufus died. We had noticed that the whites of his eyes were yellow, and suspected jaundice. We were right. Toby's condition probably flew under the radar for a while because he seemed so healty, compared to Rufus, at least. Apparently, when Toby had the bowel blockage from eating a plastic bag, something must have torn internally and it became infected. The vet said that something was wrong with his liver and with medication it should clear up. He took eight pills a day, three in the morning, one on an empty stomach in the afternoon, and four at night. "Empty stomach" wasn't just an afternoon phenomenon like it had been in the past, though. Instead of consuming his morning and evening meals like he always had, Toby stopped eating. Mom even bought him the expensive canned stuff because he seemed to to at least nibble that. We just thought he was getting a bit snobby and picky, turning up his nose at dry dog food after eating the good stuff (rice and chicken or rice and ground beef) he was fed after his surgery back in December. His already lanky body got frighteningly thin and he wasn't eager to play with his squeaky toy anymore. But he stilled wagged his tail whenever you talked to him. He seemed sad and slower than usual, but I thought it was mostly because a) he was sick, b) his best buddy wasn't around anymore, and c) mom was out of town and he missed her. I gave him his antibiotics in the morning before going to work. At 4:12 that same day, Keith called, bawling, to tell me that he had to put Toby down that afternoon. I felt awful, knowing that my brother would be returning to our completely empty house, something he had never experienced during his entire life. Tonight, I experienced it and it wasn't so good. No paws clawing at the hardwood floor to say hello, not even a collar jiggle from a head perking up with recognition that somebody's home. Silence. Still, sad silence.
The night before Rufus died and the morning of the day Toby died, I spent a little extra time giving them "lovies," as my mom says. I scratched a little longer, petted them with a bit more affection, and told them what good boys they were. The thing was, I didn't know at the time that those would be the last hugs I gave them. I never got to say goodbye to either of the dogs. At least, I didn't know that it was goodbye at the time. Something in me just knew they needed a bit more attention than usual. I had no idea there wouldn't be an "next time" to pet them, though.
So, I wonder, what if we treated every hug with that much importance? I don't mean to focus on the death part of it ("treat each hug as if it were your last" sounds too morbid), but to celebrate the life of it ("give each hug the meaning it deserves"). Not just with dogs, but with people, too. I would never want to be ashamed or regretful of my last interaction with anyone, which means I better be aware of giving the best I can give, all the time.