Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Can I go now?" Helping my old girl stand down

The day that would never come.

There's come a time when I've realised something I hadn't seen before. I always professed I wanted Pepper to end her days by herself. Naturally. My hope was for her to have a dignified end but that if pain was making living too hard, I'd cross that bridge when I came to it. 

I'm walking on the bridge now. And I have a big juicy bone enticing my old faithful girl to follow me.

I did not even see, before yesterday, that she won't go until I lead her. She is too obedient. She is too apologetic. Look at that photo up there. That is the doleful look she has always had. The grateful look. The care-taking "may I help you?" look. To this day, stumbling and disoriented as she is now, she waits to be ushered inside (or out) and never assumes to go anywhere we haven't directed her. Why would she not look for my guidance now? Jazz is another story. A different energy altogether. She barges her way past all of us, whacking Pep in the face with that kangaroo-strength tail of hers. She waits for no one and has to be reminded of the correct etiquette (she knows it, she just takes liberties all the time). 

Pepper wouldn't dare. She's not even going to die without being given permission.

Before yesterday, I thought it would be wrong somehow of me to snuff Pepper's lights out. But she seems to have reached a point where she needs me. Needs help to stand down. An insightful Facebook friend I've known for a number of years suggested the poignant timing of this turn of events for our old girl. On the back of my last post where I mused that I really felt "okay" now.... here she is, turning up beside me to hang her lead on the hook and hand in her badge collar. 

Forcing my hand.

Willing me to choose.

Now we are deciding on burial spots in the backyard and whether we'll opt for a call-out from the vet or if I will take her on one final car ride.

I have been torn by this for so long. But now it's no turning back. There will be no more false alarms for dear Pepper. Remember that rather embarrassing time two years ago when I thought her number was up but she had just gorged herself on dog food? That was an embarrassing laugh (only with hindsight, I hastily add). I don't want her to be in pain. A trip to the vet this morning confirmed she has lost most of the feeling in one back leg, the other is not too crash hot. Her front legs are barely holding her weight and she has lost so much muscle tone that her lower back is now compromised. The way she falls (hard) and the increased frequency of her slips mean that I just cannot allow her to go on any longer.

And I realised, not more than three hours ago, that it is only appropriate that it is me who has to be with her. She and I. The two of us. Alone. Together. We spent so many days this way over the past seventeen years. I would literally burst outside to find her if I had become overwhelmed by my grief during the long days when Steve was at work. I'd call Pep - she was never far away - and she would sit with me, whine alongside me as I would sob and sob and sob. She'd slip a paw up into my hand and rest her head on me. Always.
[As an aside, how the hell Steve coped going to work through that, I will never know. If anyone, wants some assistance with understanding from a male's perspective, I encourage them to seek out this excellent blog for fathers.] 

Pepper hasn't been able to do what she instinctively has always done. It's been about a year since she was able to properly balance her weight so she could give me a paw. I wanted to nurse her through her geriatric months, which have turned into years. But now I see what I didn't see before.

I need to relieve her of her duties to me. It's okay for her to go. I've told her many times over, at first when I didn't really even believe it. But there is a profoundness in having to do this for her as well. It is right this way, I've come to accept it quite quickly. It makes sense to me that a dog so fiercely brave and loyal will never lay down and snuff out. As it is today, she senses something is up - I have had to sit beside her and MAKE her lie down to rest. She has been trying to stand beside me since we returned from the vets.

They are no fools, these animals who sacrifice their lives for us. I'd like to think I am about to receive one hell of a guardian angel when she slips peacefully across the void. It makes it only ever so slightly less painful to hope.

And hey.... just an update - look at this: we did it, she's leaving after seventeen years - that one was a super-important post about my girl. So. I can officially say I really have lived with Pepper for as many years as I lived with my mother! I rest my case.

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