I thought I heard Coco squeak from her bed in the laundry room last night. I lay there, feeling the adrenalin rush that accompanies that sound because it means an urgent cry of pain and anxiety can’t be too far behind. Like Pavlov’s dogs, this trigger elicits a conditioned response to bolt out of bed, fumbling to bring my sweatshirt over my head as I stumble down the stairs. But last night it was only my imagination because Coco is with us no longer. Coco was our 13 year old cocker spaniel and just recently we brought her to the vet for her final visit. My son and I left her body on the table, wet with our tears but free from pain to go wherever it is dog souls go when they die. It is comforting to think about the Rainbow Bridge, or to imagine her cavorting with all the other dogs we have known in our lives. I don’t really know what happens to souls. What I do know is that she is no longer hurting; even as the sedative took its effect before the actual lethal injection, she was the most relaxed I’d seen her in weeks. This all helps to ease the angst of being the one to decide that euthanasia was ultimately our only choice. For who are we to play God with the life of another sentient being, if only out of compassion? I don’t have an answer to that question, except that I know that to let her die a natural death would have been a long, drawn out process. If she were in the wild, she wouldn’t have lasted even this long – glaucoma robbed her of her vision many months ago, dementia robbed her of her presence of mind, both stirring anxieties to touch and sound. It’s a tough world out there with survival of the fittest being the determining factor. She was no longer fit. Logically, to end her life was the humane thing to do, captive as she was in the human world.
I have a tendency to look at the natural order of things. In the wild, predators would eliminate the old and infirm, using their bodies for nourishment. Scavengers and decomposers would return what is left to the Earth to begin again in this web of life. I’m not advocating we send our old and infirm out in the woods to die. That would be terribly inhumane in this civilized world. Technology has allowed us to extend our lives, cure diseases, decrease or eliminate the pain associated with aging. This is all good. But in some cases we cross the line ever so slowly from healing to compromise. I have no suggestions to remedy this, except maybe to take a lesson from nature on following instinct. If Coco could have communicated her wishes, would she have chosen to linger and suffer? Many people told me I would know somehow when she was ready. I wasn’t sure about that. I just had to trust my instincts.
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