Updated: Feb 27
Goodbyes make you think. They make you realize what you’ve had, what you’ve lost, and what you’ve taken for granted.” -Ritu Ghatourey
It's been almost three weeks since I said goodbye to The Best Dog Ever: my Sparta. At 13, I had to accept the fact that she wasn't just having troubles getting up this morning...it had become every morning. Her eyesight was almost gone due to cataracts. She was slow and lumbering for the last few years, but it wasn't until I realized she wasn't joining me in my office for our "morning dog training meetings" that I understood. It was time.
See, the morning meetings were always the same, and Sparta thrived on patterns, predictability, and routine. Some dogs like chaos (Ellis), but Sparta would get thrown out of whack for a bit if we deviated our schedule, which involved waking at about 5:30, and then spending a few hours in my office catching up on emails, blog posts and general miscellanea. All the animals knew the routine, and it wasn't too long before my foster fail, Ellis, even caught on: we chill in mom's office until she's done with her morning work.
I think this was always Sparta's favorite time of the day, because she also loved calmness. She loved that I had the fireplace going to heat up the office, and would lounge in front of its heat, letting old bones warm up to their useful state again. But the fire was taking longer to do its job. Also, prior to "committing" to staying in the office for a few hours, I would usually be running up and down our steps between the kitchen and my office, getting coffee, feeding cats, forgetting something...and usually the dogs would all follow me, like a mother duck and her ducklings, up and down the steps, until I finally settled into the office.
Only over the past year, she waited at the bottom of the steps until I was firmly committed to settling in my office. Because while she loved office time, she knew that I only went in there once a day, and when I was done, I was done. So she didn't want to miss it, but her legs didn't want to endure the up-and-down routine of the steps. Who could blame her?
Then one day, she didn't want to come up. I called her upstairs to let her know I was settled, but she stayed on the first floor on her bed. And for a dog who answered every command with "Sir, yes sir!", that was strange. So I let her stay downstairs and held my meetings.
She would still occasionally join our meetings, but it wasn't always a guarantee anymore. I don't remember the last time she joined a meeting. Life is funny like that. I didn't know at the time when her last meeting was. I didn't know at the time I was playing rope toy with her. Someone once said there is a time you will pick up your child for the very last time, just a minor thing at the moment, something you don't even realize is happening for the last time. Perhaps that's a good thing, not have boxes checked: last walk, last trip to the park, last Kong, last ear scratch. So in a way, maybe it's merciful not to know. But for some reason, I feel cheated by not knowing it would be her last morning meeting in my office.
I'm not ignorant, and I don't hide from the plain truth right before my eyes. I don't rail against reality: I knew this day was coming. I've written numerous blog posts about paying attention to what your older dogs may be trying to tell you: aching bones, loss of sight, or maybe just playing a few less rounds of fetch than usual. Our dogs are speaking to us, only they use something more succinct than mere words. Words are vulgar and brash, and easily strewn about. Dogs don't say, "I love you", they show you. Dogs are the physical embodiment of pure communication. And Sparta had be communicating with me for a long time now, slowly saying her goodbye.
I think she knew the last time she was playing rope toy. The last time we worked on scent detection. She knew the last time she'd get a Kong. And I think she knew the last time she would make that long, now painful, journey up the steps to my office.
Dogs aren't afraid of age. Not really. They don't rail against it, gnashing their teeth against the unfairness of it all. I've never seen a graying dog feel sorry for aging, nor for it's "lost youth". They accept these things, and realize they are just part of the journey. They see where they are in their journey, and walk it patiently, forgiving us for our desire to hold on to whatever part of the road we deemed the best, rather than moving forward. No, dogs are too pure for that. They patiently nod their gray, grizzled muzzles in acceptance of their fate, and tick off their boxes of "lasts". Last car ride. Last treat. Last hug. Last look. Last heart beat. Lasting peace.
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio