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James Wanless

this is where I write

The way she probably wanted to go

The most shocking thing was simply the suddenness of it all. A month ago, as far as we could tell, we had a healthy dog closing in on 11 years old. By all outward signs, Darby might buck the big dog trend and live to 13 or more. Then she developed a limp and now she’s gone. In fact, she’s been gone since this past Tuesday, but I really haven’t wanted to talk or write about it much.

I won’t re-hash what’s in the post linked above, so take a look if you’re interested in the diagnosis. In the end, if there’s a silver lining, it’s that we were able to choose that Darby not suffer. Being as aggressive as this cancer is, though, ultimately it meant that we didn’t get as much time with her as we would have liked after finding out she was terminal.

While my sense of propriety means I could never think of taking pictures at the end at the vet, the scene was somehow fitting for a mooch and cookie snarfer the likes of Darby. Due to the care she received at Blueridge-Cove Animal Hospital, going to the vet was never a negative thing for her, so when we took her for her final visit, she was her usual excited bundle of nerves.

While my eldest son was sick with the flu and couldn’t make it, Connie, Tyler and I were all in attendance. I’m not sure how most vets do it, but at Blueridge you don’t actually remain when the dog is euthanized; rather you stay with the animal while a very strong sedative puts them out. The rest is, thankfully, handled discreetly after you leave.

It was all about the cookies

Once guided into the examination room, we found a blanket on the ground. We got Darby relaxed and lying down; no small feat when her typical pattern is to explore the entire space and then settle her gaze and snout upon the cookie jar, with laser beam intensity. Doctor Kennedy came in and administered a needle and then proceeded to dump very nearly the entire contents of said cookie jar on the ground before her.

While I don’t speak dog, at least not much of it (I picked up a word here and there, spending so much time with Darby), I’m pretty sure she uttered something to the effect of, “Holy shit, I’ve never seen this many cookies at once, let alone eaten them!” There must have been 60 cookies in front of her. She happily began gobbling and slobbering them down, making that snorty, joyous sound all dog people know and love.

After a minute or so of pure pig-out bliss, you could see the sedative taking effect. The pace of snarfing slowed, but as she got sleepy, she desperately wanted to finish the serving. After getting probably 2/3 of the pile down in the first minute, it became a cookie every two seconds, then every ten and, by the end of probably two minutes, she had stopped.

It was a valiant effort, and she likely put away 45 cookies. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes, total, before she was pretty much out cold, passed out on a pile of cookies and drool, like a drunken sailor on a bender.

It’s all about the dog

You’ll notice I’ve only described the dog’s experience above. I probably don’t need to write much about her people in the room. There was lots of petting, snuggling, kissing and crying as the three of us – thankful for being able to choose she not suffer – recognized the gravity of the situation and that we were spending our last moments with an animal we’d been with most every day for nearly 11 years. We stayed in the room for, easily, half an hour past Darby falling into the deepest of sleeps.

A beautiful touch at Blueridge, which I noticed upon leaving Darby in the examination room, is the euthanasia candle in the waiting room. It’s a small, but important thing, I think. It lets the family know that they are sensitive to your needs and lets any others entering the space know that someone is saying goodbye to a loved one. We received a sympathy card in the mail from them the other day, and the only remaining piece will be the clay paw print we chose to have made. It, along with her collar and probably five or six photos yet to be chosen, will go in a framed montage, to be hung in a place of prominence in our house.

You’ll also notice that I’ve only focused on her final moments here. A bigger retrospective with lots of pics is coming later. I don’t want that journal entry to have anything much in it about her diagnosis and passing, as it will be about the amazing animal that she was.

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