He was old, probably suffering, though his kind never complain, so how could you tell? Stiff with arthritis, they will still struggle to their feet when they hear you at the door. Gone blind, they will still wag their tails at the sound of your voice. Riddled with tumors, they will still lick your hand if you bring it near.
He lost the sight in one eye when he was around ten, but he had two good years before the cataract in the other eye grew in, leaving him completely blind. We considered paying the two thousand dollars per eye to get them removed, but at his age the surgery itself could kill him, and by then other things had gone wrong.
Besides, dogs use their other senses far more than we do. He could navigate the house well enough without sight. Unfortunately it meant we could no longer take him for walks, because any breeze that brushed him made him think he was about to run into something, and he would stop.
Arthritis had crept into his joints by then. He was cutting short his twice-daily sniffing tour of the backyard. This was the same yard we used to chase him around not more than two years before, when he would bark and wag and never seem to tire.
Near the end, he would go out to just beyond the deck, do his business, and return. He always found his way back though. Even blind. It was inspiring to watch.
The worst were the skin problems. When he was around thirteen he developed a fatty deposit the size of a fist. It squatted just under the skin of his lower belly. He became obsessed with licking at it, to the point where he broke skin and it began to fester. We put a collar on him, but he found ways around it.
That was the saddest part of it all. The smell of rot clung to him, and no bath could get rid of it. He was never comfortable, especially with that damned collar. And with the smell, no one wanted him around. Even I had a hard time cuddling with him.
Finally we made the decision. We took him to the vet for the last time. As a bonus, the vet found a heart murmur.
Then she suggested various surgeries that could prolong his life — we could get another two years, perhaps. Maybe we should reconsider.
I still can’t believe she said that. Did she have any idea how long it took us to come to this decision? How we were barely holding it together as it was? Was she looking to pad her pockets? I nearly left in disgust, but we were too close to turn back now.
The vet stuck a needle in his butt and he collapsed in my arms. He began licking the palm of my left hand. Another needle and he was dead.
We had him cremated and buried him behind our pond, in the backyard he loved so much. We bought a statue of St. Francis to watch over him.
The next summer, I bought a little garden stone to leave with the Saint. It had the epitaph:
In memory of our faithful friend and companion.
It was painfully inadequate, but it was the best they had. He was all that, and so much more.
He was family.
Farewell, my friend. And so much more.