We knew the time was approaching when we'd need to make "the decision" but when it was time it didn't make it easier. What gave us the right to decide our dog had reached the end of her life? Who'd be God?
We'd been prepared. We'd spoken to the vet about it several months ago. That had been when her back legs started to wobble and she couldn't make it round her daily walk however slowly we plodded along. We'd taken her in for a check up. She was good for her age, he'd said, and he advised we kept her active to fend off the muscle atrophy. Even if her days of long walks were over she could still do the other things she liked: pottering around the garden sniffing, listening, watching the world go by. But he warned us: she was old and she was getting weaker and dogs weren't keen on wheelchairs and nappies. If we got to the point where, if she were a person, we'd be thinking wheelchair and or nappies then she be at the point where her peaceful old age was tipping over into stressful existence, unappealing and miserable for a formerly active, out door dog.
For months she was content to plod and totter around in the garden or curl up and sleep in a comfortable spot. She'd come to watch us gardening, still interested in picking up sticks, dragging uprooted brambles and nettles out of the barrow, or tossing around broom heads, pulling at the bristles and shaking it as though killing prey. Though more slowly now, more frequently taking a break and a nap on her mat.
We hoped that maybe she would go quietly in her sleep before she reached that tipping point so we would be spared the agony of the decision if not the grief of losing her. She was a tough old dog but would her legs hold up long enough to see her out?
By the new year the deterioration in her mobility was accelerating. She'd started to fall and struggle to stand again, increasingly she'd lie for a few minutes where she fell, taking a rest, but still she tottered around following her nose, sniffing her way through the garden, taking an interest in visitors and the cats, eager for food and treats. She was still her own dog, very doddery, hunched and frail, but she knew what she wanted and gave it a go. She hadn't lost her spirit or her dignity but how long would she have the strength to make the effort?
Was she reaching the tipping point? How much longer would the lure of the garden with its smells and noises, cats and birds overcome her struggle to stand up? On Saturday she was still putting in the effort but more often than not she needed a helping hand, a gentle lift, a steadying hand. On Sunday we weren't so sure, she seemed more reluctant to struggle to her feet. She didn't try to make it to the door. When she was outside she wandered aimlessly, round in circles as though lost. She looked sad.
And today we knew. She was at the tipping point, balancing, balancing and falling onto the wrong side; she couldn't be her own dog. We couldn't ignore it and see her lose her dignity or the pleasures in her life. We didn't want to make the call, but we did. The family gathered, she had one last faltering walk along the garden path and then we all accompanied her on her last journey, stroked her fur and whispered into her ear as she died peacefully under the care of her vet.
RIP Tilly, the Old Dog, March 2003 - 7 January 2019