That's what I miss the most.
He had the brightest blue eyes. Lined with black.
Those eyes saw into my soul and on his final day, they allowed me to see into his.
We were on the vet's floor, his big head on my lap. April lying beside him, spooning him, tears dropping, one after another, onto his coat of graying hair.
His bangs kept falling over his eyes as we waited for the doctor to fill the needle full of sleep. I kept pushing the hair away, wanting to, needing to, see into the eyes that registered every emotion I ever felt.
Did he know what was getting ready to happen? Was he in pain? Confused by our wails and red faces?
I was desperate to know what was behind those eyes, trying to focus on them behind waves of tears falling from my own.
Without question, he did know he couldn't walk when his back legs gave out on him earlier that morning. I'd watched, horrified, as he tried to drag himself, G.I. Joe style, to the back door.
Even without the use of his legs, he still wanted to go outside to use the bathroom.
Gingerly, but not gingerly enough, I tried to lift his back legs wheel-barrow style in an attempt to support his efforts.
He cried out and so did I.
After suffering through a series of seizures several weeks earlier, we'd taken Stewart to the vet and he was put on phenobarbital. It stopped the seizures, but we knew whatever was causing them would likely get worse. Could be a brain tumor. Could be this. Could be that. We'd never know.
The deal: as long as he wasn't in pain, could walk on his own and was eating, we'd do everything we could to keep him comfortable. Afterall, he'd had 14 amazing years and we were lucky he'd been healthy all his life.
Watching him unable to drag himself outside, I knew our luck had run out. I made the call I'd been dreading. April needed to come home.
She found Stewart and I at back the back door, both crying in pain.
I searched her crestfallen face. She knew what I knew. We didn't have to say it.
Her chin quivered. Step one in trying to fight back tears.
Emotions high, we spent the next few minutes discussing how best to move him, causing as little pain as possible. I ran outside, moved the car around and together we put him in the backseat.
I drove, April sat in the back with a very agitated Stewart. I couldn't look in the review mirror. It was too hard.
I didn't want to see what I could hear.
April crying. Telling Stewart how much she loved him. How lucky she felt to have found him in that shelter 13 years ago.
I didn't want to see his twisted legs. The same legs that used to power him on our hikes and long walks downtown.
I didn't want to believe this was really happening.
We pulled into the parking lot. April stayed with Stew. We weren't going to move him until it was time for the doctor to see him.
A few patients were in front of us. A kitty with an ear infection. A big dog with allergies so bad his owner said he was trying to chew his own paw off.
I tried to make small talk, smile, desperate to feel like I was just there for something routine. Like he wasn't out there, in the back of my car, drawing his last breaths.
I wanted time to stop and speed up. I didn't want to go through with it, but I wanted to get it over with. The waiting was killing me. Too much thinking. Too much bile in my stomach.
The kitten came and went. The door shut behind the allergic dog.
I kept thinking...When they come out, it's our turn.
I watched that door. Praying it wouldn't open. Knowing that when it did, they'd be ready for us.
It hurt. It opened.
The vet offered to hold the door while we brought Stewart in.
Nodding, I cast my eyes downward and walked outside. April saw me coming. Her tears came faster.
We eased him out of the car. This time, he let me pick up his back legs and wheel-barrow him in the door.
I could feel the sympathy stares from everyone. Our pain was palpable and they knew what we were there to do.
Then there we were...
On the vet's floor, his big head on my lap. April lying beside him, spooning him, tears dropping, one after another, onto his coat of graying hair.
My heart felt like it would never be the same again. It was tight, felt small, like one of those compressed t-shirts wrapped in plastic that companies give away as a gimmic. Like it would fit in the size of a baby's hand.
I heard the vet's footsteps, going to get the sleep needle.
"I love you, I love you, I love you." All I could say. Looking into those eyes.
They looked back at me. Bright. Blue. Beautiful.
The vet sat down beside him. I didn't want to look, but I couldn't stop myself. The syringe was big. Filled with blue sleep.
It looked like windshield wiper fluid.
Lovingly taking and stroking his front paw, the vet soothed Stewart.
I held my breath. My constricted heart pounded. April sobbed, her hands going back and forth over his body.
The sleep started to seep. Nearly done and Stewart jerked his paw.
Lifted his head.
30 seconds passed and he was still with us. His sudden movement meant he didn't get the full dose.
We'd have to do it again.
I didn't think I could take it. The vet was so sorry. It wasn't her fault.
I had a moment of - maybe this is a sign! He wants to live!
But I knew better. He didn't want to live like this. In pain. Unable to walk or go to the bathroom.
She came back with more blue sleep.
Settled in beside us, and this time, Stew didn't jerk.
Within seconds, our big boy was at peace. His eyes still open. That might have hurt the most.
No longer blue, but cloudy. He was gone.
The vet didn't rush us. Gave us our time and tissues to wipe the snot. Laying there, we cradled him, kissed his drying nose and prayed he was in heaven, on a brand new set of springy legs.
I'll never be able to erase the image of him laying there on that orang-tiled floor. One paw under his chin, the other splayed out beside him.
When we were able, we picked ourselves off the floor and faced the people in the waiting room. No one met our eyes. I really appreciated it - I don't think I could have handled it.
I paid for the cremation of Stewart and $161 later, was in the car, my head on the steering wheel, matching April sob for sob.
We drove home, neither one speaking. Stewart's collar in my hands, I rubbed his dog tag in between my thumb and forefinger.
He was gone. Really, really gone.
There was only one thing to do. Put our tennis shoes on and go to his favorite park for a hike.
Driving to the park, we told our favorite Stewart stories. On the trail, we stopped, held hands and yelled as loud as we could:
WE LOVE YOU STEWART!
We picked up brightly colored leaves, rocks and a twig, to put with his ashes. He loved this park.
He had a favorite watering hole. We didn't have a knife, but we had a key.
We carved a heart and his initials into a tree right by the place he loved to swim.
Coming home after the park, neither of us wanted to open the front door.
It would be different. His big head wouldn't be on the other side of it.
It's been several weeks now and I still have trouble opening the front door.
Or seeing his food dish.
Or the back door where he struggled and cried in pain.
He was truly an amazing dog and our family isn't the same without him.
|courtesy: Carrie and Lanie. You captured him PERFECTLY!|
|Stewart at the river house. One of his most favorite spots.|
|courtesy: Heather Hrabe. Thank you for this amazing photo.|