She’s been staring at him intently for 20 minutes, when finally, he awakes to her panting. He raises his head from the pillow and, with half-opened eyes, pats the bed gently. She thumps the mattress with her tail, yawns, and wriggles up to him.
Good morning, friend.
They begin their final day together with a loving scratch behind the ear.
He scoops her into his arms and feels her heart’s clunky and irregular beat against his chest. He lowers her carefully to the floor; her hips wobble, her back legs fold, and she collapses. This has been their morning routine for the last several weeks. She looks at him apologetically. He whispers, “It’s okay, girl” and helps her to her feet.
She walks gingerly to her water bowl, takes a few sips, looks up at him, and wags her tail. For a decade, they’ve inhabited each other’s world. A life wrapped in routine and the warmth of deep companionship.
Age has slowly crept up on her – from the floating blue cataract cloud in her eyes to the rounded and tanned teeth in her mouth. Then, with resignation, the man mutters, “From pearly whites to tiger’s eye, they tell the tale of you and I” and gives her a pat.
He slips a frayed collar decorated with dog bones and frisbees over her head, clips the leash to it, and together they walk out the door.
Even in her declining state, she relishes the ritual, nose to the ground, intently sniffing clover, dirt, thistle, and weed. A complex puzzle of smells awakens a flood of memories; momentarily, she becomes infused with a youthful spirit. A stiffened gate and spritelier walk return, bringing a slow smile to the man’s face.
She raises her head towards a gentle gust of wind, wistfully smiling at the gift-bearing breeze. But by the time they return home she’s laboring. He carries her into the house.
He decided last year to take a leave from work when he noticed a change in her health. On a fast track for promotion and highly regarded throughout the company, he sometimes heard whispers in the halls, “For a dog—a DOG?“
Their appointment with the veterinarian is an hour away. He sits with her on the kitchen floor and cries. She looks at him forgivingly, then places her head on his lap and closes her eyes.