It ought to be comforting to know the worst day of your life is behind you. It ought to be, but it isn’t.
I had a dog. She was a marvelous yellow Labrador retriever, and she was with me from the age of eleven weeks to thirteen and three-quarter years — more or less my entire adult life.
Thirteen and three-quarters is pretty old for any dog, and she was noticeably slower over the summer. Arthritis in the back legs, a tendency to rasp when her salivary glands overran her ability to clear her throat (and being a Lab, her salivary glands were pretty active), a bit of hearing loss. We scaled the walks back a little on really hot days, and put her on a couple of anti-inflammatory drugs to help with the soreness, and that seemed to help.
In August, she started to be a little wobbly, and her right hind leg seemed unsteady. My first thought was that she’d started to build up a resistance to her meds, and I checked with her vet — a very, very capable doctor named Larry Wilder, at the Lawrence Park Animal Hospital — to recalibrate the dosage. It seemed to help.
A couple of weeks later — on the first day of the film festival, as it happened — she tweaked the leg while we were out walking. Later that night, she fell off the bed and sprained it. She couldn’t put any weight on the leg at all, and hopped around for a few days while we waited for the sprain to heal.
It never did.
We took her to the hospital for X-rays on September 15th, and that’s when they found the tumor. Osteosarcoma. The same cancer that killed Terry Fox. The prognosis was two to four weeks, six at the most.
She made it to October 10th, and then, when standing up was harder work than it should have been, when her appetite was beginning to go, when she couldn’t quite find a comfortable position to sleep — when it was obvious that things were turning downward — I set up the appointment.
They do it with a barbituate overdose. It was painless and even peaceful: The dog literally goes to sleep, and a minute later her heart stops. We were right there with her; we cradled her head and told her we loved her, told her everything was going to be all right, told her she was the best dog in the world.
We were lying, of course.
Nothing will ever be all right again.