That Damn Rainbow Bridge

I realize as a woman how lucky I am. I was there when that wonderful creature drifted into my life and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.

M’Lynn, Steel Magnolias

TISSUE ALERT! I may have used a tissue or two while writing this post… you have been warned. Also, this post talks in terms of ‘dogs,’ but these ideas are really interchangeable with any animal who has captured your heart: cats, guinea pigs, iguanas… we love them all the same.


Elderly dogs can be gross. (Puppies are gross too, but for different reasons.) Now when I say they are gross, it doesn’t mean I love them any less, but they do tend to develop that old dog smell, weird skin growths, and icky teeth. They tend to need expensive medication and food, more potty breaks, and have more potty accidents in the house.

Logan and I made the move to Minnesota with two such elderly dogs in tow: McKenna and Madison. All of the moving and job hunting and house purchasing that dominated the last year held the promise and excitement of new beginnings. And in truth, it was a magical year. But, as we all know, new beginnings are often accompanied by bittersweet endings. Last summer we said goodbye to our 16 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, McKenna. She had come through the move from Colorado with renewed vigor, and when we moved into our new house, she re-discovered the long forgotten joy of running (well, walking) free in a large yard. But within a few months, her general feistiness began to fade, and it became clear she was no longer enjoying a life of quality and comfort. At 16 years old, she had long surpassed any expectations of her breed, but was facing painful arthritis, worsening congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.

McKenna

It got to the point where Logan and I would hold our breath every time we woke her up from a nap. She slept so deeply that anytime might have been the last time. Our summer was packed with upcoming activities. We had visitors coming to stay with us and an out-of-state wedding to attend. We didn’t think it was fair to put our dog sitters in a position to make life or death decisions in our absence, and I knew I would never forgive myself if she passed while I was out of town. So, after much soul searching, I made a very ‘Type-A’ decision and scheduled a date for her euthanasia.

I had a lot of conflicting thoughts about this. I knew in my head that it was time, but my heart felt weird, like I was making this cold, calculated decision for my own comfort and convenience. Was I killing my own dog? And then, of course, she would have good days – days with a spring in her step, a healthy appetite, and her typical “Diva” attitude. And I second guessed myself all the time. Maybe she wasn’t ready. Maybe I was making a mistake…


I had been through this once before in my adult life, but that time was not planned. That time consisted of my relatively young dog, Murphy, my absolute denial about his end-stage heart failure, and my barely making it home on time from a business trip for a heartbreakingly urgent euthanasia.

That loss affected me on a level that I can hardly describe even to this day. It was a dark and terrible time in my life for many reasons; but, I had two other dogs waiting for me at home. As much as I wanted to just curl up and let the world fade away, I had no choice but to carry on for my two living girls. They were my reason for getting out of bed in the morning, they were my constant companions, and they slowly helped me back into the land of the living. Those girls were McKenna and Madison.

Madison and McKenna

When Logan entered our lives seven years ago, he had to earn his way into this insular troop of obstinate females. But, as is his way, he slowly conquered our hearts with patience, love, and food. {Logan here: She’s not exaggerating… I had to be cut off from giving Maddie treats at one point because she’d gained too much weight.} He embraced my girls with open arms, and they adored him in return.

So, how do you schedule a time to say goodbye to a friend that has been by your side through times of great joy and also deep sorrow? As awful as the loss of Murphy was, I am so thankful that he died in my arms, rather than alone, or worse yet, with strangers. And the same goes for McKenna. By scheduling her time, as far as she was concerned, it was just a normal day. In fact, it was a good day. She always enjoyed going for car rides and the vet never scared her, and to her absolute delight, they fed her lots of cheese. And then, again in my arms, she was gone.

It has been a year since McKenna passed, and I wanted to share these thoughts regarding euthanasia hoping that my choices and experiences might give someone in a similar situation some peace. You may disagree with my choice to schedule a date for McKenna’s euthanasia, or you may disagree with euthanasia in general. And that’s ok. In a perfect world, she would have passed away in her sleep, happy and comfortable at home. But in my experience, that is rarely the way it happens. You may be wondering if your own pet’s time has come and may be conflicted regarding your next steps. Whatever you decide to do, I think it is important to honor these creatures as they have honored us by providing a lifetime of their love and loyalty. I chose to honor McKenna by ending her suffering on a really good day, and I consider it a blessing that we as pet parents have that option.


During these reflections on McKenna’s last days and about halfway through writing this post, Madison, our Boxer, also passed away. While she was 14 (an epic life for a Boxer), and we knew that her time was limited, her death was sudden and I was less prepared. She was happy and active… until she wasn’t. After falling suddenly ill, we experienced yet another emergency euthanasia.


Logan and I moved to Minnesota with two dogs, and now we have none. Personally, I haven’t been without a dog since 2001. The house is very quiet, and while it hasn’t been long since Maddie passed, we still feel the need to rush home and let her out to potty. Just today I got a calendar reminder to give her flea, tick, and heartworm preventative. And don’t get me started on those damn Facebook reminders…

I know that the pain of seeing photos of the girls as well as those eerie “something’s not right…” feelings will fade with time. I know that someday soon, the peace and tranquility that accompanies a house without dogs will be replaced by the general chaos of a new puppy. And each puppy is inevitably compared to those amazing dogs who came before, but each dog brings a personality and set of quirks that is all their own. And life carries on, as it should. 

Pets provide a richness to our lives that is immeasurable. The end is painful, no doubt, but it doesn’t come close to overshadowing the many years of joy we shared with them. I try my best to honor my dogs by making choices that are right for THEM (though it may be unimaginably hard for me). I am a firm believer that an animal will tell you when they are ready to go – but you have to listen. Sometimes I have been a better listener than others.

Britt

This post is lovingly dedicated to my original squad,
currently raising hell in puppy heaven.
Madison, Murphy, and McKenna (2005)

One thought on “That Damn Rainbow Bridge

  1. Oh my, I shed a few tears at your heartfelt descriptions. They were all such fun, loving dogs in their own ways. You know I had a soft spot for McKenna because she was so kooky, but I really enjoyed Madison’s final years as well. Starting out with the quote from ‘Steel Magnolias’ all the way thru to the end, the writing was very poignant.

    Like

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