I said goodbye to an old and loyal friend yesterday.
It was just as heartbreaking as you would expect, and no easier than the last time I had to part with a beloved canine companion.
We had been together for thirteen years, through two moves, three job changes and the death of my husband, and through it all Tucker was goofy and maddening and enthusiastic and joyful and stupid and affectionate and, above all, my best friend.
But of late he had not been the dog I knew even two years ago. Age and Lyme disease had stiffened his joints, his hearing was mostly gone and I am not all that sure he could see much either. He struggled with the stairs, could no longer get into the Jeep without help and may have been in more pain every day than I knew.
He had become slowly and consistently more lethargic, sleeping up to 23 hours a day and being slow to get up for his meals, didn’t care much for walks anymore. He was afraid of the vacuum cleaner and other loud noises and spent most of his time following me from room to room or skulking around with his tail between his legs in reaction to some fright only he could hear. He was anxious and neurotic, and not at all the ferocious dog who treed bears in his youth.
He was not sick in the truest sense of the word, just old and slow, still happy to see me every day and content to just be with me. But he was not going to improve, and I didn’t want to watch him slowly become older and sicker, suffering needlessly.
So we took that final trip to the vet, and sent poor Tucker on his way. It was peaceful and calm and I sat with him till the end, stroking his velvet ears to reassure him as he passed. His steadfast heart was stilled, his grey muzzle quieted, and his uncertain eyesight faded, and as he lay there on the table, I felt every bit the executioner.
His love of porcupines notwithstanding, Tucker never did anything wrong except be a dog. He was house trained almost immediately, crossed the electric fence line only a few times and only in pursuit of a bear, never chewed or destroyed the house or my possessions.
Tucker loved patrolling his territory, lounging in the sun, barking at imaginary varmints and giving warning to the deer grazing in the field next door. He was an indefatigable hiker, a keen and lightning-fast hunter, netting several squirrels, a chicken or two and one very robust young rabbit that was neither fast nor smart enough to escape.
His was the first face I saw each day, the last each night, the face that would poke under my right arm when I was working on some project, looking for a hug and a smooch and a pat on the head. He was an attentive if unresponsive sounding board, and a joyous greeter, regardless of whether I had been away for ten minutes or ten days.
And as thanks for thirteen years of being such a good and steadfast friend, I put him down.
I know that I should not second-guess the decision, it is one that comes to every responsible pet owner. In many ways it was the right one to make. But in the echo of a dog-free apartment, it is easy to worry that bone to pieces – no pun intended.
When my previous dog’s time came, I had a frisky, 6-month-old Tucker to ease the transition. Now there is only me, and I won’t get another dog for quite some time. However, I have to confess that it will be nice to be freed of the constant concern about what to do with an animal when travelling or working or heading out on a day-long adventure. And if the day ever comes that I decide to leave Henniker, being pet-free does open many, many more opportunities when looking for an apartment.
So, I will grieve for my sweet and feisty Tucker, and hold close the many memories I have, both sweet and less so. In time, the quiet and empty house will fill with other memories and looking at the corner where his bed used to lay will not prompt a tight throat and rogue tear.
Happy hunting, my sweet Tucker. I hope you get ’em every time.