There are certain things about being a grown up that are harder than others. Making decisions about life and death are one of them. Sometimes, when faced with tough questions and impossible choices, you find yourself looking around the room for a grown up to tell you what to do. Then you realize you are the grown up. You are the one who has to make the impossible decision. Everyone is looking to you for the answers and what steps to take next. “What do you want to do?” they ask. I have to answer. Me. Because I am the grown up.
Maybe I should start this story at the beginning – back when it was about bacon and thievery. A long time ago, I walked my dog every afternoon down the same streets and every afternoon this puffy, little yellow puppy would follow me. His fur was so soft and so yellow that he reminded me of a baby duck. After a few weeks I noticed that he was left outside without food or water. One day I watched the family that owned him pack their car up and leave. A few days later the puppy was still in the yard without food or water and still followed me down the street when I passed by. The family didn’t come back and the dog was left to his own devices so I gave him a piece of bacon and he followed me all the way home. My plan was to keep the puppy until the family returned, but they never did and eventually a “for sale” sign was put in the front yard and I decided to keep the puppy.
We named him Rumples and he was some kind of Golden Retriever mix. He had a nub for a tail. We never knew if he was born that way or if his tail had been cut off. He was the sweetest dog I’ve ever known. His gentle spirit won hearts over instantly and his happy-go-lucky attitude allowed him to fit in with every crowd. He was well-behaved and only had one streak of mischief in him…he loved to chew up shoes.
We spent years putting our shoes up high and out of reach, but sometimes we slipped and we’d see him walk by with a tennis shoe in his mouth. Sometimes we’d just find our shoe on his dog bed with the heel chewed off. He was a rascal, but nobody minded much because he was also a love-bug.
We went camping. We went hiking. We ate ice cream cones. We went on joy rides. We tried to teach him to play catch, but he was always on the lazy side. He’d walk to where the ball was thrown, but never bring it back. He’d play chase games with other dogs, but mostly just made them run in circles around him while he pretended he was about to take off after them. When he was a puppy he would often get so tired on his walks that he would lie down and we would carry him home.
He grew up to be a beautiful golden dog and could blend into tall grasses at sunset. He had big, brown eyes and his mouth seemed to actually smile. His ears were the softest ears in the whole wide world.
One day we heard a story about a friend’s seemingly healthy dog just dropping dead. He’d had a heart attack right in the middle of running and jumping. The veterinarian said the dog likely had serious heart problems because his tongue was so black. I noticed that Rumples also had a black tongue. When I looked at his puppy pictures I noticed his tongue had started out pink. We took him to our veterinarian and he was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure. He was born with a heart murmur. Our veterinarian put him on Lasix and a few other medications to help his heart beat strongly and to expel excess fluid, but he warned us that Rumples would probably not live a long life.
Over the years we took him to the veterinarian periodically for check ups and the veterinarian was always surprised at how well he was doing. We were careful to make sure he had walks, but kept them short and never during the hottest part of the day. For six more years we went on joy rides and hikes and all the things families do and he was right there with us.
About six weeks ago he developed a hot spot on his front leg that wouldn’t heal so we took him to the veterinarian’s and he was put on antibiotics. Two weeks later his leg still wasn’t healing and then he started having bloody diarrhea. He was lethargic so we went to the veterinarian again. This time the prognosis was not so good. His heart sounded bad and he was weak. The veterinarian warned us that we might be closing in on the end. He was unlikely to fully recover and was in decline. Jim, my husband, decided to go ahead with an aggressive treatment plan in the hopes it would prolong Rumples life, but we both agreed we didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of his life just to keep our own hearts from breaking. Rumples checked into the veterinarian’s hospital on a Friday afternoon for a weekend of intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
He came home on Monday afternoon and was feeling so good he was frolicking around the yard like a baby lamb. He resumed his regular schedule of keeping the perimeter of the yard safe from rabbits and lizards and went on walks. He was doing great. We felt really good about our decision.
A few weeks later we noticed he was eating less and less so we bought him fancy foods to keep his strength up. Another week went by and he seemed tired and he gave up his morning walks. Then he started to lose a noticeable amount of weight. He was weak. He gave up his afternoon walks. Then his back legs stopped working. He couldn’t stand up.
That’s when we knew it was time, but we hesitated. Do we euthanize him or do we keep him home and let him die in peace? He didn’t seem to be in any pain, but it was clear his body was shutting down. Jim didn’t think he would live through the night. We knew he hated going to the veterinarian’s office because he was always so scared. We didn’t want to put him through that if we didn’t have to. “What do you want to do?” Jim asked me. I decided to wait it out, but then he lived three more days. He still didn’t seem to be in any pain, but he couldn’t move unassisted and he was starting to whine off and on. I knew the pain was probably beginning. Jim was convinced Rumples wouldn’t let go because he wanted to please us too much. “What do you want to do?” Jim asked me again.
I’ve only had to make this decision one other time and it was equally hard, but much less complicated. I didn’t have a five-year old child at the time and my dog was under 30 lbs. Rumples was a big dog. He easily weighed 75 lbs when he was healthy and even with the weight he’d lost it was a big struggle for my husband to pick him up and carry him. Since he couldn’t walk, Jim had to carry Rumples outside and inside and all of that lifting was starting to take a toll on Jim’s back.
I sat my daughter down and explained that Rumples body wasn’t working anymore and that he was beginning to suffer. I told her we could help him end his suffering by giving him some medicine that would put him to sleep, but that he would never wake up again. The first thing she wanted to know was if Rumples would be cremated like her Nonie (her Grandmother) was. Then we talked about how Nonie would take care of Rumples in heaven. My daughter asked more questions and I answered them the best I could.
Then Jim and I began the task of getting Rumples into the car. Jim didn’t think he could carry him that far so we ended up making a sling of sorts out of a sheet to lift him. We put a thick dog bed into a wheel barrow and then put Rumples on top of that. We wheeled him to the car and put him in. We had decided that our daughter was too young to go to the veterinarian’s with us, but when she found out she wouldn’t be there she cried and demanded to come along so we decided to take her. We told her if she felt scared to tell us and that one of us would wait with her in the waiting room. She was very brave.
We brought Rumples into the exam room and our very kind veterinarian explained what he was going to do leaving out the details that might be frightening to a small child. Then we hugged Rumples and said our final good byes. As soon as the injection went in Rumples relaxed into it and laid his head down. He stopped breathing. My daughter had questions about why his eyes were still open and we talked about how his body was no longer working and she noticed he wasn’t breathing. She bent down to look into his face and whispered, “Good-bye, Bumples. We love you.” Then we all cried a lot and hugged each other. On the way home we made plans to sprinkle his ashes in all of his favorite places: The meadow he liked to run in, the tree he slept under, and the little creek he liked to drink out of.
We’re still crying today. This is the hardest part. I hear my husband saying, “Pick your shoes up so Rumples doesn’t chew them.” My phone alarm goes off reminding me to give Rumples his medication. It’s quiet and empty in our home and that is heart-breaking. We miss his presence while simultaneously forgetting he is gone. Our routine is out of whack. We feel a little lost without him.
Rumples was the best dog and we will miss him. Making the decision to end his life was painful and heartbreaking. I hated having to make it. I hated having to be the responsible adult, but I am also grateful, and feeling blessed, to have been the adult in his life who was able to do him one last kindness. I’m also feeling lucky that our paths crossed and that I had the good fortune to have him in my life. He taught me about enjoying the little things and about unconditional love.
We love you, Bumples, and hope we meet again.
P.S. When my daughter was a baby she couldn’t pronounce the “r” in Rumples so she called him Bumples instead.