Decisions like this are so hard to make. One day he seems just fine - feeling good, a spring in his step. The next he is falling down unexpectedly, lying in the floor groaning, weakly flailing his legs. One day he eats his food with good appetite and seems comfortable. The next he eats and immediately vomits. Still, the good days outnumber the bad.
Until this week.
This week he comes to me and stares into my eyes, unflinching, trying to send me words or thoughts or maybe just his feelings. He presses his forehead to my knee and stands still, as if he's waiting for something. He does this over and over, and his old, grey face pleads for me to understand. He is tired. He is in pain. I sit there and run my fingers through his hair. It begins drifting to the floor, then falling in clumps. He groans again and lowers himself carefully to the floor, pointing his nose skyward to keep my hand on his head. His eyes. Those eyes...
I am in pain, too, most of the time. But I know that my pain has a cause, I know it cannot kill me, and I know that I can take medication and feel a bit better. I can distract myself by reading or watching movies. When my pain gets too bad for any of these things, I can take something to help me sleep, and sleep through it. Fitfully, sometimes, but it is still sleep. I have options. I can make choices and decisions for myself. He cannot. He trusts me to help him, and I feel so damned helpless.
He is lying in the floor right now, next to the sofa where I'm sitting. He is licking his paws. He is obsessive about it, and has been for as long as I have known him. But the licking takes on a different character these days. There are sore spots on his feet and he pauses often to bite at them. Sometimes he bleeds. Today, he is just licking, as though he is tired. His back legs twitch occasionally, and sometimes he presses his ear against the floor. There are tumors there, little hard, red-black nodules have filled the canals and we can no longer get his ears clean or combat the chronic ear infections that plague him. Two more growths, hard and black, have sprung from the roof of his mouth. They have doubled in size just this week. His body is speckled with these invaders - hard, reddish-pink at the base but fading to black, they itch and probably burn; they make him crazy sometimes. I see him chasing his own hips, trying to nip these things away, lifting back legs that are clumsy with arthritis and clawing at his neck, ribs, and shoulders. The vet told us that these are "dog warts", but they are growing, more of them are coming every day, and they compound his misery.
Old friend, I am sorry. I have been a coward. I shouldn't have let things go this long. But just this week, you were playing outside, chasing sticks and crunching them up instead of fetching them to me. You smiled at me as you rolled in the leaves - you lay flat on your back with all four feet in the air and you wiggled and squirmed in delight. You had so much joy, and you shared it with me so willingly. I hoped you were getting better. I knew, somewhere inside, that I was fooling myself. I knew that I would have to make a choice, and soon.
You are only ten years old. Too young! You have been my best friend for a long time now. You've been with me through some of the hardest times of my life. I thought we would have a few more years together. I wanted that. Oh, I've been talking about making this decision for months now, trying to get used to it, I guess. Trying to take the sting out of it. I thought I was resigned, but now that I'm counting the days instead of the weeks until something must be done, I find that I am anything but resigned.
I don't want you to go, but I can't be selfish. I owe you this kindness, this gentleness. I owe you a quick decision. Good final days. An ending. You've given me so much joy, Tucker. I love you. I will miss you so much.