Old Friends and Peacefull Endings

I experienced an extraordinary act of love today.
This morning, I was on my way to an important event. Halfway to town I got a call on my cell phone. The caller sounded absolutely frantic and I could barely make out that she was already in my driveway and I was apparently her last hope. I said I’d be right there and turned around for home. I got there and indeed there was a care in the drive with a woman, a frail looking elderly gentleman and a very old golden retriever with a nose full of porcupine quills.
The dog grinned up at me, trying to see through eyes clouded with cataracts. He was holding one paw up and it too, was bristling with sharp quills. The woman explained that the gentleman was her father and this was his dog. It seemed that the dog had gone out early in the morning and found a porcupine behind the garage. Being the friendly sort, the dog tried to sniff where dogs like to sniff and porcupines don’t like to be sniffed. Feeling rejected the dog evidently offered his paw, which the “Picky Pig” did not appreciate.
They called their regular vet who said it would be at least $350 to remove the quills and since it was a weekend, there would be an emergency call fee. All totaled, it would be about $500 and there was no way the old man or daughter could afford this. She had brought me birds or animals before and remembered where I lived and hoped I could help.
I checked the old dog and he seemed calm and friendly, there were only about 40 or 50 quills and none were too deep or inside the mouth. Obviously this was an experienced porcupine sniffer. I carried the dog, while she helped her father up the front steps. I could feel the bones under the immaculately groomed fur. This was an extremely elderly dog that I doubted had many more months to live.
I gathered towels, antiseptic, “Numzit Teething Jell” and pliers. I doubted that a muzzle would be necessary. The dog seemed too good natured and well behaved for that. (I have been wrong on this one before) As I liberally applied the numbing agent to the old dog’s gray muzzle and nose, the old man began to talk.
He told me that he and the dog (I will withhold names to preserve their privacy) had been together for 18 years. He got him as a puppy when his grandchildren were young. They had been best friends through all the years and had run many fields together. The dog sat beside him when his wife died and kept his feet warm in the winter. They shared meals and secrets and had never spent a night apart. “That’s why”, the old man said “he would do right by this dog”.
My attention wandered at this and I pulled a quill to fast. The old dog bit my arm in surprise and I discovered that he only had about two teeth. I was grateful.
I asked what he meant by “doing right” and the daughter turned away pretending to be intrigued by the raccoon on the counter. The old man took a deep rattling breath and explained that he had terminal cancer and not long to live. He didn’t want to burden his children with his care, so he had decided to move into the Hospice House when the time came. The day before he would leave though, he would have his old dog “put down”.
It rather shocked me that he would do this to an animal he obviously loved so much.
He went on to say that the dog would never understand why he left him and fret, so he thought it better that the dog go with him at his side. This way the dog would never know a moment without the master he loved and the old man would know that the dog was at peace without him.
“We’ve had good long lives” he said with conviction.” We’ve run and hunted and chased a lot of sticks. We’re both tired and old. We hurt a lot of places and are ready to go with no regrets. He’s a good dog and I owe him a fair and peaceful end. I’m gonna give him that”.
I was astonished by the absolute love and compassion that this man felt for his friend. To be willing to suffer the pain of his passing to spare the same for his dog, was an act of absolute, unselfish love.
The quills were removed and I ran my hands across the dogs’ silky coat to make sure I had not missed any. I could tell that the dog probably had no more time than his master. . I hoped that these last days together would be filled with sunshine and warmth.
I was familiar with their regular vet and knew that he did not make house calls to euthanize animals. I gave the old man the number of a kind and compassionate vet who would. Making an excuse to get some dog treats, I pulled his daughter into the other room. I wanted to make sure that he would be able to afford the cost. Or I would find a way to help. She said he had money put by and the last resort, if I could not have helped would have been to have the dog put down today. I silently gave thanks that I answered the phone instead of letting it ring.
After several soft dog treats, I helped them back to their car. The old man offered me a wrinkled wad of well worn bills, but I refused and told him that the lesson he taught me about love was worth far more than money. They pulled out and headed off down the street. Suddenly they backed up and pulled back in the drive. That was when I learned that this man had compassion without bounds.
He rolled down his window and looked up at me with troubled eyes. “Do you suppose that that old porkie is ok? I’d hate to think of him hurt”.
I reassured him that porcupines are indeed a sturdy and resilient lot as well as ornery. The porkie would be fine and live to trouble another dog who managed to stick his nose where it didn’t belong. I was astonished and deeply touched that this man whose best friend in the world had been hurt was genuinely concerned about the animal that did it. I was humbled indeed.
My reward was a grin nearly as toothless as the dogs and a wave from a gnarly, arthritic hand. Bless them, I thought. Bless them both with a fair and peaceful end.
I’d be late for my event. There would probably be some flack for it, but I didn’t care. I was just so grateful that I had been witness to the love of an old man and an old dog. There isn’t a thing in the world that can compare.