(Photo taken last September, after his sister "Feather" passed away)
This summer has been a time of hospice care for our oldest pup, Flounder. At 14+ years, he was slowly winding down. His vision and hearing went over a year ago, but he managed by smell during that time. Often I would see him retracing the track Bear and I had taken on a morning walk, nose down, yet blindly walking our exact path.
Sometimes, if we had doubled back, he would walk right by us following our scent. Eventually, he would follow it back to the porch. The porch had become his favorite spot over the past few years, and most days, he only got off of it to do his doggy business, or maybe a roll in sun warmed grass.
In 2010, his hind legs became weaker and weaker. So weak that a back rub would cause him to collapse to the floor. At some point this spring, he mostly quit going down the porch steps even to "do his business".
That was, as you can imagine, a little unpleasant for us. We adapted with a spray hose ready on the porch and "poop patrols".
Living out here with almost no visitors made it survivable, but there were some embarrassing moments and I'm sure the Fedex and UPS folks learned to watch for "mines" even up on the porch ... which must have been a new experience for them.
We discussed Flounder's future during this time. Was it time for a final vet visit?
The big question, the deciding factor, was simply... "Is he still having fun?"
If so, then a period of constant porch cleaning could be tolerated. My thoughts on the matter were summed up in this statement:
"As long as he can stand up, eats, and can still wag his tail, he stays."
That was my doggy quality of life rule.
About a week ago, Flounder's legs gave out.
And I broke my rule.
He was still eating after all and his tail still thumped against the porch boards as soon as he picked up your scent.
The past week was filled with Flounder care ... hand feeding him bits of food and constantly cleaning his sleeping pad. We gave him water by using a bowl and a sponge, and just dribbling it in to his mouth.
He became essentially immobile ... except for that tail. Scratch his back, rub his ears, or stand quietly nearby until he smelled you and ... THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.
When he first went down, I knew he would never get up again, so I wasn't in total denial. His body was riddled with growths and tumors and his once muscular legs had shrunk to skin and bones.
I thought we only had a few days and that he was going in his sleep like his sister Feather did.
More than once, I told everyone to be sure and talk to Flounder, because I think today is the day.
But Flounder's strong heart carried on, even though you had to stop and stare a bit to see if he was breathing.
He seemed to be shrinking before our eyes and rarely wanted anything to eat.
Still, that tail wagged and I put off calling the vet.
During these days of hospice care, he did not seem to be in any pain ... that would have made the decision easy.
Friday, his respirations slowed and he had a rough night Sunday. That night, every few hours, a weak yelp would raise me out of bed to sponge him water and rub his head.
Sometime after 3:00 am that night, I drifted off to sleep knowing it was time ... probably had been time for days, but love and selfishness was making me a coward.
Early the next morning, I checked to see if he was still with us.
Yes, I was hoping he had gone in his sleep, sparing me from what I had to do. I rounded the corner and stared at his chest ... was he gone?
The only part of him that could still move thumped loudly twice, as I approached to see if he was still breathing.
His breathing was very, very shallow and he seemed more listless than the day before.
It was time.
I called the vet and told them we would be in for a final visit in a little while.
Then I gently washed Flounder with Coconut scented doggy shampoo so he would smell good for his last ride. With his immobility, I knelt down and washed one side, and then rolled him over to wash the other. He seemed to enjoy the cool water and rubbing ... I got a couple of tail wags during the bath.
While he dried on the porch, I went to the kitchen and shaved off some small bites of BBQ rib meat from a plate of leftovers in the fridge. I took these out to the porch.
Even though he had refused to eat anything the day before, he ate every piece of the rib meat.
If you have to go, you might as well go out smelling like Coconut shampoo with BBQ on your breath.
Now, with the bath finished, and a pad in the bed of the truck, there really was no more excuse for waiting.
I tried to think of something believe me.
I checked the pad one more time to make sure his towel was "just so", and walked back to the porch.
Emma was standing next to Flounder.
"Are you taking him?"
I had really done a good job of holding it together until that moment ... dang it.
We hugged each other, had a good cry, and then it was time.
I picked up Flounder and gently carried him out to his pad in the bed of the truck.
The vet is not too far away ... about 15 minutes if you turn right and go the fast way, on the highway.
Just a short ride.
Flounder and I turned left.
To the left were country roads that turned and twisted through farm fields and pastures with good smells for a doggy nose ... roads that made you stop at stop sign after stop sign. If we were really lucky, we might get behind one of those tractors pulling a peanut cart ... top speed about 10 miles per hour.
I stretched that ride out as much as I could.
When we did finally arrive at the vet, I went in to register and was told the vet would be out as soon as possible.
"No rush" I replied and went out to be with Flounder. I had about 15 minutes to rub his head and talk to him before the vet and her assistant walked out to the bed of the truck.
She hugged me.
"This will be easier on him than you. He will not fill any pain."
She found a vein in his forearm and inserted the needle.
"Just hold his head and talk to him ... are you ready?"
I nodded yes, ... not trusting myself to speak.
She depressed the syringe and with the slightest gasp, Flounder was gone.
Another hug from the vet and I was driving home.
This time I took the highway.
At the house, I grabbed a shovel and walked through the woods to the dog cemetery. It's in the far Southwest corner of PFHQ beneath some longleaf pines. Next to Feather's grave, I dug Flounder's resting spot beneath the shade of a wild persimmon tree. Then I trudged back to the truck to retrieve his body.
I cradled his body in my arms with his head in the crook of my left arm and his hindquarters in the crook of my right.
It's about a 50 yard walk from where I had parked to the grave site. As I walked, the motion of my steps caused Flounder's tail to wag back and forth the entire distance.
For the first time that morning I smiled.