Sometimes Saying Goodbye Isn’t So Sad

I had to say goodbye to my old Collie-mix dog Jazzy this weekend. People were feeling sorry for me when I told them my vet had come to put her to sleep — but I wasn’t sad. It was such a relief for me and for Jazzy — to be able to let go and soar above this world and the pain of just getting from one point to another. I’d had to watch her over a couple of years diminish in her ability to get up, to get out the door, to navigate the big stone step up and down off the porch. She didn’t feel sorry for herself that it had been years since she’d even been able to walk down our lane with me and the other dogs; years since she could go out with us in the car which she had adored, because getting in and out was beyond her ability anymore, despite having the assistance of a Twistep or a ramp.

Jazzy and I had been hanging in there for each other for a long time. The burden was never far from my mind of wondering whether she had enough quality of life to justify the depth of her pain and immobility. Then she woke up Saturday morning and just let me know — she had come as far as she could and she was done. She was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs — she hadn’t been able to go up stairs for five years at this point — and she was panting hard, her tongue dark red and dripping saliva. Trying to turn around seemed nearly impossible because one of her back legs crossed over the other because she had no control over it.

JazzyI had the privilege of being able to call my kind and thoughtful vet, Dr. Linda Morris, who came right over with her wonderful vet tech, Sarah. Jazzy lay peacefully on the carpet as they gave her the injections. We did what we had the luxury of being able to do — end her suffering before it became any more acute than it already was. As we watch our pets age and they begin to suffer the pain and indignities that often come with getting older, it becomes part of our daily thought process to monitor their comfort and wellness and ask them and ourselves, “Is today the day?” Helping her out of this world was a tribute to a dear old dog whose body was used up and whose spirit could not sustain the physical compromise and crippling pain anymore.

Sometimes saying goodbye is sort of a state of grace, an acknowledgment of a life well-lived that has come to the end of its road. I had adopted Jazzy 11 years before, when she was two years old. My trainer and dear friend Aimee Sadler, who ran the training program at Southampton Shelter (and has since become nationally recognized for her shelter program Dogs Playing for Life) told me “There is no dog more deserving of a home than this one. She’s been at the shelter for 6 months. She was adopted once briefly but they brought her back. She’s beautiful and smart and vivacious and just a little difficult to read, perhaps. But she deserves the kind of home and life you can give her.” Needless to say, I drove over and brought her right home, before even introducing her to my big blue Weimaraner, Billy Blue (from the wonderful rescue Friends for Pets in Sunland, California) and my Rottweiler, Yogi Bear, who had been discarded in a cardboard box one summer day by the side of the road. She fit right in by taking the lead, a bossy bitch if ever there was one! And just what the boys needed, to get over their grief about the recent death of Lulu, my first rescued Weim from Friends for Pets, who had also come East with me from California.

Jazzy with TracieJazzy lived through five household moves with me and two marriages. She was always there, my stoic guardian, as I changed where and how I lived and buried three other dogs on her watch. Now it was her turn, and a pain-free and loving end, and the beginning of a well-earned eternal rest. In death she looked just as content and peaceful as this photo of her from several years ago, basking in a bit of sunshine.

I buried her myself, having halfway dug a grave in the Fall and covered it over, fearing she might not make it through the winter. I put a planter on her grave site and ordered a grave stone. I wasn’t sad — I was grateful she was at rest. Then today some flowers arrived. I thought it was for my birthday, a day late. But I was knocked out by the thoughtful kindness upon opening the card: “What a lucky dog Jazz was to have spent her life with you! From all of us at West Mountain Animal Hospital.”

And then I could let myself cry.

—Tracie Hotchner
(Have a comment? Share it on Facebook.)