Two days ago we put down our dearly beloved Wolfhound, Finnegan, seven and a half years old, 165 pounds of pure love and male determination: to chase the deer off our place, to play with our wild young Wolfhound girl, to ignore the ravages of joint problems and a bad rear end — and to love us every day. Never failing to come for his breakfast toast treats, always alert for the hated coyotes across our fence, leaning on his Dad every day to have his rear-end rubbed, peeing with intent on my favorite herbs . . . what a lovely, funny, fabulous dog.
And now he is gone – the third of our dogs to die within four months. For the first time in decades we don’t have a dog at all; it’s hard to believe. We’ve hoped that Finn would hold out a few more months, and help to raise a new dog. We’ve been looking and looking, but haven’t found the next one yet.
A few days back, Finn let us know. He couldn’t get up without help. He was panting, even though it wasn’t warm. He suddenly had that look: his face thin, his eyes big – in just two days. The vet came and said, He has arrhythmia, his heart is not normal. And his abdomen is distended (something I just noticed that day), maybe an enlarged spleen, which can lead to all kinds of things you don’t want to know.
The decision was made. Lying in the place he chose, his favorite shady spot by the garden shed, with his mum and dad holding him, he went to sleep. Then, together with the vet (120 pounds at most) we lifted him on a blanket to the truck and dad took him to the local mortuary. They will return his ashes in a beautiful polished oak box.
Just after we said goodbye to Finn I heard a story on NPR about a man who is terminally ill, with the expectation of a very difficult final stage. The State of Colorado does not allow assisted suicide, and he doesn’t have time to establish residency in a state that does. This man is competent and ready to accept the end of his life, but filled with dread at the process of dying from his disease.
I have to say that if you live on a farm and if you have animals, you learn that death is part of life’s cycle. You don’t try to keep them alive when all the joy of living is gone, even though it’s so hard to let them go. Like the man in Colorado, they know when it’s over, and they tell us: I hurt. I’m not happy any more. I can’t chase the cat. I’m not hungry. I want to rest, Mom. I want to rest . . . now.
But we don’t forget Finn’s voice, or Morgan’s beautiful face, or Piper’s incredible stubbornness or any of our other beloved dogs. They have been woven into the fabric of our lives and will never be lost.
And they have shown us a better, gentler way to say goodbye.