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This version of “Down the Road” is being published in the Feb/Mar 2015 publication of Animal Wellness Magazine!!! Please check it out!!!

Down the Road

I didn’t want her to go.

But then, all too soon during our lifetime together, I noticed small changes that told me Jenna was no longer comfortable. Typically I came home from work to find two elderly dogs trotting down the dirt road to greet me, eager to shave thirty seconds off our time apart: Mulder trotting sideways with a broken tail held off to his right, Jenna prancing with her bushy tail swinging. Then, only my side-trotter made his way to greet me. I’d get out of my truck and find Jenna sprawled on the concrete in front of our home, or inside sleeping on her bed. She needed encouragement to go outside-strange for a dog who relished all things outdoors. She shook upon standing and walked hesitantly. On our last night together, she had a rounded abdomen and her appetite dropped. I fed her vanilla ice cream, a marrow bone, and turkey. She had little interest in any offering.

I planned to spend Memorial Day weekend away. Given the evening before with Jenna, I felt uncomfortable leaving her. I dropped her off at the vet before work, and Mulder went for moral support. If I had to drive home without Jenna, I wanted to have Mulder to lean on.

The vet called me not even two hours later. “It’s time to put Jenna to sleep,” she said. I wasn’t caught off guard per se, but anxiety and fear choked me. My stomach lurched. Tears fell. The vet told me that I could take her home for one more night and bring her back in the morning. She then talked about a large liver tumor that had ruptured bloody fluid into her abdomen. I didn’t want to prolong Jenna’s suffering. She told me to come in immediately.

I ran out of my office mumbling to my co-workers where I was going. The words made me sick. I drove safely across town by the grace of whatever God loves me, and because I forced every thought of Jenna out of my mind.

At the vet clinic, the receptionist ushered me into the last waiting room, where Jenna lay half on a thick, fleecy layer of blankets while Mulder sprawled out on top of them. I encouraged Jenna to move into a more comfortable spot. She did not feel well and I knew that no amount of love, supplements, medication, or even surgery could make her feel better. She looked at me with soft eyes. She did not pant. She did not wag her tail. She was stoic and in that stoicism, I knew she was ready to leave.

I hugged and kissed and pet my Jenna, hoping every touch conveyed to her the thirteen years of love in my heart. I thought about the freedom she had and loved during her later years. I hoped she was remembering all of the places she’d traveled and lived, things she’d sniffed, animals she’d chased, carcasses she’d rolled in, swims she’d taken, and mountains she’d climbed. I lay next to her recalling how much of my life I experienced with her by my side. She was my first dog and boy, did she have to deal with my steep learning curve! However, learn I did, and I grew into an adult with her. We traveled all over the US and Canada. She flew in an airplane and rode in boats. She witnessed my (failed) engagement. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, she slept next to me when I was home alone, and gave me a reason to get out of bed. When I faced sickening heartbreak she accepted taking backseat to my grief. She was the ultimate companion, asking for me only to respect her individuality and provide for her basic needs.

I nuzzled my face in her fluffy mane. I wanted to make some neuro-connection so that I could always recall her scent. I couldn’t decide if I wanted the vet to come in soon, or if I wished for her to become caught up in emergencies for the entire afternoon. Really, I sat there with Jenna wishing I spent half of my life hugging her, and mourning not only the future without her, but also all of those moments I already missed.

The vet came in and gave her a sedative. There was no lengthy discussion. I told the vet I didn’t want a lot of time to pass once Jenna was under anesthetic, that I wanted her to be given the euthanasia shortly thereafter.

Jenna fell asleep for the last time with her head resting softly on my lap, my fingers touching her gray face and rubbing her soft ears.

After the vet administered the euthanasia, I felt her heart continue to beat and then without major consequence or fanfare, I felt it no more, and Jenna was gone. Her nerves continued twitching after her heart stopped. Given her lifelong penchant for following her nose, it was quite apropos that her whiskers twitched the longest, as if her nose took the lead, navigating her way out of the physical world.

I keep Jenna’s collar and a picture of her, comfortable, content and embracing life, on my mantel so she can watch over Mulder and me, reminding us that she’s waiting somewhere down the road.