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Never a good time to say goodbye
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I’ve put two dogs to sleep in my life: Dinah and Lucy, 19 and 17, respectively. So I feel I know enough about the process to offer counsel.

“You’ll know when to do it,” I tell people who ask for advise on that subject. “Trust me. You’ll just know when the time is right.”

Except when it gets right down to it -- when you’re tending an old, incontinent, doddering, slumberous, poky, drowsy dog who has been with you forever, someone who knows the history, who has traveled with you to Montreal, Key West, Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Eureka Springs, Ark., Ft. Lauderdale, Detroit, Nashville, Beaufort, S.C., and most recently, over the Christmas holidays, to Tybee Island, Georgia -- you really don’t know because how can someone know this, how can someone prepare for this?

“Dogs can die in their sleep, can’t they?” I’ve been asking everyone I see, the produce guy, the liquor guy, the bank officer, the artist next door, hoping for an answer in the affirmative, hoping for another way out, something a little less preemptive, a lot less assertive.

Wrong. No one I spoke to could ever remember a pet, short of surviving an accident, dying in his or her sleep.

It doesn’t help the situation to have a dog totally invested in following you around, room to room, her brown, expressive, besieging eyes tracking you every minute her tired little peepers can stay open, every second she herself can remain awake.

It doesn’t help when someone outside the immediate circle identifies her -- the experienced and sage veteran of one serious car accident that nearly shattered her pelvis, two presidents, three mayors, two houses, 17 Wimbledon champions, and the whole cyberspace explosion -- as the puppy of the family, the squirt, the youngster, instead of her stepsister, a nubile three-year-old whippersnapper with whiter teeth, sharper hearing, a livelier vertical leap, a quicker step and an altogether more pleasant and inviting smell.

“You’ll know when to do it,” people would toss back at me when I’d bring up the subject of Patches -- aka Patch, Patch-it-to-me, Patchatronic, Patcherama, Patcharoo, Patcharooski, Patchers -- my under-bited pal of nearly two decades, my constant companion, my conscience, my crony.

But I didn’t.

Instead I’d tie her up outside in the garden under a bench between the chickens and the garlic, not that she’d run away but in these last few years she has tended to wander, to drift wherever her nose would lead knowing, unconsciously, that tempus fugit, time flies, that we are all only passing through and if she got a wild hair she would, by golly,

follow up on it.

In the morning I’d take her soiled bed, throw it in the washing machine and put down something new and fresh for her to lie on, thinking to myself, “Well, it’s a good thing she can no longer jump on the chaise longue or the bed because the floor is a lot easier to clean.”

That worked for awhile. In the cemetery, where we went for walks,

Charlie Elizabeth, No. 2 dog, the heir apparent, would bound ahead while I stayed back with Patch, who was content to amble along, to sniff, to pee, to roll around in the grass, to live.

But as her back two legs got more and more wobbly - arthritis, perhaps, or maybe the result of the car accident - the walks got shorter and shorter. And at the end of the day, when I’d return to her in the garden -- or wake up to see her in the morning -- I’d find her in the same curled up position I left her in.

Finally, on a Thursday, around 4:30 in the afternoon, after seeing yet another day of no movement, no interest in scrambled eggs or oatmeal and not much life in her eyes, I made the call to Steve, her vet.

He was working that day but wouldn’t be back until the following Tuesday. I made the appointment for Tuesday, but as soon as I hung up I knew this was the time. This was the day, the last day.

With my neighbor and friend driving we went to see Steve. He gave Patches a shot to put her to sleep, but it wouldn’t take effect immediately.

We returned home, dug a hole, then sat and watched her sleep and breathe, sleep and breathe, sleep and breathe until her body no longer expanded.

Then we carried her on her white fluffy bed -- “like a cloud,” said another neighbor -- and laid her to rest.

It was and is very final because that’s what death is. While somewhat peaceful, her death was quiet, not unlike the way she had become in the last few months, as if she knew she was headed for another chapter.

Since she passed on, the house is cleaner and more orderly. But to tell you the truth, the heir apparent and I, while in agreement that the time was right, are kind of lost and kind of sad.

I think we’ll both be all right -- as soon as I can stop calling her Patches.

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