When Dina, my black Labrador mix, was fourteen years old, she started to lose her hair. The clumps of hair were like little bushels of hay, black at one end and white, with flakes of grayish skin attached, at the other. I relished pulling out clumps of hair and dropping them into the growing pile on the floor.
Dina had been with me since I was sixteen years old and we accepted each other. She accepted that I was afraid of loud noises and strangers and telephone calls. And I accepted that she was afraid of children, other dogs, thunderstorms, and walking across wooden slats.
Dina never had Cancer or Diabetes or Parvo or heart disease, but by the time she was fifteen years old, she was dying. First it was her kidneys. Then there was the arthritis. She began to trip over her feet, and then her hips dropped. Defecating was too hard of a job to do while standing. Her legs shook and she fell and squashed the pile of feces under her folded tail. Her legs splayed in splits on floors that had never before seemed slippery to her.
She paced from room to room, up the stairs and back down, endlessly, as if she didn’t know where she was or that she’d already done the route ten times in a row. She peed indoors, mostly, by the end. She couldn’t remember what the need to pee felt like, and even if she could, her urinary tract was completely befuddled. When I asked her if she wanted to go out to pee, she would lift her head, consider, and more often than not, go back to sleep. I didn’t know that dog. My Dina heard the word pee, or walk, or go, or leash, and ran down the stairs panting in desperation.
When she was younger, Dina could walk for an hour, to the point of utter exhaustion, and still want more. And the drool! Long strings of white, bubbling drool would hang from her mouth and she’d shake her head and the strings would paste themselves to her neck or her chin and her tongue would be heavy with sweat and her eyes shining. And she would sing. Whenever we sang high enough notes, she’d warble along and howl like a wolf. But now I had to inch her food dish closer to her feet because she couldn’t eat standing up or even squatting. She sat like a child with her useless legs splayed around the bowl.
The doctor kept offering us medications to cover her symptoms: an expensive drug to make her less senile, antibiotics for the endless urinary tract infections, Pepto Bismal for the diarrhea. I wanted the doctor to be compassionate and tell me that it would be okay to put Dina to sleep, but he didn’t. And my mother wasn’t ready to let go. Or, rather, she wanted Dina to decide the day; to walk off into a field and choose the moment to die.
And then Dina’s hair stopped clumping. Her body was covered with a fog of loose hair at all times, no matter how often she was brushed.
Dina died on a fuzzy blue blanket on the floor in the vet’s office when she was sixteen years old. I sat against the wall, petting her back. My mother sat under the examining table, petting her head. And we stayed with her through both shots, knowing it was time to let go, but still not ready.
I imagined Dina running into a field of roasted chicken growing like wheat from the ground as far as she could see with her eyesight fully returned. I saw her galloping, unable to decide where to start, unable to believe the joy ahead of her, that she could eat a whole chicken and never worry about the bones sticking in her throat, and splintering through her esophagus like a broken needle. She could eat without end and without rice as filler!
But she’d never learned how to make friends. She depended on her people for company and communication. What would she do in heaven without us? Who would laugh with her and at her and scratch her belly and pull on her ears in that way she hated so much?
Would all of that chicken really make up for being alone?
When we got home, we packed up her left over pee pads and pee absorbing powder and anti pee spray. We packed her food and water bowls and her collar and her leash and her brush. But we couldn’t throw any of it away.
I had to put away the scarlet bathmat she used to sleep on. She liked the ray of sunlight from the bathroom window and the softness of the mat. The bathroom was her favorite place and I had to fight with her constantly to get her to leave so I could pee in private. As she aged, it only got worse. The slow aching rise of her elderly body onto shaky feet, one long stretch where she tilted and threatened to fall, and then the drippy-eyed stare as she stood two feet from the door asking why this horrible exodus had come upon her and who was I, what fresh evil was I, that I would make her flee her home, however slowly.
Dina took up so much space and sound that her absence was profound. I felt the silence deep in my body; it reverberated. No jangly collar, no tap tap of uncut toenails on hardwood floors, no scrape of food bowls against kitchen tile.
Her hair was everywhere in the apartment, cropping up under chairs, in furniture crevices, trapped in corners of the floorboards.
I cleaned every surface in the apartment, scrubbed the walls and the floors until my hands were raw and my knees ached, but her hair still lingered.
When Cricket came home, Dina had been gone for nearly eight months, but the smell of her was still in the apartment, especially on the small rug in my room where Dina did a lot of her napping. Cricket could smell her big sister in the floors and behind the furniture, and I think they had talks about how to handle Dina’s people. Sometimes I could even see Dina, like a mirage, sleeping on the floor, opening her eyes for a second to check on me, and then falling back to sleep.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
It’s been a while, but she still hangs around.
Wow. This brought my eyes to well up with tears. With all your description of how she was, I can feel what a good and gentle dog she was. You are one lucky person to have a loving dog who grew old with you.
She was the first dog I had who really did live to a ripe old age. I felt lucky to have her with me the whole time and see every stage of her life.
Oh I have no doubt Dina and Cricket talk. Dina will always be there, filling your home and your spirit with her love and her memory. What a beautiful celebration of a beloved friend you have written here. Thank you for sharing. 🙂
Thank you! I’m pretty sure Cricket consulted Dina on all of the how-to-manipulate-my-people questions, because she’s been super at it from the start.
We both posted photo’s of our dog’s shadows at the same time. 🙂
Your post made me cry a little, a lovely tribute to your friend, her life and death. I am just coming to terms with the fact that my eldest dog has been diagnosed with chronic heart failure and how he has suddenly seemed to grow old in front of my eyes. It breaks my heart to think of what will be but I hope he lives out his years with contentedness.
Those shadow dogs clearly wanted to talk to meet! I just met a pug the other day with congestive heart failure, and she was a sweety pie. She’s on medication and she’s not allowed to run or get too excited. But as long as she could sit on her dad’s lap, she was content. Even a slowed down life can be sweet.
That’s the hardest thing on earth when you have to say good bye. My tears are running – but many thanks for sharing this touching post with me.
Thank you for reading!
What a beautiful tribute to such a dear friend. Thanks for sharing!
Very touching story, I think everyday about my babies getting old and what I would do without them. They have many years ahead but it is always inevitable and it’s heart breaking. But having these wonderful fur babies in our life’s for so long are such a blessing. So sorry of your loss!
Thank you! I had to think hard about dealing with grief again when I decided to adopt Butterfly as an eight year old Lhasa Apso with heart problems, but I decided however much time I could have with her would be worth the pain.
Indeed good choice, it’s better for her to be loved then sit in a cage and die sick and alone. Every little bit counts, especially to them. They just want to be loved.
Dearest Rachel . . .this is a beautiful tribute to an obviously beautiful soul. I’m so sorry.
Thank you! She was a beautiful girl, even if it took me a long time to count the ways.
Aw, sorry for your loss. I love the shadow pic very much )
Thank you. She looked a little bit like batman in that picture.
Oh my word, so incredibly sad. These animals break our hearts, every time. I certainly couldn’t imagine life without them but the heartbreak is so severe. I am so sorry for your loss and I’m sure Dina is enjoying both fields full of roast chicken and the company of many loving people, who will be her friends until you get to her
Wouldn’t it be great if she’s running around in the best dog park ever, filled with treats and cozies and friends?!
Oh, so sad! I know you must still miss her a lot. Letting our sweeites go is such a difficult thing. Your love for her shows in every word of this post. What a sweet face a beautiful smile showing in her picture. I am so sorry that she had to go. Hugs and nose kisses
I’d had pure bred dogs before her, so living to sixteen seemed miraculous to me. I’m hoping Cricket, my Cockapoo, will reach at least twenty!
Oh no-I’ll be 11 next month and some of these are hitting too close to home because they’re now familiar.
Oh no, Kyla, you’ve gotta stick around. Kaci needs you!
This was a beautiful post, so beautifully written and so touching. I’m hugging my big old hound dog now, my eyes full of tears.
Cheers to Dina, and to those who loved her so much.
I’m so glad this piece brought on puppy hugs!
Thanks for putting into words the mixed feelings we have, when ones animal friends live through old age.
Thanks for reading!
Dina was lucky to have you as her person. It’s funny how little things can bring them back, even for just a moment. I still sometimes think I see my husband’s cat, Archibald, out of the corner of my eye. We had to put him down 2 years ago.
The question is, what makes them come back when they do? Are they lonely, or do they see that we need them?
oh my gosh, what a loving tribute to dina; i love her too & i never met her. perhaps we’ll meet up after i pass away — my personal belief is that if heaven is a place animals don’t get to enjoy along with the humans, i’d prefer not to go at all. i have explained this to god, so i think god will give me what i want. isn’t that, after all, the definition of heaven??
Sounds like a plan. I hope Dina spoke up for herself and made sure God knew what she wanted from heaven: roasted chicken, Twizzlers, and never, ever, mushrooms.
Lovely Rachel…we’ve both been lucky.
Yes, very lucky.
Letting go of a beloved animal has been the hardest decision I think I’ve made. Actually, it was more their decision. I firmly believe they let me know when and I had to honor their wishes. But their beautiful memory lives on in our hearts. Our pets are special gifts from God to teach us love and give us strength.
Dina taught me all about love, the easy parts and the hard parts. I miss her.
I am fearful on the day when my dog now, Gladys, goes to the light. She has truly been my best friend for 7 years. Sorry for your loss.
Dina worked hard to prepare me. She gave me tons of stories, and time. I hope you get the same.
A very nice tribute to your special friend. It’s tough getting old. You did good by Dina. thanks for sharing your story.
Thank you. I’m glad that Dina was able to enjoy her food and even her walks until the end. She squeezed everything she could get out of her life.
Your love for Dina is reflected so beautifully through your wonderful words. Thank you for sharing her memory.
Thank you for seeing her. I wish I had more pictures of her younger years, but we both hit our stride later on.
(tail between legs) I just cried when I read this…cried and cried and my throat hurt and I cried some more. You were both so very fortunate. And I am fortunate to have shared this story, too. Thank you (tail wagging now)!!!
My little tail waggers are honored to share their big sister with you. Dina would have loved knowing she is loved so much.
Thank you, Rachel, I left the screen on so my family could read the story, too! (rolls over and shows belly)
This was beautiful. I found your blog today after posting my first dog post. Thank you for visiting. I’m so glad you did, because that story was just too touching to miss.
Thank you! I’m glad you came by!
You really captured the love and the pain of watching a beloved pet grow old. Such hard decisions. I could see Dina so clearly, as well as my own dogs over the years at the end of life. Thank you for sharing such a sad and sweet memory.
Thank you. Capturing the pain on the page helps leech it out of my body. I spent a year and a half after her death writing everything I could remember about her, just to get it out, and it helped.
I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s so hard to watch a dear pet deteriorate like that, yet we hate to let go. Our shepherd/collie/husky mix had several strokes that went misdiagnosed by the vet at first. As she lost the use of her rear legs, it broke our hearts. That was 20 years ago, and it still pains me to think about it. Writing is a great way to help take the edge off pain, and I’m so glad you shared it with us here.
Thank you. I will always remember when Dina’s foot started to fold over without her thinking to straighten it. It hurt to watch her walk like that. But it’s comforting to know that I felt so much for her and with her that I can keep her with me for so long after she’s gone. I stored her up.
My deepest sympathy to you, Rachel. I hated to read that your precious dog is no longer with you and your mom. I know all too well about old dogs for I’ve had my share of them over my long life. I’ve enclosed a poem by Rudyard Kipling. It is one of several poems on my site under pet loss but I chose this one for you to read. I hope that you don’t mind me putting this with my comment. Regards, yvonne
The Power of a Dog by Rudyard Kipling
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
But when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie–
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.
When the fourteen years that nature permits
Are closing in asthma or tumors or fits
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers, or loaded guns.
Then you will find–its your own affair
But–you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will
When the whimper of welcome is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone–wherever it goes–for good,
You still discover how much you care
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.
We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ‘em the more do we grieve;
For when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short time loan is as bad as a long–
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?
That is beautiful. Thank you.
I’m so sorry, what sweet face on that angel.
She really did have a sweet face, especially by the end. When her muzzle turned white it caught the sparkle in her eyes.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
Sad story and it always hurts. I have been there with my Little Misty, but that was twelve years ago and I still miss her. Thankfully she never reached the stages of decay and died of a massive stroke – that’s what feeling helpless and useless is all about – nothing I could do. I love my two dogs now, but I still miss Misty – she was special.
A massive stroke sounds scary. I watch my girls all the time while they’re sleeping, to make sure they’re still breathing. But these dogs, maybe because they don’t have the words to create distance, get so deep inside our hearts. It’s getting pretty crowded in there.
Made me cry. It reminded me of our deceased dog, Monty, and makes me think now of our old dog, Maddi, with her gamy legs and pacing. It’s hard, isn’t it, to lose a loved one? Pets are truly part of the family.
That pacing is heartbreaking, isn’t it? Dina would pace up and down the hall with no idea that she’d already done it twenty times. But she wasn’t sad. That’s the important thing. She still enjoyed her life right up to the end.
Making me cry- so sorry for your loss. My Zush is going on 13 and hanging in there, plus I ruined her life by giving her a 8-year young golden retriever/chow mix…I can’t imagine the black hole in my life when the girl will leave me. She will always be my baby…**hugs**
Oh Zush, hang in there, you are needed!
I’m so sorry for your loss. Reading about Dina brought back memories of our Golden Retriever, Zack. We still miss him so much, and I think it would have been a lot harder without our little spitfire Miniature Schnauzer, Tessie. Thanks for visiting my blog!
Thank you for coming by! I’m a latecomer to the two dogs at a time camp, but I’m a real believer now. They keep each other company, and when one is moody the other one is usually up for a snuggle. I don’t know if any of that will help when the day comes when I lose one of them, but I will know to go out and get a new buddy, for both of us.
Beautiful post. I understand. For several years after my dog passed away, I would see him swishing around the floor as I turned or came into a room.
I love that!
I am so sorry for your loss…my last dog was 15 when I had to put her to sleep. Like Dina her last months were sad to watch. It’s the saddest thing to lose our pets. Just remember that Dina had a good life and a great family that stood by her til the end…
Thank you. Dina did have a long, varied, and in the end, good life. I’m glad I had enough time to make it good for her.
Because we recently lost our dear Basil, as you know, this is an especially poignant post to read. You’ve done a wonderful job narrating Dina’s end-of-life story and your devotion to her. Yes, the silence; it’s been over a month now and we can’t get over how quiet it is with Basil gone. 😦
The silence was profound, for months. I was used to narrating Dina’s thoughts, and telling time by the sound of her toe nails on the hard wood floor, and her gallumphing set downs on the carpet. The void was disorienting, at the very least.
Such a brief story of the love you shared.
Your detailed and descriptive writing is such a pleasure to read & enjoy.
Sorry about the physical loss, may her memories and antics live in your heart and smile every day.
So glad you have a new friend to enjoy and grow older with!
Cricket is planning on being around for a very long time. I can’t even imagine her as an old dog. I expect that her bark will sound a bit more like a smoker’s cough, and maybe she won’t run to the door fast enough to slide the last ten feet, but other than that…
This is so sad to read, I am fighting tears. She was a beautiful dog, I have a labmix to and I hope he lives a long and healthy life. Looks like she had a great lide with you ❤
The lucky thing about dogs of “mixed parentage” is that they tend to be healthier and live longer. The only problem is that their characteristics are completely unpredictable. A lab mix who is terrified of water? Never smiled until old age? Has every neuroses ever diagnosed in an old Jewish man? Hmm.
That’s true many mix breeds are more healthy. I have herd of labs afraid of water but it depends on the dog. My dog is so hyper and has four bird hunting dogs in him, it’s hard sometimes to get him tired because he need so much activity. You never know, but I still love him like a child 🙂
Great life (phone grammar)
Hugs – our dogs become more than just pets they become a part of our family. This was indeed a wonderful article of a precious love for a best friend.
Thanks very much for sharing these memories and photos of a truly sweet dog whom I would have enjoyed knowing, even if she didn’t have the knack of making friends (Pluto would have tried his best to bridge the gap). It’s nearly a year now since bidding a similar farewell to Pluto, and many parts of the experience were, and are, the same. I like the Kipling poem that someone shared above, and it’s true that “the longer we’ve kept ‘em the more do we grieve.” Pluto was the last and longest-lived of five furry pets we had during the last two decades (three cats and two dogs). A “new normal” without Pluto and the others has now set in, but the ever-vivid memories of Pluto, Zippy, Missy, Kitty, and Tigger now have a sort of legendary and even epic quality to them, though they were everyday reality at the time.
I like the idea that Dina has become “epic” in retrospect. I’d love to say she took a long sea journey at some point, but getting on a boat would have led to much vomiting and cowering. For me.
I can’t imagine watching my Missy go through that. I’m so sorry she had to go through that.
What a beautiful way to commemorate your loved one. I’m a vet tech and we euthanize animals every day. It’s hard to be there only at the end but it’s really wonderful when I read something like this and see how loved these animals really are. Amazing.
Wow. Thank you!
My Fritz is 14 and starting to show these signs of aging too. I have 2 other dogs close behind him. Your story brought tears to my eyes. Dogs teach us many things, not the least things about ourselves. How you love your senior dogs speaks volumes. You did good.
Thank you! I think my dogs really have taught me so much about myself, whether I want to know it or not.
Wonderful story wonderful Dino what can I say truly loved and thank you for sharing this with us.
Thank you for liking my post re Dogs can speak… I can hear your Dina saying i love you in her smiling photo … she looks beautiful and reading about her was equally beautiful. Jen
Thank you! She did like to sing along with sirens and sopranos, so maybe she really was singing to me sometimes. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Such a deeply moving tribute!
This is the most touching tribute I have ever read to an old dog and her passing. I like your writing style very much.
Thank you so much!
I am very sorry for your loss and thanks for sharing this wonderful post.
They just don’t live long enough, do they? Your beautiful tribute to Dina has brought back memories of going through the same thing with a much loved dog nearly 10 years ago.
I hope that’s a good thing. I tend to be a milk chocolate person, but bittersweet can be wonderful once in a while.
Definitely a good thing! It reminded me to make the most of every moment with the dogs I have now. 🙂