I found the book, “Beautiful Old Dogs”, the other day, in an unlikely place. In the rug area of Home Goods, there it was, randomly placed on a couch. Maybe it found me. It has the most incredible photos of various breeds of dogs, in their senior years. One, in particular, I could not reproduce well enough to show you, but he (I assume he is a he, as he is so dignified) had me at hello. He is a gorgeous brindle, and grey muzzled American Staffordshire.
I encourage you to read this book. It has several essays by known, and not so well known, writers that describe their personal experiences with older dogs. It captures how often many people simply don’t understand why so many of us go to great lengths for our elderly dogs, and pets in general. They overlook the value of a long life, and the shared experiences that they and their family have had together. Older people, as well as dogs, and cats, are often marginalized. This book reminds you not to do that. Each essay is accompanied by a stunning photo.
My job allows me to meet many elderly dogs. I also am often in the position of helping clients decide when is the time to say goodbye to them. This book touches upon the loss of dignity that dogs might feel, as several are written in the voice of the dogs themselves.
I am also involved in many home euthanasias. I have talked about this before. I always try to find the right words or sentiments to express to the family, after the passing. It varies with each family. But, after reading this book, I will no longer be at a loss for the right words.
People invariably express how painful it is to love cats and dogs who have such short lifespans. When they are suffering with this frustrating reality, I will try to remember these words by Susan Clothier. She wrote:
A Cycle of Love
There is a cycle of love and death that shapes the lives of those who choose to travel in the company of animals. It is a cycle unlike any other. To those who have never lived through its turnings or walked its rocky path, our willingness to give our hearts with full knowledge that they will be broken seems incomprehensible. Only we know how small a price we pay for what we receive; our grief, no matter how powerful it may be, is an insufficient measure of the joy we have been given.
And, after I am asked to help them say a final goodbye to their pet, I will think of the lovely words of Eugene O’Neil. He wrote “The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog” for his wife, shortly before the death of their dog Blemie. It is his dog that “wrote” it, and it is wonderful. The last paragraph is comforting and, I think, perfect. If you have recently lost a pet, or are facing doing so in the near or distant future (which means all of us), think about his words….
…”One last word of farewell, Dear Master and Mistress. Whenever you visit my grave, say to yourselves with regret but also with happiness in your hearts at the remembrance of my long happy life with you: ‘Here lies one who loved us and whom we loved.’ No matter how deep my sleep I shall hear you, and not all the power of death can keep my spirit from wagging a grateful tail.”