J and I no longer live with an old dog: on Tuesday afternoon, we put Reggie to sleep. Both J and I knew it was time: the previous night, Reggie been restless and uncomfortable, waking us early with whines and occasional whimpers, and when I’d taken him out for his mid-morning bathroom break, he’d collapsed on the porch and immediately peed on himself, as if he were too tired to even try to get up. We made a last-minute appointment with our vet, I cancelled my classes and student conferences, and J and I made one last trip to the Angell Animal Medical Center to make Reggie comfortable for good. He was fifteen years old, and I’d had him for over thirteen years.
It was a peaceful–even beautiful–passing. After having been so restless and uncomfortable the night before, Reggie was tranquil on the drive to Angell, lounging in the backseat with his head up and alert, relishing the stream of fresh spring air from open windows. At Angell, I carried him into the waiting area and got him comfortably settled while J checked us in, and Reggie was both quiet and calm. I took one last picture of him while we waited, and in that photo he looks content and comfortable: ready.
Reggie didn’t whine or whimper once in the family meditation room, a private lounge where we arranged him on a soft rug while Dr. Kaye and Alex, his assistant, readied Reggie for the injection. Dr. Kaye gave Reggie one last snack–some sort of healthy dog biscuits for sensitive stomachs, the treats some other family had apparently left after their final goodbyes–and then we gathered around. Reggie was lying with his head up, alert but relaxed, while sunlight from a partly cloudy, impossibly blue sky streamed through a high window. I stroked Reggie’s head and neck fur–his signature chow-mane, which never diminished even in age–while Dr. Kaye delivered the injection. One second, Reggie was calmly looking around; the next, he flopped his head onto my leg as he always did when he was tired; and the next, he was gone.
J and I cried in the meditation room, and on the drive home, and upon arriving at our too-empty-seeming house, Reggie’s now-useless leash in hand. The first thing I did was to gather up Reggie’s things, putting away his leash and bowls, his medications, and his food platform and the sturdy, rubber-backed mat we’d bought so he wouldn’t slip when he ate or drank. There are reminders enough of Reggie everywhere, mainly his conspicuous absence under foot and the now-empty spots where he loved to lounge. Why would we want empty bowls and now-useless medicines around to mock that absence?
The first morning without Reggie, instead of walking I did yoga in the spot where he often slept, then I meditated in the now-empty space where his food and water bowls once sat. It seemed fittingly appropriate, the spots where Reggie found temporary rest and respite now permanently quieted. That first morning without Reggie was an impossibly beautiful spring day, with cloud-embellished blue sky just like the one I’d looked out upon at Angell, Reggie’s fur under my fingers. That first morning without Reggie, the tulips by the dog pen bloomed, an annual occurrence I’ll forever associate now with Reggie’s passing.
Reggie was a good dog to the very end, a faithful companion who was with me during some of my darkest days, and my only “family” in New Hampshire in the immediate aftermath of my divorce. Reggie was a rescue dog whose “second life” with me was filled with everything a dog could hope for. He’d taken countless car-rides to and from Ohio and not one but two cross-country road trips. He’d served as official mascot and temple guardian for a Zen group. He’d climbed mountains, and he’d slept in an RV in Arizona, a tent in Virginia, and under the stars in northern New England. Reggie snacked on elk jerky while watching elk from a motel window in California, sniffed and peed at Old Faithful and Gettysburg, and nearly jumped out the backseat window at the sight of bison and moose. He had face-to-face encounters with groundhogs and snapping turtles, waded belly-deep in rivers and ponds, and chased countless turkeys, deer, and one memorable black bear: the only time in his life he’d actually come when called. Reggie had his portrait painted, and he inspired a whole category of blog-posts and a slew of photos. He was a fluffy-faced sweetheart whose resilient spirit humbled me in the end: a dog who needed help in dying because he just wouldn’t give up on his own.
My biggest fear in Reggie’s final days was that I wouldn’t be there when he died, either because he’d slip away quietly when J and I were out, or because a medical emergency would force J to make a final vet visit while I was teaching in Keene. Although my heart aches every time I see the empty spot where Reggie loved to lie, I’m grateful J and I were able to be with him in the end. These past few years as Reggie declined, I increasingly did anything I could to make him comfortable, carrying him up and down the stairs, easing him into a reclining position when he struggled to settle himself, and flipping him over when he’d squirmed himself into an uncomfortable position and didn’t have the strength to roll over. In the end, putting Reggie to sleep was the last thing we could do to make him comfortable, his body giving out before his heart. We was a loving, loyal friend I can’t possibly forget: a good boy until the end.