The Last Kindness

This is about Gracie Lou O, the beloved Boxer who graced my daughter’s family with love, laughter, and five years of snuffles, snorts, and pretzel-twisting greetings.  Those of you who have Boxers know exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s also about the difficult, painful, ‘how-do-you-honestly-know-it’s-time?’ decision surrounding euthanasia.

When my daughter called to tell me she and her husband were looking to adopt a dog, I was thrilled.  Because, well, let’s face it- no home should be without one.  My daughter is a nurse, so it came as no surprise that the links she began sending my way contained bios of dogs who needed medical attention, specialized care, or a combination thereof.  Her husband, ever the pragmatist, would gently point out all the (valid) reasons why they should keep looking.  EJ was still in the service and frequently traveled; DS often worked long hours- so a dog needing an insulin shot at a specific time or walks every half hour due to incontinence issues would be difficult with their schedule.

They discovered Gracie Lou at an SPCA in a nearby town, and my daughter happily wrote:  “She’s perfect!  She’s 5 years old, a beautiful brindle with a lot of spunk left in her.  She cinched the deal when we took her outside and she romped around in the freshly fallen snow, making us laugh and realize we had to take her home.” They doted on Gracie Lou, taking her on long leisurely walks, letting her up on the couch (my daughter?!  Check the basement for pods), and making sure no matter where the military stationed them, Boxers were allowed.

Boxer in chairI met Gracie Lou the following summer when I flew to Washington for a long overdue visit.  She was all things classically Boxer: the bubbles that formed and grew around her jowls as her dinner was prepared, the bouncy hops when a walk was eminent, and… the gas that could clear a room!  We instantly became friends.  She was a wonderful walking companion; we enjoyed her early morning constitutional to the point where we were accused of getting lost.  But nothing was further from the truth.  Once business had been taken care of,  we had creeks to explore, parks to patrol, and neighbors to greet.  We savored those walks- they were not to be rushed.

When the time came to welcome my first grandchild, I flew out before the event to care for Gracie in an attempt to keep her world status quo while we welcomed the newest family member.  Gracie was considered elderly now, and I worried how she would adjust.  I needn’t have.  She chose to lay near T in her bouncy seat and was never bothered by the stroller that now accompanied her on walks.  As T grew to toddler, Gracie followed her about the house, both with legs unsteady… an irony that simply compounded our love.  My daughter took care to make sure T always had ‘kind hands’ and that Gracie was never subjected to the abuse young children can unwittingly met out to family dogs.

Whenever I called, I was always updated regarding both my favorite girls, the two of them experiencing the passing of time with very different consequences.  T was delighting in toddling and increased mobility, Gracie was struggling to stand upright.  The veterinarian provided medications that eased the pain of arthritis, but nothing could be done to stop the advance of old age.  My daughter and her husband took it all in stride, lifting Gracie gently when she fell, using special wipes to keep her “lady bits” (my daughter’s coined phrase) clean of dirt or leaves when her legs betrayed her and she wound up on the ground.  The beautiful hardwood and tile floors in their home now had strategically placed area rugs and yoga mats that made pathways to the doors, Gracie’s water bowl, her bed.  Living with her day-to-day, Gracie’s decline for them was insidious.  But when I saw her that fall, I was stunned.

She had acquired the beautiful grizzled patina of senior dogs;  her muzzle and eyebrows shot with silver and white, granting such dignity to her dear face.  When I entered the living room, Gracie struggled up off her bed in an attempt to greet me.  Her back end wasn’t cooperating fully, but the speed at which her stump of a tail wriggled left no doubt she knew who I was and was thrilled to see me.  I went directly to her, hiding my concern.  But that night I watched her eat with gusto.  I watched the joy and attempted bounce when she saw her leash.  The ‘walk’ was an erratic hobble down the front sidewalk, a left turn onto the lawn as she sought out the particular spot.  Her legs slid from underneath her as she squatted and she looked up, puzzled but patient, as I lifted her gently and whispered, “Good girl.”  She slowly made her way back to the house, stopping once or twice to sniff good sniffs and sternly chastise a cheeky squirrel she could no longer chase.  Once inside, I watched as my wonderful son-in-law lifted her gently and carried her up the stairs to her orthopedic bed in their bedroom for the night.  I turned to meet my daughter’s eyes, watching as they filled with tears while she smiled lopsidedly and shrugged.

We talked that night about Gracie and her quality of life.  I knew of a scale that I shared with my daughter; we discussed Gracie’s score.  Upon my return home, we continued to share and combine our research, learning quickly there was no easy answer.  “It depends…” seemed to be the common thread in all we read.

My daughter found a veterinarian specializing in at-home pet euthanasia.  “When she arrived mum, I wanted so badly to dislike her, but I couldn’t.  She was lovely and spoke with us for hours, talking directly to Gracie Lou and answering all of our questions- even those we needed to ask twice.”

And so it came to pass that Gracie Lou was gently and compassionately helped from this world to the next.  The heavens looked down, and to honor our beloved girl, freshly fallen snow marked the last kindness.