In my life, I have had many best friends. Some have moved on to other places, other paths. Others remain in my life, through challenges and trials. Today I lost the friend I underestimated, the one I probably spent the least amount of energy on, but one who gave of himself unconditionally. Today we put my dog to sleep.
Koko was a happy dog. From the time we brought him home, pot-bellied 8-week-old puppy, he reveled in life. Whether it was sinking his milk teeth into a thick rope or digging holes in the yard or his greatest passion, walking, Koko almost always smiled. He never stopped running, rolling in the grass or carpet, even when pain stiffened his old joints. Koko loved life. When I was at my lowest point, crying to myself at the old dog park, he showed me how a blue sky and a path to walk could be the greatest medicine. He taught me that happiness was a state of being.
Koko was a dog of great insight. The first time he met He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-Lest-I-Retch, he ran from me and jumped off a hill into a stinky swamp. He filled my car with the stench of fresh muck, his trademark grin knowing a truth I wouldn’t fathom until years later. When I feared I had cervical cancer, it was Koko who offered me his burly shoulder to cry on. He leaned into me as if to say he knew what was going through my mind and body. Most importantly, Koko listened with the wisdom of a sage, ever present, ever silent, ever stable.
The decision to end Koko’s life did not come easily. I agonized over it months ago and again in February and again a few weeks ago as I watched pain change my dog. It has been a process of mourning and letting go, of realizing the greatest gift we can give those we love is that of freedom. I would not keep him alive to prevent my own sorrow. Better to weep over my friend and let him die with dignity than to watch him suffer any more.
Koko is gone now. I know my faith teaches me that animals do not have souls. Still, St. Francis believed, as I do, that all creatures revel in creation and therefore are loved by God. I know that Koko has been restored to youth and strength, that he can across grass and jump down from hills and play chase and wrestle again. I know he is smiling, listening to “Mr. Big Stuff” or cruising with that “diamond in the back, sun roof top, digging the scene with a gangster lean.” He is going out for a walk or headed to dog park or waiting for a treat. Today he has been set free.
Be well, my friend, my child. May the sun shine eternally on you, the way you helped it shine for me.