Published in today's NYTimes, the column that follows was written by Verlyn Klinkenborg, a much admired writer. His subject is one that anyone who reads this post has probably encountered. Regardless of how often it happens, it's still heart-breaking.
Darcy at Her Days’ End
Not quite 15 years ago, my wife adopted a mixed-breed puppy she found tied to a storage tank behind a gas station in Great Barrington, Mass. I say she adopted it because I wasn’t quite sold on the idea. We had a new pup already — a border terrier named Tavish — and this gangly new addition looked, in comparison, like a badly made dog. Darcy’s feet were too small for her body, her hind knees were weak, and her coat made her look like a wire-haired golden retriever. But who ever loved a dog less because it was ugly?
And now, suddenly, it’s all these years later. Darcy still lies on the lawn, basking like a lioness, and barks at the pickups going up the road. Much of the day she still has the look of an indomitably gratified mutt. But there are hours now when her eyes, a little misty with cataracts, seem worried, hollow. And she has stopped eating, or rather, she eats with deliberation and reluctance, a spoonful of this, a forkful of that.
Which means that now is the time for a hard decision. According to the vet, there are no signs of disease, other than the disease of age — nothing to force our hand. When Tavish died, four years ago, his liver was failing, and there was no choice but to sit on the floor and hold him while the vet inserted the final needle. It’s somehow not surprising that Darcy raises the matter of our responsibility in its purest form.
I’ve known too many owners who waited far too long to put their dogs to sleep, and I’ve always hated the sentimentality and the selfishness in their hesitation. Last week, watching Darcy out in the sun, it felt as though I was trying to decide just when most of the life — the good life, that is — inside her has been used up. Is it conscionable to wait until it’s plainly gone? Or is it better to err on the side of saying goodbye while she’s still discernibly Darcy, while she seems, as she nearly always does, to be without pain?
It comes down, in the end, to the pleasure she shows, the interest she takes in the world around her — and not to anything her humans feel. She has not had the life she might once have expected — a far better one instead. My job is to make sure she gets the death she deserves — in her human’s arms.
And so she has. She died quietly last Friday while I sat on the floor beside her at the vet’s. The world is a poorer place without her.