Dad used to say, “If I knew where I was going to die, I would never go there.” He died at home, in the house he built on the land he tended with a loving hand. We think of death as hard, harsh, evil, but sometimes there is a little poetry mixed with the heart wrenching horribleness.
When death is inevitable, I guess it is better to die in a place that brought joy. So I took her for one last stroll on the beach.
Maybe humans live longer than dogs because we have a limited capacity to experience joy. We are joyful on occasion. Dogs are euphoric a multitude of times throughout every day. They delight in every bowl of kibble, every return of their person, every after-poop zoomies, every walk and snuggle and car ride and blade of grass and bit of snow and toy and treat and their places on our beds and their places in our hearts. How happy would we be if we experienced life that way, maybe with the exception of the after-poop zoomies?
Loki adopted me eleven years ago. Her owner moved leaving two dogs behind. They were causing trouble in the neighborhood and her sister was dispatched in a manner common among dogs running loose in rural areas. Loki came close to the same fate. One of the neighbors told me he took her to the beach to shoot her and bury her, but when he looked in her eyes, he couldn’t do it. She has been my constant companion ever since.
Loki never suffered any significant illness in her eleven years. Arthritis hadn’t set in, she was not in need of any medications, and although her face grayed, her attitude did not. Then her appetite subtly waned. A battery of diagnostic tests failed to reveal any abnormalities, but Loki declined. The cancer was found during exploratory surgery, and although the intestinal mass was removed, Loki’s appetite never recovered. Chemotherapy failed to help. I was out of options for helping my little buddy. I knew what I had to do.
Loki showed a bit of excitement as we turned down the road to fish camp. We arrived in the evening, with the sun still shining across the water as it does in late June in Alaska. There was a slight breeze but the Inlet was flat calm. We got out of the truck and walked around a little, Loki sniffing out clues and surveying her domain, but with less than usual enthusiasm. Soon she was content to sit down and rest. I sat behind her, enveloping her with my limbs and my love as we gazed out across the water. Loki lay, head in my lap, while I nuzzled her and cried, whispering so softly into her fur that even the wind couldn’t hear. All those things she knew but I had to say anyway.
Without changing positions, I reached for her catheter. The moment I dreaded for eleven years had come. It was time to say goodbye. Loki died in my arms. It was peaceful and perfect and absolutely horrible. Is it better or worse that it came from my own loving hand? Maybe both. Some things in life are like that. The poetry and the pain.
The symmetry hit me days later. He took her to the beach wanting to end her life. I took her to the beach because I was unable to save it. I said goodbye to my once in a lifetime dog in a place we both loved, the kind of place where, if I knew I was going to die there, I’d go anyway. I hoped she felt the same.