We found Heinz by accident all the way in the back of the shelter. He didn’t wag his tail or come to the front of the cage. He’d been through this before. People looked but turned away when they saw his problems and his age. He was eleven years old and he’d been there a year. Heinz had lost hope of finding a family again.
Heinz came from a very happy home. He lived with his mom, dad, and four brothers – and his humans, who loved him very much. They all played together and he was never alone. Then the fleas got him. Who knew he was allergic to them. His fur fell out and he got infections from scratching. He looked horrible and felt worse. His humans couldn’t afford the vet bills and they wouldn’t let him suffer. So, they gave him to the Humane Society. They knew he would get the proper care – and he did. But, big patches of fur never grew back. And his chronic ear infections wouldn’t go away. So he stayed in a cage and wore his front teeth to nubs from chewing on the bars.
We were there to look at another dog, but he’d already been adopted. That’s when I wound my way through the maze of cages and found Heinz. I fell in love instantly; he barely looked at me. He knew no one wanted him – everyone wants young, healthy dogs. But, I couldn’t let him die in a cage. So, we took him home.
He gave me a quizzical look when we put him in the car. Like he wasn’t sure what was next. The last time he was in a car he ended up in a cage. Should he hope? Were we taking him back to his brothers – finally? No, but he was getting a new brother and sister – our two yellow labs. He passed the sniff test and started to play. He ran in circles for so long I thought he would pass out. And then he smiled.
A few years have passed and both of our labs are now gone. Heinz is 16 years old! Amazing! But his arthritis has spread and is getting worse. We are past the glucosamine and strictly on pain meds. He likes to lie in the sun, but, this is Northwest Ohio and the winters are grey and cold. He still plays with our pug puppy. He lets Buddy climb on him and they lie together on the couch. Maybe he will be better in the spring. Maybe we won’t have to “make the decision” until fall. Maybe his heart will give out and we won’t have to make the decision at all. How do we decide when it’s time to say goodbye?
We are living one day at a time. The vet says we will know when it’s time. My husband travels for work and every time he comes home, he sees the decline. I’m here every day and don’t notice it as much. He says it’s time. We gave him a good life and it’s time to let go. I can’t do it. A few weeks go by. I help Heinz get on the couch and I nuzzle him like I always do. He turns away. Buddy tries to play and Heinz growls at him. I will call the vet in the morning. But, the next morning, he almost runs out the door to chase a squirrel. He lives another day!
We continue this way for a while, but the good days are few and the spring rains bother him. Even I can see that it’s time. Keeping him here is just plain selfish. I call the vet and Heinz gets his last car ride. I cry but I’m not as upset as I thought I would be. I know it was the right decision – until the next morning when I go to help him get off the couch for breakfast. And he isn’t there. Then the grieving begins.