To say we weren't ready is an understatement. We had just been to the vet two weeks ago. A clean bill of health and all our concerns swept away with a diagnosis of "age". We could relate to that. Choosing to stay near the house instead of running all the way out to the barn is a choice we could understand. The stairs being okay some days and a scary proposition another was something we chalked up to deteriorating eyesight. But overall, our beloved Eli was in fine shape and as happy of a dog as ever.
He came down the stairs reluctantly but still he joined us for our movie. Curled up on his blankets, he stayed nearby. Part way through the movie, he stood and was unsteady on his feet. The Mister jumped out of his seat and started checking out Eli's legs, to see if he had hurt one. I got down on the floor and looked my puppy in the eyes and immediately we knew something was wrong. Very wrong. He was dazed, immobile and unsteady. As The Mister ran for a phone, I petted my puppy saying, "Not today, baby, not today" but somehow, deep down I just knew it was today.
A speed-breaking drive to the emergency vet a half hour away and a set of x-rays later, we knew the reason. A large mass pressing on his heart and lungs. It explained his quirky behavior. It explained why some days he seemed to be panting for no reason; why storms seemed to upset him more than ever (harder to breathe); and why those runs out to the barn with The Mister were skipped some days to just stay closer to home. It explained, but it didn't solve.
The vet talked options, but they were risky, uncertain and not likely to succeed. He was unable to move and having difficulty breathing. He barely lifted his head and he hadn't made a sound. There was only one choice, but it was excruciating to make. We weren't at all ready.
I can say he had an amazing life. We made him promise to live long enough to join us on the farm, and he did. (I also made him promise two weeks ago to live out his three-year rabies shot and dog license - that didn't work out.) I tease that The Mister only married me for my amazing dog, but there's probably more truth to that than jest. He was our constant companion - being outside with The Mister while he worked around the property, being inside with me while I cleaned or baked. He jumped up on the bed every night for some love before curling up at the foot of my side until finally deciding he'd get kicked less on his own bed. Every morning he got up with The Mister, had a quick jaunt outside, a bite to eat and then up on the bed, on The Mister's side now, to sleep until I got up. He laid right outside the open bathroom door while I got ready every morning, requiring me to step over him many times as I got dressed and ready for work. He greeted us at the door when we came home, stayed close the entire evening and wanted little more than to run around outside and to get some rubs behind the ears. I can say he had an amazing life, but the truth is, he made our life more amazing by being a part of it.
He was a rescue dog who rescued us as much as we did him. He made us laugh, he made us smile and he gave us comfort. The sorrow we feel is so intense because the joy he brought us was so immense. We buried him under a maple tree overlooking the farm and pasture. James found a couple of his stuffed animals abandoned out back in the snow and put those in the grave with him.
We are still struggling with the emptiness, the silence, the missing piece of our day. We still can't seem to get our minds around it - it happened so fast. We are so grateful for our years with Eli. We are so grateful for all the ways he blessed our little family. We are grateful that he didn't suffer long. But he will be missed for a very long time. We could not have asked for a better dog. We will never know exactly how old he was, or how he became a rescue dog in the first place, but his eleven years with us were precious and we will forever treasure his memory.