No one wants to think about the day when a best friend will die. Until last week, I never had to. The deaths of my dogs have been hidden from my view — either my parents dealt with it or it happened after I moved away.
Two years ago, my girlfriend and I merged lives so I adopted her three dogs. All of them were older than 10 years so we expected one or more of them to die at any time. We were always most worried about Layla, the 12-year-old Saint Bernard. She weighed 160 pounds and could barely lift herself off the ground. Whenever she struggled to get up, I’d either lift her backside or, if I could tell she was almost there, I’d yell, “C’mon, Big Momma, c’mon!” to give her the extra strength she needed. “Machine,” as we often called her, somehow kept chugging along.
Even though she was old, she was young at heart until her dying day. She’d hop around the yard and bark at other dogs. Eventually, we figured she’d last forever.
A week ago Friday at about 2 a.m., I was awakened by loud whimpering from downstairs. I went to check it out and saw Layla lying on her side with her stomach swollen. My girlfriend did a quick Internet search and figured it to be a turned stomach, a common occurrence in Saint Bernards and a condition that is fatal without emergency surgery. But the prospect of lifting a sick, 160-pound dog into a car and putting her through (and paying for) emergency surgery wasn’t a reality. Layla did her best to get up on her own, but mostly I had to help her. I think she wanted to walk away from the pain in her gut, but eventually it overtook her and her legs would buckle underneath her. She got up one last time on her own at about 6:30 a.m. I called several veterinarians hoping to find someone to end her pain, but no one could come.
As the sun rose, I held a bowl of water up to her mouth for her to get one last drink. She slumped back down and I scratched her ears for about half an hour before she vomited. My girlfriend and I tearfully prayed for her to die so her pain would stop. At about 7:30 a.m., her labored breathing got slower and finally stopped. Her legs twitched and she was gone.
Relief and sadness swept over us. We said our goodbyes, as did our two young foster children who had only known Layla for a week. They could see we were upset so they picked some flowers for us (from my own rose bushes — but hey, it’s the thought). A nice man named Tony from Heart’s Companion pet crematorium picked her up and we now have Big Momma back home in a beautiful wood urn.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check on our other dog, who misses Big Momma even more than we do.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.