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Wed, June 19

Williams: The most painful goodbye is the last one

It was an intensely mournful day when we ended the life of Lucy recently, our “middle” beloved canine family member. When we moved into the area some seven years ago, we had three Black Labs. We are now down to one.

Many have lost more dogs than I have. I doubt any of us handles it well. My euthanasia toll is four. With one to go, probably within the next year, I’m not capable of surviving more than five, so there will be no more happy furred faces or playful barks in the house. The quiet echoes in the rooms will always remind us of what we’ve lost.

Lucy and I said innumerable goodbyes during her nearly 16 years. Each time I left the house whether to work or for some other purpose, she stood at the gate telepathically bidding me so long. For all those years, each goodbye, however, was soon erased with a joyous reunion when I returned. I remember so many dark, frigid winter mornings when I left to substitute at the high school. Rather than remaining inside a warm house near the wood stove, she chose to stand solemnly at the gate shivering her farewell.

Of our three dogs, and from an early age, she was the guardian at the gate, the fence, the door, the window. She voluntarily assumed the role of protectress. And she tried so hard to be good. We joked often that she was our little girl who went to church every Sunday and worked endlessly to please us.

I’ve read many canine obituaries that turned mushy by ascribing too many human traits to the deceased animal. I don’t have to do that since Lucy demonstrated her own uniqueness. She didn’t need human behavioral characteristics to be entertaining — or to be treasured by her family.

I met her first in 2005 at a Phoenix foster home for rescues. She bounded across the back yard on her hind legs, fore legs churning the air and her amber eyes ablaze. I’ve never seen another dog do that. But that’s how Lucy expressed irrepressible joy when it came her way.

She deserved joy in her life. As a young mother, she’d had a litter taken from her soon after birth. And she had been abused. I’m speculating that she had been beaten frequently since for, several months after adoption, she would slink rather than walk around. She seemed particularly afraid of tall, bald men.

Fortunately, the passing years served as a healing salve. She slowly regained her confidence and trust as she evolved into a properly assertive 70-pounder who didn’t like uninvited strangers coming to the house. Or little white dogs that barked too much. Or lettuce. Or the Dallas Cowboys. (OK, that’s the only inappropriate trait I’ll attribute to her.)

I’m generally optimistic about life, but there are certain things that I abhor. I hate having to make the decision to end a life, especially one that I’ve grown to revere deeply for such a long time. I’m not sure whether dogs live too briefly or we humans live too long, but I know I wasn’t cut out to do the God thing — to decide when death should visit.

The last 24 hours before putting a dog down involves nothing but the “last” of things — the last night’s sleep in the bedroom, the last breakfast, the last walk in the park, the last scratch behind the ears. The last heartbeat.

Will Rogers was right: “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.”

To comment on this column, email wilaugust46@gmail.com.

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