Today at 9:15 I have to put down my dog Gus.
What a difficult few days this has been. Watching Gus slowly lose his ability to eat, stand, and walk has been heartbreaking and has made the decision a bit easier. Still, the idea of euthanasia–even for a pet–is gut-wrenching. Who am I to play God, even with the life of a dog? What kind of steward am I being?
Trying to explain the what and why to three children has not been easy, either. You can find theologians who speak of pets in heaven; you can find theologians who scoff at the idea. How much in depth do I go with my children? What do I say? What do I not say?
So, here I sit, typing away, Gus sleeping a few feet away. I don’t wish to make a bigger deal out of the death of my dog than I should, but I can’t help but think of Romans 8:18-23. Gus is living proof of these verses! He has tumors in his abdomen and between his front “shoulder” blades; his back legs so arthritic that they do not bend; tumors on his shoulders; and blindness in one eye. Creation groaning under the strain of sin, indeed.
And yet… in his sleep, he still sometimes dreams. I know this because his paws, curled up in pain, suddenly relax and begin to twitch as if he is in a run. In his deep sleep he will even begin barking quietly in a muted, raspy way. I understand, Gus. In my dreams I can still run; I am still able to sprint for a touchdown or dunk a basketball on a drop step. When Gus awakens from those dreams, you can see him regain his bearings and the understanding that “it was a dream.” The reality of the situation hits him, he lets out a sigh, and he slowly puts his head down, resigned to his present–another experience that I share in those moments when I wake up and realize that I will never run or dunk or sprint again.
And maybe that is part of what makes this hard: Gus and I have an odd connection.
When he was a puppy, Gus was my jogging buddy. When I would have difficult days and just needed to blow off some steam, a good game of fetch or “tug” with a rope would help. I admit that I talk to Gus, too. When I didn’t know how a former school would make bond payments, I talked it out to myself while petting Gus. When I faced situations that I just needed to methodically and verbally talk out without reaction or advice, Gus was there. And when the children were born, Gus became our nanny. When we would sleep in on Saturdays, Gus would get restless and bark at us and then lead us to Hannah’s room. He would put his head over the side of the bassinet, looking in on her. He let the kids play with him and never showed any discomfort. Although he wasn’t the most intelligent dog I have been around, he was certainly the most patient and caring.
I’m not one of those guys who says that my dog had some mystical wisdom, or that “I learned more from my dog…” No. Gus wasn’t a soul-mate. He was my dog. Gus wasn’t some wise, old soul. He was just my dog.
Gus was my dog; and that was enough. And for that, I am very grateful.