It’s only been 72 hours since we scratched his head for the very last time. The tears still threaten to flow every time someone asks “How are you doing?” with that tone of voice that says they already know the answer. I still flinch when the doorbell rings, expecting the loud chorus of barks that usually follows.
Except, now it’s quiet. REALLY quiet.
As the old saying goes, “You never know what you have till it’s gone.” We knew Toby was loud… he breathed loudly, he walked loudly, he snored loudly, he barked loudly. And now, all that noise is gone. Sometimes it’s a relief – like knowing the neighbors won’t call the cops on us when he barks at the bugs in the yard. But sometimes it’s downright eerie – like when we expect to hear him snoring in the middle of the night, and we’re greeted by nothing but silence.
Leading up to the end, I wasn’t really sure how Nikki would react. She’s so alpha, and so primal, there was a chance that she wouldn’t care all that much… that she would dust off the loss, and get back to work taking care of the remainder of her pack. She’s always taken her “job” very seriously. But I knew there was an equally large possibility that she would be deeply affected.
When we walked through the door without him for the first time, Nikki immediately began to tremble and whimper. She trotted around, sniffing hard, looking for signs that he might just be hiding somewhere.
Three days later, I can practically see the weight of her grief as it rests upon her shoulders. Her usually curly tail hangs, limp, as if it’s frowning. Yesterday afternoon, she ate a meal for the first time in four straight days (and yes, if you’re doing the math, she stopped eating even before he was gone. Her instincts are just that good) but she hasn’t eaten again since then.
With Toby’s slow decline, many of the things most dog owners do went out the window. We couldn’t walk them because his arthritis was too bad. We couldn’t take them to the pet store or dog park with us because he was like a hyper child who just didn’t know how to interact with others. And the last time she played ball (probably eight years ago), she had a seizure and hasn’t been willing to play since then.
So my new project is Operation: Rehabilitation. The day after we said goodbye to Toby, Evan and I took Nikki for a walk. She was terrified (probably thinking, “NO! Don’t get rid of me too!“) and my heart broke for her as I dragged her out of the garage. Once we got started, she relaxed a bit, but she kept her head (and tail) down and walked pretty slowly.
Then yesterday, we took her to Petco to pick out a new bed and that was… difficult, to say the least. My brave girl was cowering in the back of the car, paralyzed by fear. And once inside the store, she had two separate accidents – which she never has. Evan worked with me to give constant reassurance and love, but the fact that her hearing and sight are deteriorating makes life even more difficult. However, she seemed to be more willing to come out into the yard with us later in the day, where she could supervise “her boys”. One outing at a time, I’m hoping to gain her trust and build her confidence back to what it used to be.
We know we’ll add to our pack at some point, but we’re still trying to figure out whether getting another dog should happen sooner or later, based upon Nikki’s needs. She’s 12 1/2 so we know our time with her is limited as well. But we’re doing our best to make sure she knows we love her, and that we miss Toby too.
In case you’re wondering, the boys are handling it pretty well. We witness the occasional pouty face, followed by, “I miss Toby!” or “Where’s Toby?” And at one point, I heard Ryder crying softly and went to investigate… and found this:
I already posted this on Facebook, but it’s worth repeating again: I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the unexpected outpouring of love and encouragement you all have provided over the last two days. The amount of texts, emails, tearful hugs, unexpected chats in the entrance of Target, phone calls, and prayers has been completely overwhelming in the very best way. Just when I would start to doubt my decision, someone else would confirm it. Just when I felt started to feel silly for being so upset over a dog, someone else would sob right along with me. You all were the loving arms of Jesus for me today, and I can’t thank you enough.
I was well aware of the huge deck of cards stacked against my sweet boy, and yet I still feared I was cutting his life short. But as he lay on a blanket in the vet’s office, we actually discovered a huge tumor on his spleen… one that would’ve killed him soon anyway.
So even though the days ahead will still be tough as we re-learn how to do life without him, I can rest easy tonight knowing that he had a good day today (lounging in all his favorite spots, napping in the fresh air outside, and barking at the garbage man), AND he isn’t suffering any longer.