Yesterday was one of those days all pet owners dread. Yesterday was our sweet golden retriever Lilly’s last day.
We didn’t know it when I woke up and made my way out to the sunroom in the dark of early morning, along with Lilly and our guest pup Bailey. Never far from me for almost 15 years, Lilly wanted to be where I was, always. In fact, I posted these three pictures unknowingly yesterday morning.
But at the vet for a regular checkup later yesterday morning, it became clear that her slowing down, her poor eyesight and hearing (unless I was stealthily opening a biscuit bag and then she was Johnny on the spot!), her distended tummy and her arthritic back legs had moved from aging to serious decline.
We tearfully walked Lilly back home to think about it, realizing there wasn’t much to think about. Really, we brought her home so that we could call Quinn. After all she is technically his pup.
And at 3pm yesterday afternoon, we slowly and sadly walked back to the vet’s office, our girl doing her best to walk straight, never much of a strength of hers (we often called her Seabiscuit), and sat on the floor of the vet’s office while she slowly and peacefully slipped away.
I’ve been thinking about what I learned from Lilly in these years. Turns out, it’s quite a bit:
- Eat the treats. Literally, as they were administering the sedative that would calm her down so they could give her the IV to put her to sleep, she was happily gobbling up treats from everyone in the room. Lilly likely never actually tasted a single treat in her life because she jumped on them with joyful abandon and wolfed them down. She never demurred, never worried about the “little bit of extra puppy winter weight” she might gain (as told to me by a vet at her first puppy wellness checkup. To which I responded, “Aren’t we all carrying a little bit of extra puppy winter weight?”). She simply said yes to something that made her happy. At the end of your life, will you regret having eaten the occasional treat or will you regret that you stopped yourself from having little bites of happiness from time to time? Eat the treats.
- Do the very best you can for those you love. Lilly was a serious walker in her younger years, and by that, I mean she’d have happily walked 5 miles a day. We took her for long walks for years and years, but in these last six months or so, our walks have gotten shorter and shorter, until recently they’ve been just around the block, and even that has been a stretch for our girl. But she never refused. She continued to go for walks with us because she wanted to please us, and going for walks made us happy. Continue to do things for the people you love because it makes them happy. Think beyond yourself and say yes to the important people in your life, even if it’s a little bit uncomfortable.
- Stay close. If I was in the sunroom, Lilly was in the sunroom. Even when the temperature climbed into the 90s and beyond. If we were shoveling snow, Lilly was outside romping in the snow. Even when the windchill was well below zero. If we went down to the basement to watch a movie, Lilly slowly and painfully made her way down the stairs. Even though she could no longer see well enough to get down them without us helping her, she stood at the top and barked for us to come and guide her down. Lilly simply wanted to be where we were. Keep close to your family, however you define that. You don’t have to live next door, but when you have the chance to be present, take the chance. Make the phone call, book the trip home, keep in touch with your people.
- Ask for what you want. Lilly was never shy about letting us know what she wanted. She never apologized for wanting more snuggles, more head pets, more times in and outside, more treats. She simply asked for what she wanted, and she was quite clear about it, too. Don’t waste time hoping people will somehow intuitively know what you want. Clearly lay out what you need. The right people will appreciate it and often even be able to provide it, too.
- Don’t play coy. Lilly always made it clear she was thrilled that we were back home and near her. As a young pup, she got so excited she often urinated (not a great feature, but her enthusiasm was evident). As she grew up, she managed to control that, but she worked nearly her whole life to contain her absolute joy at seeing us. Even towards the end, we’d come in and call out, “Lilly girl, we’re home.” and somewhere in the house, you’d hear her tail thumping hard against the floor. Don’t make other people wonder if they matter to you. Be clear that your love for them is absolute every single time you see them.
One of the great joys of COVID was all the extra time we got to spend with our girl. We both have demanding jobs, but these last 15 months have meant that Lilly was actually hardly ever alone. I knew, even last summer, that we didn’t have a long time left with her, and I’m grateful to have been able to work from home and just be with her.
I suppose Lilly was no more or less extraordinary that any other pet who is loved by a family, but she was our girl. As I said to Dr Marry last night, she is actually the first thing we started and ended together. There are other lessons to take from her life and death, and I will no doubt explore those in other posts. But for today, my tears are over the passing of this sweet, silly puppy girl we brought home for our 10-year old boy nearly 15 years ago. This little girl who wriggled right into all our hearts and whose presence I am sadly missing this morning.