Before I post J’s final tribute, there’s one more thing I need to do. I need to write about his last day with us.
Sunday Oct. 3, 2010 was a perfect fall day in Minneapolis. Sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. Leaves burning bright red, yellow and orange.
For three days we’d been agonizing over J’s situation. We even scheduled, and then canceled, the at-home euthanasia the afternoon before. On this day, we knew there was no turning back. The time had come to make a decision.
Jasper was having trouble getting up and walking out to the backyard. In contrast to other lapses, this time there would be no more miracle recoveries. The cancer on his side had burst through the skin and there were several more visible spots that were likely to open up in the near future, including the most recent growth on his head. We had reached a point in J’s disease where things could only get worse.
Around 9AM I picked up the phone and made the call to re-schedule the at-home procedure for that evening at 6:30PM. It was by far the toughest decision we have ever had to make.
That’s not to say we didn’t have our doubts once everything was set in place. Around 11AM, Jasper decided to get up under his own power (something he hadn’t done in days) and walk over to his water bowl for a drink. Veronika even managed to hand-feed him some kibble and a few of his favorite peanut butter treats. “How long can a dog survive on peanut butter treats alone? Are we doing the right thing? Is it the right time?” Sitting around the house and asking ourselves these questions was driving us crazy.
When I returned home after running out to pick up a few art supplies for a memento we wanted to create, Jasper greeted me at the door – something he hadn’t done for days. He certainly wasn’t making our decision any easier.
After lunch, Veronika, my dad and I decided to take J out for one last walk… “one last walk”… it still hurts to type that now.
As always, Jasper enjoyed the car ride. Veronika sat in back and held her cheek to his beautiful gray face while we traveled along. After a short drive we found a nice path leading down to his favorite place in the world – the Mississippi River.
As we approached the water, a strange thing happened. The dog that could hardly stand an hour ago started to pull Veronika toward the river.
We always said that we’d know it was time when Jasper no longer showed an interest in water. I guess sometimes in life there’s no such thing as “clear signs.”
As we moved closer and Jasper got stronger, I turned to my dad and said, “See, he’s alright. Can’t you see that?” He responded by saying something I’ll never forget.
“I hope I spend my last day in this world doing what I love, surrounded by people I love on such a beautiful day.”
Jasper enjoyed a few playful moments in the water and walked along the wooded trails. For a little while he seemed “normal”, but on the way back to the car it was clear he was in pain.
Photo: Jasper near the end of his last walk
So, back home we waited and agonized some more. I swear it felt like getting ready for an execution given the mood in the house.
Veronika and I took turns lying on the floor with J. It was clear that the trip to the river had taken the last bit of his strength because he was completely knocked out, sleeping on his side barely acknowledging his surroundings.
At 6:30PM, the doorbell rang. The doctor was here.
Veronika greeted her at the door and started crying.
I have to say given the situation and our general condition; Dr. McComas from Minnesota Pets was great.
She sat down on the end of our bed with Jasper, Veronika and I and calmly discussed J’s condition and the euthanasia process.
She asked us if either of us had gone through this before. Veronika said “no”. I flashed back to all the dogs I’ve known throughout my life. The ones who disappeared, were hit by cars, went to live with other families, etc. This time was different. This was our first dog.
We told her we’d been struggling with the decision for days. She said this was normal.
We asked for her assessment of his condition. She said her objective analysis of J’s situation told her it was time. For a moment, this brought us comfort.
A little before 7PM, she started the euthanasia process by giving J a heavy sedative.
Veronika and I held him close and told him he was a good boy and that we loved him as sleep set in.
The doctor asked us if we were ready before giving him the final injection. Everything in my body was saying “no”, but I nodded “yes”. Veronika said “yes”, too, and so she gave him an injection that would stop his heart.
At 7:14PM, he stopped breathing.
A few moments later, the doctor turned to us and said, “His heart has stopped.”
I still can’t believe that after nine years together, he’s gone.
Once the doctor left and Veronika and I pulled ourselves together, we carried Jasper out to the car for the drive to pet crematory. The city was mercifully quiet and the roads were dark and desolate as we traveled in silence.
My dad, who had been with us all day, drove, while I sat in the back holding Jasper in my lap one last time. He looked like he was sleeping peacefully. It was a final tender moment together that I’ll hold in my memory forever.
Veronika and I opted for a private cremation, so Jasper’s ashes are back with us now and sitting on the mantle with sympathy cards, mementos and pictures from his life. Even though his physical presence has left this world, we take comfort knowing he will always be with us in our thoughts and memories.