This is mostly a stream of consciousness because I took frequent breaks during Patch’s calmer moments to pet and talk to him, so expect some rough-to-nonexistent transitions between paragraphs. I’m also doing only minimal proofreading (spelling and punctuation) of what I wrote as Patch lay dying. How I said things at the time could be as enlightening as what I said.
2018-05-16, 23ish o’clock – The Passing
As I write this I am sitting in the living room floor next to our 15-year-old Australian shepherd Patch as he gasps for air, neither of us knowing which breath will be his last. Lura and I fell asleep and failed to be there for Ginger’s final moments, and Meekay clearly wanted to be left alone to die so we honored his wishes, but at least one of us is going to be sitting right here where Patch can see us and we can pet and comfort him until the very end.
Many years ago I started a flash fiction called “A Dog’s Life”, but ran out of steam and never finished it despite going back to it several times over the years. With the imminent passing of the last of our three dogs, perhaps now is finally the time.
Patch has stopped flailing his head around while gasping for air, but his heart is stubbornly beating – but just barely.
He finally passed at about 01:15, with my hand on his head, providing what comfort I could.
2018-05-17, 13:30 – The Burial
Meekay was half the size of Patch, but when he died several months ago we were just barely up to digging a large enough grave by taking turns with the shovel. At half Patch’s weight, Meekay was also pretty close to the maximum weight I can carry. So we knew we were going to need help.
Thankfully one of our oldest and dearest Buncombe-county friends came over to take turns with the shovel, and I was able to help him carry Patch out to the grave. He even whispered a few words over Patch before we picked him up, and over the grave after we filled it in.
2018-05-18, 17:30 – The Aftermath
If you follow me on Twitter or facebook you may know that I’ve been having a great deal of trouble with this loss. Ginger’s death 7 or 8 years ago was so sudden and surprising that it never had time to sink in. Meekay was miserable for several months before he died, so his death was a mercy.
But Patch was different. He’s the only pure-bred member of our pack (we’re almost certain he escaped from or was dumped by a puppy mill), and Aussies have an average lifespan of 12 years, so we’ve been anticipating his death every day for several years. Every time we got up in the morning or arrived back home after several hours, we were prepared to find that he had died.
But he stubbornly hung on, until he seemed to suddenly give up Wednesday morning. He wouldn’t or couldn’t stand up, and refused both food and water. Late that night we realized the end was near, and decided to stay with him until it came.
During those final hours he suddenly regained his will to live, and fought for every breath. Because he was gasping for several hours we think he ultimately suffocated to death. Thankfully, in the final minutes he passed out before finally drawing his last breath.
Patch was also unique in one other way. When we adopted Meekay he rode home in Lura’s lap, and thereafter was her dog. He developed such a close emotional bond with her that he was even subject to whims of her Depression and Bipolar 2 – the poor empathic thing.
Ginger was technically Mom’s dog, but she couldn’t take care of her, so we did. Ginger was also very much no one’s dog but Ginger’s. She was highly independent and also super laid back.
Before I started a pain management routine I frequently threw out my back, forcing me to lie down wherever I was. On those occasions Meekay would be confused and just walk away. Ginger would either step on me in passing, or use me as a pillow.
Patch, on the other hand, would do his best to get Lura’s attention so she could come help me. He also tried his best to comfort me whenever my Depression or temper (which I kept a tight leash on until the Depression made it harder to control) got the best of me. Sometimes it backfired and he got yelled at for annoying me, but he still tried again the next time.
Patch was the closest to being “my dog” of any I’ve ever known, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that his passing has been so much harder on me than the first two.
He’s also the last of our three dogs. We got Meekay when we had only been married about two weeks, and Patch and then Ginger joined us about six months later. For 15 and a half years we’ve always come home to find someone happy to see us. We went out for several hours after the burial, but as we got out of the van at home my first thought was what it always is: that I needed to run wake up Patch so he could pee. That sucked.
Thanks to my traumatic brain injury, it is really hard for me to change long-held habits or develop new ones, so I expect to have to go through that again every time we come home for several weeks at least.
For the 12 years since I’ve been on Disability and Lura has been working, the dogs have been my only companions for large chunks of time. She’s unemployed right now, but once she goes back to work I’ll be lonelier than I have ever been in my 42 years.
Normally I say that people who equate the loss of a pet with the loss of a child are fools, but losing the last of our dogs is giving me empty nest syndrome and making me think that perhaps those people weren’t so foolish after all.