The pain of loving old dogs

Clark is now under the care of a young hospice vet. On his first visit — a terrible day two weeks ago when suddenly Clark could no longer stand up — the vet worked a miracle. Now on a new combination of medications, Clark is wagging his tail again and begging to be taken on walks. But time is still time, and always unfolding. On the hospice vet’s next visit, he will most likely be coming to help us say goodbye.

Clark understands that he is old and weak and vulnerable, and it’s hard now to leave him alone with his fears. I watch sometimes from the next room when my husband leaves the house and Clark thinks he has been abandoned. Standing next to the door, he folds himself up, lowering his hind quarters gradually, bit by bit, until his aching haunches touch the floor. He slides his front feet forward, slowly, slowly, and he is down.

A moan begins in the back of his throat, lower pitched than a whine, higher than a groan, and grows. His head tips back. His eyes close. The moan escapes in a rush of vowels, louder and louder and louder, and now he is howling. It’s the sound he made in his youth whenever he heard a siren passing on the big road at the edge of the neighborhood, but he can’t hear that far any more.