It made me happy to see Ollie take a walk in the backyard on his final morning.
It was sunny and warm, at least for a little bit, which was good because the chill didn’t agree with his aching back and arthritis-afflicted legs. Ollie cautiously felt his way down the carpeted ramp we’d installed for him over the back steps almost immediately upon moving in to our new home 13 months ago. And then he was into the yard as in healthier days, sniffing and peeing and snacking on wisps of grass as he liked to do.
I stood with him, talked to him softly, scratched his ears, and after a few minutes he hobbled back toward the ramp, letting me know he was ready to go in. I helped him pad back up the ramp, nudging hind-end muscles reduced lately to little form or function, and we stepped inside to share the last of our time together.
Ollie gave out, is about all I can say. I had him for 9 ½ years, my first dog in my then-51 years of life. He was at least three years older than that, though, the shelter only guesstimated his age at 3 back then. My wife kids me for reporting Ollie’s age as 12 since 2016. It doesn’t really matter, because in any event, his body was failing. He was a yellow lab, a large one, and you know the hip dysplasia and rear-end atrophy and spinal nerve issues are coming for elderly yellow labs, as they came for Ollie.
He was tough, though, God was he tough. Unbelievably so. Inspiringly so.
It hurt me a year ago to see Ollie, poking about outside with me on a windy day, lumber down our long driveway woofing at the mailman. A misstep, or perhaps just the day’s stiff breeze, knocked him over. One morning last July, after a hectic holiday weekend at the house, he awoke on the floor next to my bed a shocking mess of urine and feces. He spent the day in a trance. All hope appeared lost. I called the vet and, through halted breaths and strangled words, made the appointment. But the next morning, Ollie was up and around and aware, ready to eat. It was as if that bad day never happened.
Two months later, on a fairly warm but hardly dangerous fall day, I left him on the roofed porch with water and a fan while I was out for a couple hours. When I returned, I found Ollie stretched out in the yard, comatose, his chest heaving, tongue dangling, eyes empty. I picked him up, placed him in the van and dashed to the vet. They rushed him to the back, took his temperature – 108. 108! The vet said, “You have to make a decision.”
I said please try to save him.
They saved him.
After some hours, we all went home, with orders to let Ollie sleep, keep him comfortable. We set him up on blankets in the laundry room. Ten minutes later, I’m in my office, and there comes the familiar sound of dog nails on the wood floor . . . heading my way . . . Ollie on the move.
We tried meds and water and laser therapy to try to mute Ollie’s pain, maybe to slow his degeneration. It might have worked a little, I don’t know. All I know is Ollie slowly lost bowel control, and that this strong, once-great athlete could not get up on his own if he lay down on any uncarpeted surface. Recently, he’d stand at his food bowl or in the mud hall, and at any second – thud. He’d be down, his legs unable to support him in that moment.
Saying goodbye to Ollie, watching him drift off on his blanket by my bed, was a hard and terrible thing. In that, I know I have the boundless empathy of untold dog – pet – owners. As the kindly vet sent Ollie to the peace and rest he deserved, I played my guitar for him through my tears, a repetitive little melody that felt soothing and right. It was another bond we shared. In our old house, I’d play the piano in the living room, and without fail, wherever Ollie happened to be in the house, he’d make his way to the landing on the stairs, lie down and listen.
Oh, Ollie. My partner. My companion. My friend beyond compare. My sweet, sweet boy.