A few months ago the light in her eyes began to dim. Some of the fog that darkened her world was the hazy veil of cataracts that obscured more and more of her vision, but most of the clouds that were blotting out the light and warmth of her sunshine were the bleak weather of life’s late winter, Her body and her mind were slipping away, day by day. There was so little she could do, Sasha, this French spaniel who could once do so much, and she was often lost and confused by her dementia.
There were moments when those dim eyes of hers flashed brightly again as I held her head in my lap. Those were the fleeting seconds of self-awareness when she asked me: “What’s happening to me? What’s wrong with me? Help me! Fix me!”
If only I could. If only I could have stroked my hands across the length and breadth of Sasha’s shrinking body and graying head and miraculously transformed this 15-year-old bird dog stumbling toward the end of life back to a 15-month-old puppy racing into her first season afield. If only I could have restored the firmness of her muscles, the flexibility of her tendons, the strength of her bones, the glisten of her coat, the bounce in her step, the swiftness of her run, the sureness of her nose. Her desire, intelligence, boldness, cleverness, desire to please. Her excitement about the secrets of wild places and the hunt. And most of all, the light in her eyes.
But a man does not have that godlike power. The only grace I could grant her was a loving and peaceful end when the burden of living had clearly outweighed the joy of life. This is the promise we make to our bird dogs when we take them into our heart and our home: When the end of days comes to pass, no matter the pain it will inflict upon my own soul, I will not let you suffer through a lingering and undignified death.
And so it was that my beautiful blonde wife and I were holding Sasha in our arms in the veterinary clinic yesterday as the sedative drug put her into an easy sleep and an injection of pentobarbital took effect and she slipped away. It was time.
No more pain. No more confusion, getting lost, falling down stairs. No more deafness, encroaching blindness, weariness. No more incontinence, no more sickness. No more fear and trembling during thunderstorms. No more anxiety and agony over “What happened to me”?
In a few days, or perhaps a few weeks, my memories of this long final year with an aged and ailing Sasha will fade, and the pictures of her I will hold in my head and my heart will be those captured during our days afield: bird hunting in the prairies, woodlands, wetlands, CRP fields, and the rough margins of Midwest farms. Our times in hunting camp, at the cabins up north, on long drives in the pickup, weary sleeps in cheap motels, sharing a fast food burger and fries, endless combing and brushing of burs and seeds and tangles from long, silky hair. Determined hunts, rock solid points, amazing retrieves. And most of all a bonded affection that was there until the end.
I know that will happen soon. But not yet. Today, I need to grieve over the loss of my longtime friend and companion and partner. Thank you for all the years together, Sasha. I miss you, and I will remember you until my own end of days comes to pass.
More essays and stories about bird dogs, bird hunting, bird guns, and life in the North Country are published in my five collections of essays, available through Amazon.com at Jerry Johnson Author Page