When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

There are things that we don’t want to happen but have to accept, things we don’t want to know but have to learn, and those we can’t live without but have to let go.

~Author Unknown

People with old or ailing animals often ask, “How do you know when it’s time to let them go?” I once heard a veterinarian answer, “You just know.”

The other morning our dog, Czar, let me know it was time. There was no mistaking the look in those big, brown eyes. Eyes that said, “I’m old and there is no longer any quality or dignity to my life. It’s time.”

After a long walk on the beach, trying to prolong the decision, I came home knowing there was no choice.

To make it easier for Czar, our veterinarian agreed to come on his lunch hour. I spent the morning sitting next to the old dog as he lay on his blanket, his head in my lap.

My thoughts drifted back to the day Czar came into my life. He was owned by people who perhaps shouldn’t have had a dog as big as a Russian Wolfhound — or Borzoi — which is the official name of this breed.

Czar was never allowed in the house and I was told he spent much of the time standing outside, looking mournfully at the humans through the window. One day, the family maid said, “I’m sick and tired of washing nose prints off the glass. Either that dog goes or I do.” Apparently good maids are harder to find than a good dog, and Czar was soon on his way to the animal shelter.

It was love at first sight when this tall hound and I discovered each other. He stood up on his hind legs, planted his front paws on my shoulders and greeted me with a big kiss.

When I was a little girl, we always had dogs, but usually of the small mixed-breed sort. I distinctly remember a series of vodka advertisements showing a pair of tall, elegant, snow-white Russian Wolfhounds. I dreamed of someday owning one, but honestly believed only the wealthy could afford such a beautiful animal. Finding a dog like Czar at the shelter was indeed a dream come true for me.

After several months of adjusting to each other, I put Czar through a ten-week dog obedience course. When you spend a great deal of time training an animal, you seem to bond with him ever more closely. On “Commencement Night” several friends came to watch, bringing “doggy” gifts for the new graduate. Czar gave the exercises his enthusiastic all and received the first place trophy.

Not long after that, my brother, Daniel, came for a visit, and after unpacking sat down in the living room. Five minutes later Czar carefully carried in a sweater from the guest room, depositing it in my brother’s lap. Daniel is still wondering if perhaps Czar was trying to say, “You look cold, here’s your sweater,” or maybe, “I think you’ve stayed long enough. You can go home now.”

I took Czar everywhere with me. One day while sitting on a grassy bank watching a tennis tournament, a small boy circled, and then finally approached. He stared at Czar for quite some time, then finally asked, “What do you s’pose a dog like that costs anyhow?”

“Oh,” I answered absently, “probably about $500.”

“Well,” said the boy, “you certainly got your money’s worth!”

While spending the final hours with Czar, I thought of this thing called grief and remembered the time when I stopped by the vet’s office to pick up some medicine for a sick cat. The only others in the waiting room were an elderly man and woman, who were standing by some plastic plants in the corner, their backs to me. I sat there, watching, with curiosity. Just then the vet came out and said to them, “I’m very sorry. I was hoping surgery would help, but your Laddie was just too old. He didn’t make it.”

I will never forget the sight of that elderly couple, walking slowly toward their car, shoulders bent in grief.

In the old man’s hand was a frayed, red dog collar.

When I started thinking about all my long walks on the beach with Czar — and how there would be no more — my tears fell down onto his muzzle, his tail wagged feebly, and he looked up at me as if to say, “Please don’t cry. Just remember all the good years we’ve had together.”

I sat with Czar, thinking about what animals bring to us. Some are trouble, especially in the early days of training them to fit into our lifestyles. But eventually they almost always give back total loyalty and love.

The last hours with this grand old dog went by too fast. Soon Dr. Brown arrived and moments later it was done . . . with the exception of tears and a deep gratitude for the quiet dignity of euthanasia.

There are people who avoid having pets because it hurts too much to lose them. But unless we expose ourselves to the painful lows in life, how can we ever experience the happy highs?

Before the day was over, friends dropped by. Some came just to hug. Some brought bunches of flowers. And today another note arrived from the local animal shelter saying a donation had been made in Czar’s name so that other animals might live. (If you care about someone who has lost a pet, this is a wonderful idea.)

Czar had a long, good life and gave so much. The least I could give to him was a kind and gentle death.

~Bobbie Jensen Lippman

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