Musings on an old dog’s long life

It’s amazing how dogs weave themselves into the fabric of our lives.

This morning, for example, the last thought I had before I left for the office was, “Have I fed Midge yet?” Last night, when I grabbed a chunk of cheese from the refrigerator, the first thing I did was to tear off a small chunk to share with her.

Both times, I had to remind myself that Midge wasn’t there anymore.

She had died, cradled in my arms on the floor of the veterinarian’s office, just hours before.

Sad as the parting was, it was her time to go. As geriatric Labrador retrievers are prone to do, she had developed several tumors. They were benign, but a couple of them had grown so large her quality of life suffered.

One, on her abdomen, was the size of a softball. Another, on the inside of her right thigh, was the size and weight of a tavern ham.

More than a year earlier, Midge’s veterinarian had told me that surgery to remove the unsightly growths posed a greater risk to her than did the tumors themselves.

“They’re going to grow, and sometimes they grow pretty rapidly,” he told me. “Just keep an eye on her; you’ll know when the time is right to put her down.”

He was right. The tumors did indeed grow, and I watched as Midge became less mobile and more sedentary. She lost weight and muscle tone. Her coat lost its luster. She became a hollow version of the dog that had been my companion for 13 years.

At the time I bought her, I had been pining for a female yellow Lab. A friend directed me to a breeder who had a large litter of purebred Lab pups for sale. Midge was the only yellow female that hadn’t been spoken for.

What’s more, she was the runt of the litter. The breeder described her as insecure and nervous, and warned me that she might become a biter.

She turned out to be one of the most gentle dogs anyone could ever wish for. As the breeder cautioned, Midge was high-strung and easily spooked, but only once in her life did she ever go so far as to even growl at anyone.

As far as I know, she never had a fight or even an aggressive face-off with another dog. That’s why, a month ago, it nearly floored me when my wife told me that Midge had killed a raccoon.

While I was away on a fishing trip, two raccoons came up onto the back porch. Midge heard them and barked. My wife flipped on the porch light to scare the intruders off, and then turned the old dog loose to usher them over the fence.

For some odd reason, one of the coons stopped. Midge pounced on it and dispatched it within seconds.

For a couple of days afterward, she strutted around the house looking rather pleased with herself. Sadly, though, she didn’t stay perked up for long.

Her hind legs became more shaky with each passing day. Meals took place in small installments, a handful or so at a time over the course of several hours, until her bowl was empty. She became listless. I called the vet and made her final appointment.

If these last couple of days are any indication, it’s going to take a while to get used to her absence.

Perhaps then the painful little reminders will fade, and only fond memories will remain — memories woven oh-so-comfortably into the fabric of my life.

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