It is never easy making that final decision.
Pepper had been with me (and slept at the head of the bed every night) for thirteen of her fourteen years - came to us December 23, 2008.
She had been in declining health and on pain mitigation for ambulatory issues since late September.
On Christmas eve, when I came home from church service, she was in vocal discomfort and had lost the use of both rear legs. Living in a rural area, one emergency animal hospital was about 1.25hrs to the north, but they had around a six hour wait time. Another was just over 2hrs to the south, and they could probably get her in upon arrival.
Driving through the dark night sky, alone with my thoughts, with Pepper comfortably resting on soft cushions in the back seat of my truck, I pondered the love we have for animals, and for me, especially dogs.
I remember "Eulogy of the Dog" given by George Graham Vest in a courtroom in rural Warrensburg Missouri on September 23, 1870. If you are not familiar, dear friends, take a moment, grab a tissue, and read it. That says all I have to say about the value of a dog.
I have always had a dog in my life, often more than one, and now a whole bunch. At the homes of friends, dogs gravitate to me. For a stint years ago I was an animal control officer and even the most allegedly vicious dogs I encountered for some reason warmed to me.
When I arrived at Hollywood Animal Hospital, the streets were still busy with Christmas Eve traffic, but the parking lot was empty. We carried Pepper in, and she was immediately seen. At her age and with what she presented after a full examination, it was determined it was time for the ultimate gift of love. Time to sacrifice the coming pain of loss and grief for giving her the peace and rest she had deserved when she climbed into my heart so many years ago.
I can't speak for others, but I am always present with my dogs at this time and through this process. I hold them, comfort them, let them smell me, stroke their fur. I am there for the transition as they set their first paw on the bridge.
Compassionate euthanasia is for me, sadly, a familiar process. I know what comes next. When I am asked if I "want more time", I simply find the words to say "no - we are ready".
With Pepper, I held her as she was sitting, when the inevitable slide down to lying when the first injection immediately vanquished her pain. I had my hand on her chest, feeling her heart beat, as the second injection completed the process. I felt her heart slow, and stop. The confirmation by the vet with stethoscope was an empty formality.
I always request a private cremation and her cremains will be returned to me, to rest with honor among those with have shared the journey with me over these many years.
The 2hr drive back across the empty everglades, now alone, pushing north to the farm was hard. I stopped in a pullout and looked at the sky ablaze with stars, and realized that Pepper would from now on be my Christmas Star.
There is, for those of us who love them, no such thing as "just a dog". If a person needs it explained to them they will not understand it. My dogs are my family and I will spare no effort or expense in providing them just a small measure of the unconditional love they provide me -
If you have the opportunity to foster or adopt, or donate, or volunteer with a local animal shelter, please do it. The need is constant and great. All of my animals, including Pep, were and are rescues.
The pain is acute, but will subside with no better words of comfort than written by Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Bixby ". . . leave you only with the cherished memory of the loved and lost". Pep will live on in those memories.