The other day my vet looked at me kindly, and if we weren’t in the midst of a global pandemic I know she would have put her arms around me.
"I’m going to give you a form to take a look at," she said, "it has a list that you and your family can go through to see when it’s time."
My eyes filled with tears as they have every time we’ve been to the vet recently.
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Henry was sitting on my lap, I was sitting on the floor behind the vet surgery.
Vet visits aren’t the same since social distancing and COVID-19 restrictions came into being, we used to sit together on the chairs in reception trying to see if there was any toy they stocked that my very spoiled dog didn’t already own.
We used to chat with the receptionist about how sweet Henry is and how much nicer he was at home than at the vet (he never really loved the vet).
But it’s not just COVID that’s changed the vet visits. Sitting outside on the cold hard floor, me in lotus position, him trying to make himself comfortable; he doesn’t even seem to care that we’re at the vet.
He doesn’t care there are no toys around. I think back to just months ago when he would greet anyone who came to our house with a happy dance and a squished plush animal, squeaker removed, that he had recovered from his overflowing toy box.
It’s not just that we aren’t allowed visitors any longer - he doesn’t look at his toys anymore. I’s like he doesn’t even know they’re there.
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He’s lost the ability to go for long walks or to walk up the stairs at all.
His heart is weak and his trachea is collapsing. His breathing is laboured and he coughs like a pack-a-day smoker.
He’s got arthritis and his beautiful little body is covered in what they call ‘age spots’ that look like huge cauliflower-shaped warts. We used to laugh that we loved him ‘warts and all’.
But we don’t laugh about him as much as we used to.
We still love him as much as we used to, maybe even more. It’s like that with a pet, isn’t it?
You love them so much when you get them and you think you could never love them more. And then they settle in your heart and the love you have for them spreads through you and the more time you spend with them the more you love them.
I have never spent as much time with anyone as I have with Henry, even during my reign as helicopter mum of my son.
Henry has been at my side for his entire life and I can’t think of a love quite like the love we share. I’m not even going to try to put it into words because there are no words.
But now the vet has given me the form and my husband and I run through the checklist almost every day hoping for different results.
Does he still want to play?
Does he respond to our presence?
Does he enjoy the same activities as before?
Does he have more bad days than good days?
And on and on and it goes, the two of us trying to come up with a score indicating he still has a good quality of life. Because some days he’s still so happy. But some days he’s not.
How do we get to decide how much misery he should have to endure before we make the call? We don’t want him to suffer at all, but on the other hand, we’d never put a happy dog to sleep.
He almost has to suffer to qualify not to suffer anymore.
I know the kindest thing I can, and will do when it’s time, is relieve him of any pain or discomfort - but it feels like the cruellest thing I can imagine doing to myself, my husband and my son.
It’s taken me almost his whole life to uncover the downside to having a dog. And for the next however long he has I’m going to continue allowing my heart to expand so that even after he’s gone, my heart is in the shape of a dog that has shaped my family, and my life, for the last sixteen years.
This post first appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission.
Feature Image: Supplied/Lana Hirschowitz.