The Price

At 1:50 this afternoon, Kelly and I let our longtime companion go. Harlan, a Treeing Walker Hound who wandered up out of the woods back in the spring of 2005, had been a part our household through two houses, two high school graduations, two kids' moves to Richmond, and one college graduation. He took care of Kelly and Dixon while I was in Ithaca for two months in 2011, and he never failed to greet the boys' return from college with tail-wagging, jumping up, and no small amount of drool, even in his last months.

He'd been getting older and creakier, as dogs do--as all of us do--but we didn't know of any major problems until his breathing began getting noisier near the end of the spring. The vet diagnosed him with a throat tumor--inoperable--and gave him a prognosis of another two or three months. During that time, we gradually tried to ease his passing by giving him a softer, richer diet that would keep weight on him--hamburger, buttermilk, cheese, bread and butter--and slip pain pills and occasional antibiotics into whatever he ate. But he was always a lean, rangy dog, and keeping weight on him was a challenge even at the peak of health; he had dropped from a healthy 65 pounds to about 55 when we took him for a follow-up in early July. The vet was pleasantly surprised he hadn't lost more weight, and told us that if he kept eating, it would be a sign that his quality of life was still good--but that if he stopped eating for several days straight, we might want to think about bringing him back in.

And this weekend, that's what we observed. He might get an occasional urge to nibble on some cheese, or lap up a bit of milk, but it had been more than a week since we'd been able to get him to swallow a pain pill. He was down to a skeletal 44 pounds, and we knew it was time. We took him to the vet, and we cried, and she cried, and we held him as he fell asleep for the last time, then wrapped up his body and brought it home.

Every moment we have on earth comes at a price, and the more important the moments are, the more that price goes up. Harlan was there with us through many of them, whether they were moments of joy or exasperation or sorrow or whimsy, and we valued those moments dearly. That's why it's so hard to pay for them. That's why losing what you love hurts. And ultimately, that's why life is worth anything at all.

100_2491.JPGRest easy, Harlan. Right now we're paying for loving you, yes, but we're paying gladly.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 5, 2013 3:06 PM.

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