“I wonder if you could help me…” his voice faltered on the other end of the phone, dissolving into tears. I waited a moment for him to regain his composure. “I’m so sorry, I’m a bit of a mess. My old dog simply can’t get up any more today, and I live over on Magnetic Island, and the vet here is away. He’s too big for us to get in the car, I’m wondering if you could come over and put him to sleep today?”
I already had my computer open, and could see that I only had one or two non-urgent visits, easily rescheduled.
“I could get on the 11:00 ferry, and bring everything I need over – can you pick me up at the terminal?” I asked.
“Oh yes!” He said – that’s such a relief, as he’s suffering terribly, panting and groaning. I’ll be in a green ford station wagon.”
I gathered a bag with all the things I needed – syringes, needles, sedation, IV catheters, elastoplast bandage, clippers, and the green dream, the euthanasia solution. I was racing the clock, because I knew that the ferry waits for no-one at all. Not even if you run in yelling and screaming at the last minute! I spun through familiar streets, and pulled into the carpark with five minutes to spare. I locked up the van, and went in to buy a ticket. I walked down the platform and onto the big ferry, shuddering with the idle of her powerful engines, and went up the top to sit in the open air.
It was a sparkling autumn day, clear as a bell, and just warm enough to be comfortable. The men unhooked the ropes, shouting to each other with a smile, and the engines surged the water to froth as she eased away from her dock. We glided on the smooth water of the inlet, past the casino on one side, and the harbour on the other, big cranes loading and unloading containers. The ferry began to rock on the swell, and as soon as we passed the breakwater the throttle opened up with a roar, pushing us faster and faster. I basked in the sun as the Island loomed nearer and nearer. Before long I was on solid land again. A worried face in the green car relaxed a lot as he saw me.
The trip to their home was quiet, the tension of grief like glad wrap over the connection between us. A quiet introduction, then I left him to be with his deep sadness. Soon I was squatting beside his old friend, a big dog, face all drawn tight with pain, all wet with his own urine. He sniffed my hand, and gave me a tired wag of his tail.
“He was up and about yesterday – he’s been on treatment for his arthritis for ages now, and we knew the day was coming – then this morning he just couldn’t get up,” he explained.
“It goes like that sometimes,” I said. “The old body just gives out on them. Could you hold his head for a moment, please? I am going to give him a sedative injection – then after that I’ll pop a catheter in his vein, and then give him an overdose of anesthetic.”
He went and held his grizzled old head, stroking him and talking to him, telling him how he’d been such a wonderful friend, telling him it was ok for him to go now, eyes gleaming with unshed tears. The old dog hardly even noticed the injection go in, and within five minutes the pain and tension had relaxed out of his body, and he was deeply sedated. I could sense that silence was best, so I gently clipped up a patch on his front leg, and placed a catheter in his vein.
“Ok – it’s time to help the old man through to the other side,” I explained. “Sometimes they have a bit of a reaction when the drug reaches their brain, they can stretch a bit – but I want you to know that anything that happens will simply be a body reflex – the old fellow won’t be aware of it at all. Just send him off with all the love you have for him.”
I slowly injected the green fluid into his vein, and he relaxed even more. He slipped away so simply and easily that I knew he was totally ready to go. Not even another breath, he was simply gone, like a candle flame blown out by a gust of wind. The old man ste beside him, stroking his head, tears falling like rain, and I sat, silent, a hand resting on his dog, staying present with him in this powerful moment. I felt tingles all over as I helped his spirit move out and through. After a minute or two the man wiped his eyes.
“Thanks for making this so peaceful and sacred,” He said. “It means a lot to me.”
I thanked him in return, and packed up my things. He drove me back, and the feeling in the car was so much lighter. He told me stories of the old dog, as a puppy, the naughty things he did, the special ways he had. I waved him goodbye, and sat with the granite hills, the sky, and the ocean, until the ferry came to wing me home.