This past Wednesday, May 18th, we lost our dear dog of 12 years, Labra.
To describe it as difficult would be an understatement. No, he of wasn't a human being, but he was part of our family for over a decade. A decade we spent growing as a unit. A decade in which we welcomed new family members and said good bye to others.
He was the one who comforted me after I lost my Dad. He's the one that curled up on the couch with me, as my belly grew bigger and bigger, when S was at work all day. For five months he kept me company and consoled me as I lay there trying to get over my father's death before I had to focus my attention on this little new human that was entering our lives.
He was our first child. The first living being we cared for together. He joined our family before anyone else did.
We taught him some silly stuff,
And took him everywhere with us. He spent most weekdays at work with S instead of being left home alone and loved our weekend road trips.
He loved hiking with us, running along S's mountain bike, swimming and stick fetching in rivers, lakes oceans, and pools.
He was an incredibly active dog and our true companion, in every sense of the word.
He put up with being bumped down the totem poll, so to speak, when Analyzer joined our clan. Labra and Analyzer discovered gravity simultaneously while she sat in her highchair and meticulously dropped food on the floor. It was instantaneous love.
To the kids he was an older brother.
He napped with them,
Let them climb and ride on him,
be silly with him,
...poke their fingers in his mouth (and eyes sometimes), pull on his tail (even when we tried to put a stop to it), and generally use him as their jungle gym.
Our road and camping trips continued, even with kids, and Labra was always along for the ride, literally and figuratively.
He climbed the sand dunes with us in CO,
Adapted to the snow, though very often you could just see he was thinking "where the heck have you brought me to and what is this cold white stuff?!"
He LOVED our visits out to the ranch in Evant, TX. And Evant and its inhabitants loved him back just as much,
During the first half of our current adventure he continued to prove his vigor by jumping into the water and carrying out huge heavy rocks!
Even in FL, not too long ago, he couldn't resist chasing those flying sticks.....(yes, that's FL, even though Analyzer's bundled up in her CO gear. We were there for the coldest few weeks in decades....)
When he wasn't the center of our attention, he'd come over and curl up wherever we were. He always wanted to be with us, no matter what we were doing. That's his cousin Patsy on the left.
As he got older things began to change.
He got finicky. When called over to 'clean the floor', he might do you a favor and lick up a crumb or two. He even tried to trick us by coming over slowly, licking around the area and walking away leaving the bulk behind. He'd drive us bonkers when he did that!
He would no longer follow all of us around the house. Only for S did he make the tremendous effort to get up the big flight of stairs so he could hang out with him in his office. Other than that, he'd just curl up on his bed and settle in for the day, watching the goings on from his 'nest'. The kids no longer climbed on him, though they did love to curl up with him on his terms. He was a fixture. Always there.
It was heartbreaking when we realized he could no longer hike with us and that he preferred to stay back and simply rest. The only thing he still really enjoyed and gave his all to was playing fetch in the water. Swimming was obviously easier on his old bones and joints and it gave us and him joy, even if he could only do it for 5 to 10 minutes at a time.
The change in Labra brought on a change in the kids as well. They went from using him as a play object and a lovey, to caregiving adult style. They fed him. Though they've always done that (that's Inventor btw) -
Watered him, walked him, kept him company for his sake not theirs, sat by him as he ate, since he didn't seem to eat when by himself. And finally, held the water bowl up for him so he could drink when he didn't bother getting to the water himself to do it. They went from children to little adults when it came to caring for a member of their family.
Making the decision to put your pet down is rarely clear cut. I think you're lucky if it is. Our process was heartbreaking. During those days we tried to weigh the pros in his life vs. the cons. We tried to evaluate whether he was having enough joy in his life to outweigh the difficulties he was experiencing causing him to miss out on the things he once loved to do. Finally, based on years of knowing and loving our dog, we could just tell that he was done. He was finished. He'd had enough. It was a painful conclusion, but it was one we kept coming to over and over and over again.
Once we made the decision, we invited the children into the conversation and explained what we were thinking. They knew their dog and knew he was no longer himself. They understood his pain and understood this decision was being made to help him. To provide a service for him. Even though logically we all knew that, Whirlwind's words kept ringing in our ears: "but why do we have to kill Labra??" Oh my gosh, HOW do you answer that?? All we could do was explain again and again that this was the only way to help him at this point and that we are helping him be free from his suffering. This is what we do when we love something so much, when there's no other choice, we let it go. Then Inventor asked if we do the same for people......well, that was an entirely different conversation (or is it?!) that we ended up having as well. So much to talk about on this whole subject.....
But, getting back to Labra.
We decided to give him one last day of fun before his scheduled euthanasia appointment. As much fun as he could tolerate anyway. We drove 40 minutes to the nearest lake and let him play fetch and swim as much as he could.
He managed to enjoy about 10 minutes of fun in the water before plopping down on the sand. Yet, despite his fatigue, he couldn't resist S throwing another and then another stick, he just had to go after it. It's his nature after all, he can't say no no matter how tired he is. Watching him was a sad realization, or confirmation really, that it was time.
It was the saddest play time we've had with him. We enjoyed watching him and being with him, but all those emotions were mixed with profound sadness that this was it. There will be no more.
We traveled back and over the next several hours bought him a sampling of burgers from various fast food locations. True to form, he gobbled them down with practically a single bite.
And then looked for more....
The next morning was the day. The kids and I said goodbye to him as he sat in the truck bed. I can't even go into it here. It was, and is, beyond words. We sobbed as S drove off with him. Sobbed and sobbed. 45 minutes later they returned and we buried Labra in the grave S dug the night before. The kids wrote him notes and drew some pictures. They all went in the ground with Labra. We all buried him together. Earlier we'd collected special rocks to mark his grave and now we laid them around the fresh mound. Inventor carved his name into one of the rocks.
We all sobbed some more and then were able to shift over to telling stories about Labra. We finally pulled ourselves away from the grave and began going through all our pictures with the purpose of making a special Labra slideshow. We decided we'd mark May 18th every year as Labra Remembrance Day. Of course, when you lose anyone close to you, everyday is a remembrance day, since they're always with you.
That evening I went to visit Labra again. As I approached, a large, beautiful gray cat with white feet ran from the grave to hide behind a bush. It stood there watching me for the longest time. The next day the kids and I saw it again, this time from a distance, so it stayed in place. It just hung out on the grave. We have no idea where this cat came from, we'd never seen it before. It seemed to appear out of nowhere. Whoever it is, we're glad he's keeping Labra company.
We're fortunate to be in a place right now where we could bury Labra and be able to be by him for a little while. It's giving us something to hold onto. Something to focus on. We can say goodnight every night and visit everyday. It'll be painful to leave him but at least we know where he is and can always come back to visit. He's safe and sound in a beautiful area with gorgeous views of the desert mountains. I suppose we really couldn't ask for more.
A huge hole lingers in our hearts. We feel his absence every day. We've lost a family member and we miss him terribly.
Rest in peace Labra Dor...