“Want to go outside, Willow?” I asked in a gentle voice.
She struggled to her feet, stepped forward, and stretched her painful back legs. Her hind knees had ACL surgery when she was young and they stiffened as she aged.
Willow came to live with me in 2009 when she was eight weeks old. A snuggly brown puppy became my Soul Animal and brought new joy to my grieving heart after my husband Vic’s death. Over the years, she became an aging old lady with white paws and snout. She showed her age in a few ways but still rallied, eager to explore new deer trails or walk our usual paths.
Until recently, she loved to run, especially downhill. She loved rolling on her back with legs flailing in the air with joy. Suddenly, it became obvious it was too painful for her to keep going.
My young black pup Disco sensed her beloved friend had changed and stopped playing rough. Disco could read Willow’s cues. Willow was ten when I adopted Disco. I trusted sweet Willow would befriend a new dog, but I’d never had a Lab or any dog live past 12. Willow was almost 14 this spring. Until last week, she loved to eat and stroll around the yard by herself, but her favorite was a family hike. We took one or two short hikes a day and she was usually ahead of me. Until the last few days.
When she wasn’t sleeping, Willow watched me, lying on one of many dog beds scattered around the house. When I moved, she followed. She’d never been a needy dog, but suddenly she needed to be near me.
Was her hearing poor like mine? It was hard to tell since she slept deeply with soft snores, but when a car pulled in the driveway she woke up and looked out the window. She rarely barked unless she wanted in or out. Did she have vision problems? Probably, but she could spot a deer or rabbit across the field.
Her wounded back legs began to spasm, but every pain killer prescribed by the vet gave her extreme digestive distress, so I gave her CBD oil and an herb called Boswellia for joint inflammation. My friend in Arizona sent flower essences. Whatever I did worked for a while. Until it didn’t.
“Want a cookie, Willow?” I asked quietly, testing her hearing. Her head popped up and she looked at me expectantly. Young Disco ran from the other room for her treat. Then a few days ago, Willow stopped eating.
I didn’t try to prolong Willow’s life. She took care of that without my help. Gentle Willow, my healing companion through times of deepest grief, was a comfort and a soul friend. Over just a few days, she lost her will to eat, her legs became unsteady, her breath was labored, and her mouth was ulcered. It hurt to say goodbye, but she was miserable and I could offer mercy. Our vet came to the house so Willow could die at home.
I wasn’t ready, but Willow was. Outside, lying in the grass, we said goodbye.
Do you have a healing relationship with a pet? I feel the Artemis archetype within in my love for the forest and my dogs. My kind vet Dr. Vivien Surman helped us through this transition with calm patience. We let Willow choose her spot and my old girl lay on her side on the grass in the sun. She was trusting, peaceful, and ready with me at her side. My friend Jill Swenson and her dog were here offering comfort to me and to Disco. May we all be so fortunate when it’s our time to die.