In memory of Chief - account of a sad day at the end of a happy life

March 3. 2003

written May 5, 2003:
She rarely goes outside, but on this day I let her do some exploring as I did some work in the back yard. Chief was experiencing and sensing things for the last time, and I knew it. Life is about the use and existence of your five senses, forlorn she looked around and sniffed the air as if to take in that last bit of life and experience knowing that her frail body was not going to last much longer. Chief’s pain was put on hold for this moment to take in her world. It hardly seemed fair that her senses were still operational but the body she used to exist was not cooperating and would not last much longer. What a shame that her mind was likely able to know this and almost savor this time. Chief was like a car looking so grand and quite ready to explore the open roads, but whose engine is sputtering and ready to quit at any moment.

I could see the sadness in her eyes as her mind battled her body. Chief’s mind wanted to continue to experience and explore her five senses and share the world with me further, but her body had conflicting plans. Nothing could change these facts and the only thing left to do was for us to handle the situation and accept the inevitable, and savor these last moments.

How sad to say that in her eyes I saw her say to me, I just want to be with you, I just want your love and your attention and for you to make me better. My heart was breaking as I knew I could not give Chief what she wanted. What an unfair twist of life to have the unconditional love shared by a pet and an owner be truncated by the shorter lifespan of the two.

I was playing god and knew her fate. I felt guilty but also a tremendous sense of responsibility to do the right thing for her and not let my unconditional love get in the way of her needs. I could not prolong her life so easing the pain was my assignment. I felt a strong responsibility to not be selfish. Unfortunately, I think it is easy to see this situation from our own eyes and make decisions based on how you will be affected, how sad you will be, how much you will miss her. My only fear was that I was misjudging her pain based on her wants. Was the pain tolerable as long as I was with her? What did she feel?

We had a meeting together and I outwardly talked to her and asked her what she wanted. I could only read her eyes and after 15 years I knew what she was saying to me. I knew this was the moment I had dreaded since the day Chief and I choose each other at the ASPCA in Buffalo, NY. My heart was crushed and I wept uncontrollably inside and out. We had made the decision but we still had to climb the mountain. The next 24 hours would be the saddest of my life as I escorted my loving companion to be put to sleep at the vet.

My dear friend Mary picked us up and drove us to the vet the next morning. I had called the night before pleading for a spot to be seen first thing in the morning. When they said yes and asked me my name, I was so choked up by the reality of the agreement that I could not even say my name. I tried so hard to be strong but just wept. The vet graciously said not to worry and goodnight.

At the vet they did a quick examination and looked over her historical chart. He confirmed her kidney was just about non-existent at this point and the decision was the right one. He asked if I wanted to be there for it. Of course I didn’t and the pain of the moment would be unbearable, but there was never any doubt in my mind -even for a second- that it was 100% my responsibility, my duty to be there and comfort her well beyond the last seconds. As a comfort, Chief needed me to be the last sight, the last smell, the last touch, the last taste and the last gentle call of “Chieeeeeef” as I escorted her out of life.

There is a chime I bought in a chime shop shortly after her death. To choose it I walked around and rang every one of them for over an hour. One chime stood out immediately. Its gentle, yet full ring brought chief’s image to life in my head. I’ve hung it in the wind behind my house. The five senses I experienced chief with are now replaced by one. But that one rings through my head awakening fond memories of the others senses. Hello my friend.