This will be the last in my three-part series on Ralph the Dog. I did not, of course, set out to write a trilogy; it just ended up that way.
In my last couple of installments I told you how I was supposed to "know" when it would be time to help Ralph along. I wondered if I ever would really know. A number of you told me I would, in fact, know, and if I was struggling with that, then it was not yet time.
You were right. And at 5:30 yesterday morning I knew.
For the past several weeks, I knew the time was getting close. But Ralph still enjoyed some of the things he had always enjoyed like our morning walks (he would still meet me at the door, tail wagging, trying to get out the door before I could open it, as if he would finally be able to just walk through it), and he still stood on his hind legs when one of us would hold up his bag of treats or stand in front of him with any food item he liked (and there were many).
He had to be boarded for a little over a week recently due to a leak in our kitchen which forced us to have our floors stripped and refinished, causing us to have to leave the house.
Susan picked him up this past Thursday morning and our good friend at his kennel said he had done fine as usual, eating heartily and enjoying the pampering he always received there. Susan said he acted excited to see her and skipped right out to her with his usual look of, "Let's get out of here."
He acted equally excited to see me Thursday night. Maggie heard me drive up and met me down in the garage with him. He ran out to me and we walked around the yard a bit.
We walked Friday morning as usual and life seemed to be returning to normal. He seemed to be sleeping a lot but (a) that's his usual routine after a stay at the kennel and (b) he had been sleeping a lot anyway, so we gave little thought to that.
About mid-day, however, Susan and I both noticed a greater-than-usual lethargy on his part. He would eat his treats but couldn't make it onto his hind legs.He stopped eating dog food but still drank water. He would very reluctantly jump off his usual perch on the playroom sofa to go outside and it only happened after much coaxing. Every trip outside took a lot of coaxing, for that matter.
He walked gingerly and his back was humped a bit. He had a sad look in his eyes. He would, however, still wag his tail when I said his name.
Saturday morning I had to carry him to the front door. He did not wag his tail when he saw me with the leash. Rather, he seemed to walk outside as an act of obedience rather than desire. We walked slowly and I eventually picked him up and carried him back in.
The rest of the day Saturday was much the same. He lay prostrate on the floor, or on the aforementioned sofa, and by the end of the day he would no longer jump up there -- we had to lift him.
Saturday night we noticed his breathing was becoming labored. I carried him upstairs and put him on a blanket on the floor in Maggie's room which had become one of his sleeping places. Where previously he would have made a little circle, curled into a tight little ball and settled in for the night, he just stood there for a long while, humped as previously described, before finally lying down front-ways on his "haunches."
About 12:30 I woke up and saw the light on in Maggie's room. She was looking over at him from her bed as he was again breathing erratically. I picked him up and took him downstairs.
I put him on his usual spot on the sofa. I lay down on the other end and dozed off and on. At 5:30 I reached over to pet him. He winced and looked up at me, then wagged his tail just a bit, and I knew it was time. It was as if he were telling me, "I've done all I can do. It's been a good ride but now you know. It's time."
I went and woke Susan. She recommended calling the after-hours vet. I did, and the nice lady who answered the phone said they would be waiting for us. Susan woke Maggie and 15 minutes later we were there.
A very kind young female veterinarian talked with us and we confirmed it was time. We said our tearful goodbyes. We felt a great sense of comfort and peace as we felt Ralph relax after having struggled so much over the past couple of days.
We were devastated, of course, but never once doubted.
Four weeks ago it was not time. It wasn't time three weeks, two weeks or one week ago. Yesterday it was time. We were tearful and it was agonizing. But it was time.
The above picture was taken by Maggie one night when Ralph jumped up on the sofa in the den, one that is strictly off limits to him by order of his mother, which he knew.
But his mother had left town for a few days. It was not unlike him to occasionally "push the envelope." Just observe the look in his eye. He knew exactly what he was doing.
We have discussed whether we will see Ralph again and questioned his having a soul.
Of either I have no doubt. We will see him again and that soul is forever linked with a family of which he was a faithful member until the very end.
Godspeed, good friend.