I picked up Max’s ashes from the animal hospital yesterday, shortly after getting back into town. They were accompanied by a certificate of cremation and a copy of The Rainbow Bridge, a poem I’ve never been able to bring myself to read in its entirety. Amongst the mail that had amassed over my twelve days in Tokyo was a letter from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, where Maximus went for his radiation treatments, informing me that a donation had been made in Max’s name by the Granville Island Veterinary Hospital. Also, a condolence card from the entire staff at the Granville Vet Hospital. Several of the written sentiments expressed an appreciation for all I had done for Maximus. Many have pointed out that others wouldn’t (or couldn’t) have suffered the time, effort, and expense I did in seeking treatment for him after the cancer diagnosis and, while that may be true, it’s small consolation. In fact, the fact that I did so much to help him in those tough six months makes his last few moments all that more difficult to accept. Yes, his condition had worsened considerably. That’s not in dispute. He had stopped eating and, despite persistent efforts to coax him into taking the tiniest amounts of food, he had dropped from some 30 lbs down to a shade under 15. In the last few days, he’d been lethargic and weak. What I’d first considered a response to the medications he was taking was, I realized, the disease robbing him of what little strength he still possessed. I knew that I would have to make the call sooner or later and, in hindsight, it should have been – sooner or later. Sooner, and I could have arranged to have him put to sleep at home, surrounded by the comforts of familiar surroundings and friends – but I waited because I was hoping he could muster one more rally as he’d already done twice before. Later, and I could have made the same arrangements on my return from Tokyo. Instead, because I didn’t act sooner, or hold off until later, Maximus spent his last moments in unfamiliar surroundings, far from the comfort of home and friends. The fact that I was there to comfort him in his final moments does little to change the fact that he died in a place he’d grown to fear over his countless visits. Ultimately, I made the decision I did because I wanted to be there for him and didn’t want to chance the prospect of his passing while I was away, in unfamiliar surroundings, far from the comforts of home – and alone.
I can agonize over that decision and outsiders can offer their opinions on my actions but, in the end, none of that really matters. What mattered was how Maximus felt in those last few seconds, what was going through his little mind as he sat in that room, on my lap, and took his last breath.
I thought about him a lot during my time in Tokyo. And dreamt about him quite a bit. In one dream, I returned to Vancouver to discover that the hospital had made a mistake, that he had actually survived the euthanasia and had been returned home to await my arrival. – sick, weary, but very much alive. In another dream, I was informed that the original diagnosis had been in error and that Max could have survived had I not been so rash in having him put to sleep. Just last night, I dreamt I was approached by a black pug that bore an uncanny resemblance to Maximus. As I watched it jump and bark and run, I was reminded of Max in younger, happier times. And the more I watched the dog play, the more I was struck by the similarities between them. I turned to tell someone, that, call me crazy, but I thought I was being visited by the spirit of my former dog – only to turn around and find him gone.
The other dogs have been fairly low-key since my return. I imagine they miss him as well and, while I can’t be sure, I just haven’t been able to utter his name in their presence. Jelly has been a little needier, Lulu a little quieter, while Bubba – he did something he’s never done before. Last night, he snuggled down on Maximus’s favorite spot, down at the foot of the bed by my feet, and slept there all night.
As for Maximus, he now rests on the night table by my bedside, sleeping alongside the rest of the pack. As always.