The Final Goodbye

Some readers may find this blog a bit on the morbid side, but hold your final verdict till you come to the end of it: you may finally feel that it is in fact uplifting, poignant and even heart-warming. Though it deals with death, or, to be more precise, dying.

Last week an online friend of mine sent me a forward that shook me up, even though at 73 I now consider myself shock proof. The title of the piece was ” Be with your pet till the End.” In it he describes an intense personal, guilt ridden, experience: how he had to put down his beloved Dalmatian who was suffering from an incurable ailment, how he could not bear to be in the room when the vet was administering the lethal injection, how his dog’s eyes followed him every inch of the way as he was walking out, imploring him not to leave her at this final moment as the life ebbed out of her. He has, quite rightly, not forgiven himself till today for this betrayal of a loved one when she needed him most. But this is not all.

Stanley (my online friend) informs me that he has since learnt that his experience was not unique; most veterinarians will attest to the fact that when pets are dying (and they always know when the moment has arrived) they long for their masters/owners/family to be with them, craving for the comfort of a final assurance of being wanted. Sadly, according to these doctors, the owners cannot bear to watch their pets dying or being put down, and usually leave the room, like Stanley did, regretting doing so for the rest of their lives. Paradoxically, it is both an expression and betrayal of love.

My own experience confirms this. Many years ago I had this magnificent Golden Retriever named Brutus, so christened because of his sober and regal bearing. He was a one- man dog, I being the man chosen for this honour. Only I could hold his leash when out for a walk, only I could brush or bathe him. Neerja, the good wife, was not allowed to sit next to me on the sofa- that place was reserved for Brutus. If I was ill and in bed no one, not even the doctor was permitted to come next to me, thus delaying my recovery by at least a week on each such occasion! In short, I was the love of his life, and he mine (with apologies to Neerja).

Brutus. December 1998- June 2010. Photo by Siddharth Shukla

Brutus was 12 years old in 2010, in perfect health and with many years of the good life still ahead of him, when he somehow contrived to fall from the first floor of my Mashobra cottage one night. He broke his right femur badly. He wouldn’t tolerate the plaster so I was advised an operation to nail the broken bones together. The procedure was not successful, septicemia set in with all its attendant complications- high fever, semi paralysis, inability to keep down any food. Nothing worked, he kept getting worse and he was suffering terribly. Finally, feeling like a murderer, I accepted my vet’s advice to put him down for his own good. We fixed 22nd June for this ultimate betrayal, at 5.30 PM when I returned from office.

Brutus, with my son, Saurabh, at two years of age. Photo by author.

I suspect Brutus, with that extraordinary sixth sense that animals have, sensed the impending course of events. Neerja tells me that that afternoon he somehow dragged himself to the top of the stairs where he would greet me every evening when I returned from office, and collapsed into a semi-coma with the effort. I reached home and sat down next to him, awaiting the vet’s arrival with the lethal injection. Brutus opened his eyes, wagged his tail feebly, put his huge head on my lap, sighed happily a few times, and then stopped breathing. He had gone, just like that.

He had waited for me to return, to bid a final farewell, before leaving. And he had spared me the ultimate sin of having had to put him down, an act of murder I know I would have regretted for the rest of my life. Our pets are so large hearted, their love so unconditional and unquestioning, we should never leave them alone in their final moments. We are the only world they ever know, or care about; when they leave this world they should go in the warmth of knowing that we love them, that they will be treasured and missed. Pets may not be our whole life, but they make our life whole: your soul is never truly awakened until you have kept a pet, especially a dog. I have always believed that there are only two kinds of pure, selfless love in this sorry world- the love of a mother for her child, and the love of a pet for his master and family. All of us have experienced the first type, but those who receive the second also are truly blessed. Return that blessing by being there for him or her when it’s time to say that last goodbye.

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