Yesterday was a very difficult day. The time had come to say good-bye to Jette, Russ's little black lab mix. Jette suffered from diabetes, and despite their best efforts, Russ's vet Dale and he decided that things were deteriorating too rapidly and it was time.
It's never easy to say good-bye to a beloved pet. Because Russ and Jette lived together, just the two of them, for all of her life, it is hitting especially hard. She was more than a pet, more than a companion, more than a dog. She was more to him in ways that he probably can't even explain. I was an occasional presence in her life, when I'd visit there or he'd bring her here, so I saw Jette for a couple of days every few weeks, but I immediately fell in love with her and she was my part-time dog. Jette was the litter-mate of my daugther Meghan's dog Apple, both from the only litter of Meghan's first dog, Coda. They were a great mix of lab and Border Collie. Coda looked more like a Border Collie (even nipping at your heels in attempts at "herding"), the puppies more like labs. The father was a big yellow lab from a downstairs apartment. One fateful day, he broke through the screen door. Such an unfortunate and unplanned connection resulted in a litter of some of the nicest dogs I've ever known. Russ had never had a dog, but was so impressed with Coda that he took a chance and he and Jette became best buddies immediately. Jette was all black with just a hint of white, and Russ used to call us his two "black haired girls" - which was no longer the case as both Jette and I got older. Still, I think of that phrase fondly...
I drove out to be with Russ for that final night and morning. When I arrived just before dark, Russ and Jette were on the front porch, enjoying one last sunset over Cayuga Lake. Russ was in one of the rockers and Jette was lying next to him. She rose to greet me but was very weak and very wobbly, and couldn't see. She bumped into me trying to figure out where I was. Russ and I sat with Jette for a while, and then he decided that she should have some ice cream from Pete's Treats, a stand across the street from his house. I stayed with Jette and Russ came back with three cups, one for each of us. Because of Jette's diabetes, she had been on a very strict low-carb diet but since this was her last night, Russ decided it would be fitting for her to enjoy some ice cream, and she sure did. After that, she went out onto the lawn, and lay in the shadows underneath a giant pine tree. She seemed happy to stay there, very quietly, for what seemed to be a long time. I could barely see her there in the dark, and had to strain my eyes to find her. Out of the shadows, I saw a young cat (feral) come out from the shrubs, and my first instinct was to grab Jette to keep her from running after it, but then I quickly remembered that her running-after days had been over for a while. Even the little bunny that usually taunted and enticed her into a mad dash had no effect. Jette was using every bit of her energy just "being" and had nothing left for anything else.
Russ and I spent the night with Jette nearby, deep in thoughts of what the next day would bring, and my awareness of how significant this loss would be to him had me in and out of tears in anticipation. My heart was breaking for him, and there was nothing I could do. For his sake, I tried very hard to keep my own emotions under wraps. He had enough to deal with.
When morning came, I went downstairs and found Russ and Jette outside. I saw that Russ was already involved in a project, and in amazement at his ability to function on such a day, asked, "What's that you're making?" to which he replied, with purposeful determination, "Jette's coffin..." It took me aback. I hadn't thought that far ahead, but Russ had. He made a perfect little box, lined with a soft piece of new carpet, with rope handles and a lid. I stayed with Jette, who fortunately (I believe) had no clue about the project, and rubbed her ears, which to this day are the softest, silkiest patches of fur I've ever felt. Russ finished up and came to me and Jette, and we spent a few precious minutes together, knowing that we wouldn't have this moment again.
We drove to the vet's office in Russ's truck, Jette on my lap seeming very happy to be going for a ride. There was soft rock playing on the radio, and I patted Jette to the rhythm and the beat. She laid her head back against my arm, and I found comfort in her comfort. The music might not have had any effect other than to calm me, but I was glad for it. The staff was just arriving as we got there, and let us in through the back door. Dale came in and I was so impressed. He loved Jette, too, and you'd think that after years of treating animals and saying good-bye, he'd be somewhat immune to the emotions that Russ and I were experiencing, but not so. He spoke about Jette with such affection (she'd been in often in the past few months, trying to control the diabetes) and with tears in his eyes he told us of his own difficulty saying good-bye to one of his dogs after waiting "too long."
When it was over, Russ and I took Jette home, and she rests now in a lovely spot back behind the barn. Russ calls it "Jette's Corner."
It was impossilby difficult, as anyone who's experienced this knows, and how anyone else might imagine. I kept saying in my head, "All dogs go to heaven." Even 4-year old Henry, when Katie told him that Jette was "passing away" didn't quite understand. He wanted to know who was coming to get her. I told him Coda and Judah were (Judah was another sister from the litter who died of cancer when she was only five). I like to think that what I said was true, that Jette did have a reunion with her mother and sister. I'd like to think that such reunions will happen for all of us, and that maybe Jette will be waiting for Russ and me, too, tail wagging, when it's all said and done. For anyone who might wonder about the extent of grief one experiences after losing a pet, I guess part of it is about the unconditional love a pet provides, about their innocence, their trust. I'm not exactly sure what pulls so at the heart-strings, but it definitely does. I loved Jette and I will miss her, and I know that, for Russ, she was the perfect dog.