13 years ago, I was a 20-year-old culinary school student trying to mend a heart shattered by my first love. I did that (partly) by venturing into Feeders Supply in Louisville, KY and walking out with an 8-week-old ball of fur and puppy breath. Kyle was a German Shepherd mix, adorable, and he immediately owned my heart. For the next five years, we moved from one Midwestern town to another and then back again. From apartment to apartment we went – just Kyle and I against the world. Eventually, my broken heart healed and I went on to fall in love again. Once I got married, Kyle and I welcomed my husband, Tim, into our family. Tim and Kyle bonded and a few years later, we adopted another dog, Kyle’s “little sister”, Roxie.
Tonight, I sit here holding a vigil of sorts, with swollen, puffy eyes and a throbbing brain due to hours of crying. I have to say goodbye. Kyle has gotten very sick in the last five weeks and test results confirmed today what I was afraid of: cancer. Liver cancer, to be specific. He’s now 13, his face has turned grey, and his eyes are clouded over. He’s in so much pain that he can’t get comfortable. Every few seconds, I watch him move and shift, his body lurching and his breathing growing more ragged. At 4pm tomorrow, we will take him to the vet and put him to sleep. And even though I know it’s what he needs because he’s so sick, my heart has splintered into a million pieces.
Every event of my adult life has been experienced with Kyle by my side. He was there to lick my tears away after bad dates and fights with friends and when life generally kicked me in the shins. He was there to cuddle on cold days, offer a listening ear whenever I needed it, and never once judged me when I made stupid decisions and did really dumb things (often with him as a witness.) We’ve had 13 great years as a team but I’m not ready to say goodbye. I know I have to. I know I need to. I know he’s suffering and that he deserves to be set free from the pain. I know that he’s given me 13 years of absolutely unconditional love and trust. None of this, though, makes it any easier. I hate playing God. I hate knowing that, unless he goes naturally in his sleep tonight, I have to force him to leave this earth. His eyes exhibit the pain he feels and yet he holds on. Sometimes I think he holds on despite his misery, just because he doesn’t want to leave me any more than I want him to go.
In the last two hours, I’ve watched him deteriorate further, to the point that I wonder if he’s going to make it until the vet appointment tomorrow. At the same time, it feels like he’s letting me know that it’s okay, that my decision is the right one, and that he’s ready to go. I’m talking softly to him, telling him that I love him over and over again, petting him, and just letting him know that I’m near. He’s loved me through everything – from being a lost 20-year-old girl to the 33-year-old woman I am – and now I have to love him through the very hardest part of all. I just hope he feels how much I love him up until he takes his very last breath.