The Long Goodbye

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He'd slowed down over the past year or so -- our runs had shrunk from a couple easy miles to one mile out and a leisurely stroll back and finally to walks -- but he'd retained a lot of puppy-like spirit for a senior dog.

There was no plan to get a dog, but we were out yard-saling when I saw the ad for a labradoodle: free to a good home. Let's go, just to look at him, I urged Jeff. 

Berkeley and Jacob

When we got home from vacation, though, things had clearly taken a turn. He barely ate but still threw up, he had a few accidents. Testing showed that his kidneys were no longer doing their job, so I learned how to administer subcutaneous fluids.

"He's really smart," the vet told us, "but he's like one of those kids with ADHD who knows the right answer but can't resist the impulse. Wear him out a little. Maybe get him a backpack to help carry his water on a hike." 

Berkeley hiking

He got a little spirit back but never really regained his appetite, and the rest of the summer was a waiting game. Is he in pain? Is he feeling sick? Does he still have good quality of life?

He had this adorable beard and the most soulful eyes. People were always mentioning it and asking about him. "What kind of dog is that?" Jacob, maybe three, would tell them, "His name is Berkwey.  He's a wabadooble." He couldn't whistle, so he'd call to the dog, "Berkwey, come here! Berkwey, come here! Woo-oo-oo!" 

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We switched to canned food when he refused the dry; after a couple weeks he wouldn't eat that either. Then we moved to something new and he ate it for a few days before ignoring that. Eventually he couldn't be bothered to eat even the treats he'd loved.

 He was like a big teddy bear. He'd be more likely to lick you to death than bite, but one summer day I was over at the playground next door with Jacob and Berkeley. When Jeff got home, we walked back to see him and he hid in the trees to pretend scare us. Berkeley caught sight of the lurking shadow and started barking and growling. I never worried about strangers after that.

Berkeley after an hour or so outside

Every day we'd wonder, is this the morning we wake up and he doesn't? Honestly, that's the one I hoped for, not to have to make the decision. It's OK, buddy, I whispered, you can go if you're ready.

The older boys would take him for walks and play with him. More than once little Jacob took him out to go to the bathroom and ended up dragging on the ground after the dog spotted a squirrel.

Berkeley

He slept a lot, and we usually had to carry him up and down the steps, but he still seemed happy. He could no longer run fast enough to get away, so we started taking him out to the yard with no leash. His tail wagged as he explored all the areas his tether hadn't reached.

Berkeley was with me on my first double-digit run and finished looking like he'd be glad to turn around and repeat it. I did a lot of wee hours running while marathon training, and whether it was early-morning darkness  or at nighttime after the kids were in bed I always felt safe with him along.

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He started to fall more; legs sliding out from underneath him he'd flop down and then look up like, "I meant that!" We took him outside and instead of walking around he'd just stand there. In the house he'd get up and look at us with his tail tucked firmly between his legs. It was time. I made the call and managed most of it without crying.

We took our first backpacking trip last year, a short shakedown with Chuck, Lori, and their dog. Berkeley and Breezy ran around off-leash, dashing back and forth through the woods. They accompanied us down to the spring to get water, chasing each other around. Eventually, many years her senior even in people years, Berkeley took a break, only running after her when she'd get close. 



Daniel went with me to the vet, and we stayed with Berkeley the whole time, lying with him and loving on him until he was gone and then going back to a house that seemed infinitely emptier.

I left Friday morning for a race in Iowa. Jeff was at work, and Jacob was at home. At fourteen, he's been home plenty of times without me, but that was the first time I'd ever left him alone. Berkeley had always been there.

Berkeley


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