Loco Parentis: The End of My Leash

“You’ll know when it’s time,” friends assured me when our dog was diagnosed with cancer. If only it were that easy

You’ll know when it’s time. Everyone promised that — friends, Wendy, other dog-owners who’d done this. It was a comforting refrain, one I came to believe in: Somehow, mysteriously, the moment to have Homer put to sleep would be revealed to me.

He was having trouble getting into the car. I went online and looked up plans for dog ramps. Where once, on his walks, he’d poop twice, now he went eight, 10, 12 times, hunched up, staggering along the pavement. The kids flat-out refused to walk him; it was too embarrassing.

And then, just when I thought it was time, he’d have a good day — chase a squirrel, or play fetch with a tennis ball. He’d see a friend — Sam the golden retriever, Molly the cocker spaniel — and romp like old times, at least for a little while.

I was lucky; the summer was cool. We don’t have air-conditioning. When I went to work in the morning, I left fans on all over downstairs. “Fans don’t cool dogs off,” Doug scoffed, and nagged about the electric bill. But I was sure Homer liked the breezes blowing over him.

His appetite faded even more. He wouldn’t touch dog food. I found myself grilling people food for him, and fretting as I drove home from work: Was there still chicken in the fridge, or did I have to stop at the store? I bought every kind of dog treat made. I’d call from the office every few hours to make sure the kids were letting him out. Vet visits piled up. Pills piled up. Dog feces really piled up. I had to hose down the yard every day, and scrub the sidewalks clean. We didn’t go on a summer vacation for the second year in a row. It was partly the economy, but mostly the dog. He was having accidents in the house now, trailing bloody poop across the rugs. How could we take him away with us? How could I leave him behind?

But some days, he’d wolf down his grilled chicken and look to me for more. Some days, when the kids next door played soccer, he’d race with them along the fence. Some days, Wendy would leave a note with smiley faces: “WE HAD FUN TODAY!”
How could it be time yet?