Zippy the Dog isn't the dog he used to be. I'm as unsure how that gangly, floppy-eared brown puppy became an old, grey-muzzled dog as I am about where my 25-year-old self went when I see that grey-muzzled old guy staring back at me from the mirror each morning.
Next month I'll celebrate Zippy's 13th birthday. In Labrador retriever terms, Zippy's more or less living on borrowed time. I see his age every time I look into his increasingly rheumy, golden brown eyes. I see it many evenings when he can't decide whether it's worth the effort to drag his tired back end up the stairs to go have a final squirt before bedtime. He reminds me he's an old dog on those occasions when he simply doesn't want to go for a walk or doesn't want to go very far.
And every day I think it's up to me to decide when he crosses that line between living and dying.
Killing your dog is as much a part of the bargain as cleaning up after it, feeding it and doing the thousands of other things you'll have to do during its lifetime. It's irresponsible to let an old dog suffer. It's cruel. It may even be illegal if carried to an extreme.
I was graphically reminded of that reality when Zippy was a puppy. During his first visit to the vet, at perhaps 10 weeks, there was an old dog there that was minutes away from the Big Sleep. The dog looked like hell and it was hard to tell who was suffering more, the dog or its owner. Without asking I knew what they were there for. It was time.
I don't know how I'll be sure when it's Zippy's time but I know I'll have to make that decision.
My Perfect Partner knew when it was her time. We both knew the day her lung cancer was unequivocally diagnosed she'd been handed a death sentence. For 15 months we preferred not to dwell on it. It was simply The Bastard and we were only going to let The Bastard win one final day; the days until then were ours.
But before that final day came, we passed the invisible line between treatment and cruelty. The docs knew there was nothing they could do, no hope they could offer. They generously treated the pain but the treatment was not without its own side effects of pain and suffering.
Spiraling into an unreality of drugged awareness, she asked each doctor she saw in the final two weeks of her life, "Can't you give me something to let me off this bus?" I watched helplessly.
Of course there was. But they couldn't do that.