We had to make the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye to our sweet dog, Harvey, last weekend. It was the single most difficult decision I have ever made, but it was absolutely the right thing, even though it completely broke my heart. He had a degenerative neurological disease called Degenerative Meylopathy. It is incurable and ultimately fatal. He was a big guy, and his back legs were in the early to mid stages of paralysis. He fell down a lot and had a hard time holding a squat long enough to poop. He was in danger of falling and breaking a bone. If he didn't fall, eventually all four legs would have become totally paralyzed.
I wrote the following short story as a way to try and process my pain and grief. The last week of his life was spent getting yummy food and extra love and short trips to the front yard. We worked hard to make sure that the last day of his life was the absolute, very best day it could possibly be. We said goodbye to Harvey at home. In our arms, listening to our music. And I like to believe it was the happiest day of his life.
I should probably add a trigger warning for this story. Spoiler, the dog dies.
Harvey's Best Day
Mama and Daddy have been letting me sleep in their room lately. I have a big bed in the living room, but I only sleep there sometimes in the day. At night, I used to sleep in the hallway, so I could see Boy’s room and Mama and Daddy’s room. It’s a lot of work to protect everyone, but I think I do a pretty good job. But now they let me sleep all night long in their room. If I fall asleep when they’re watching TV, they even wake me up and tell me to go to their room to sleep. I like it a lot. They leave the door open so I can look down the hall and see Boy’s room. I can still keep the whole family safe, and I get to sleep in the big room. I only wish my legs would work the way they used to. I bet they would let me sleep in the big bed with them if I could still climb up. That would be the very best, but I’m happy on the soft rug at the foot of the big bed in the big room.
I’m not sure why my legs don’t work so well anymore. I still try and do all the things I used to do, but I fall down a lot. My back legs especially get tired and they slip out from under me when I try to run. But the very worst is when I lie down on the cool wood floor and then try to get up. No matter how I try, I can’t make my legs stand up when I’m on the slippery floor. Daddy and Mama went to the store one day and came home with lots of new rugs. They said they were just for me. Now there are rugs all over the house, and I don’t fall over when I walk from room to room as much anymore. That’s good, because even though my body doesn’t usually hurt, it sometimes hurts when I fall. Plus, the rugs are super duper soft, and they are good sleeping spots. Especially now that they smell like home instead of the strange rug store.
I can’t even believe my luck these days. I must be the luckiest dog in the whole world, ever. At dinner last night, Mama cooked up some steak. I like it when she makes steak because sometimes they give me a little piece or they let me lick the juice off the plate when dinner is over. But last night was the best night. Mama sat down with a plate full of steak that she chopped into little pieces. That’s not how Family eats steak. They cut it up with a knife for every bite. That seems silly to me, but I don’t understand human things. I tried to sit down between Mama and Daddy. My legs slipped a little bit, so I layed down instead. Then, oh boy oh boy oh boy, Mama put some steak on the fork and she fed it to me! She didn’t even start eating her steak yet, but she fed me right off the fork! I love fork eating, especially if there is juicy steak on the fork! Then Daddy fed me some steak, then it was my Boy’s turn. They all fed me steak right off the people plate with a fork. It was so delicious and it made me so happy! I smiled and smiled and made sure to use my soft mouth so I wouldn’t accidentally bite them.
It was still kind of darkish when Daddy and Mama got out of bed this morning. They have been crying a lot and I just try to let them know that I’m right here. I don’t know why they are so sad, but I try to make them happy. Daddy walked over to me and petted my head. I panted and smiled at him, even though it was still dark and I was still very sleepy.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” Daddy asked me. Of course I did, but it wasn’t all the way day yet, so maybe he was joking. Mama came over and hugged me.
“Where’s your leash, Harvey? Let’s go for a walk to the field.” I tried to stand up but it took me a little while. Standing up was hard. But I finally got up and followed Mama and Daddy to the kitchen where I could smell coffee. They said “leash.” That always means I get to go out the front door. I like the front door more than the back door because there is more of the world out the front door.
Boy woke up, and that was strange because he never wakes up so early. But he hugged me and that wasn’t strange, it was good. He asked me where my leash was and I wobbled to the front door. Daddy clipped the leash to my collar and we all walked out of the front door together. It was light now, but not hot. Just early light. When Mama or Daddy takes me out the front, they only let me go to the mailbox or, if I’m really lucky, up the yards for three or four houses. They make me stay in the grass, though, because I can’t pick up my back feet all the way and the sidewalk scrapes my paws, and then they bleed.
But on this day, Daddy took me across the street. My paws went scrape scrape scrape on the road, but I didn’t mind too much. He was taking me to the big field where they used to let me run without my leash. We got to the grass and the whole, big field was empty, so Mama took off my leash and, oh boy oh boy oh boy, I ran! Well, I tried to run. I fell, but the grass wasn’t as slippery as our wood floor, so I was able to get back up. Plus I was on the trail of a rabbit! I didn’t know where it went but I could smell it close by. I ran all the way up the field and only stopped to pee on some of the grass that the rabbit ran through. I almost fell over lots of times, but I was able to stay standing up.
Mama ran up to me after a little while of chasing the rabbit smell. It used to be that she couldn’t ever catch me when I ran, but now she caught up to me easy peasy. She wasn’t even breathing hard. She must have gotten really fast, because I was running so fast I was almost flying.
“Let’s go home, Harvey,” Mama said. I didn’t realize until she put my leash on that I was very tired. My legs didn’t want to walk at all anymore and I wanted to just rest in the big field. Maybe the rabbit would come and see me. But Mama handed the leash to Daddy and he said I was a good boy and it was time to go home for some ice. Ice is my favorite treat. It is crunchy and cold and I love it. So I walked home with Daddy, but I had to go slow because my back legs were all shaky and they kept getting tangled in the grass.
At home, I got to eat lots and lots of cold, crunchy ice. And then, the most best thing ever happened. Mama chopped up more steak and put it on a people plate. Boy took two eggs and scrambled them and put them on the plate, too. Then, oh boy oh boy oh boy! Boy sat down on the floor next to me and he fed me the eggs and the steak right off the fork! Steak for dinner and for breakfast! And sleeping in the big room, and going for a run and having ice! It was my most favorite best day ever!
“Hey, Harvey,” Daddy said. “Do you want to go for a ride? Come on! Let’s go for a ride! Get your leash!”
A ride? Really, really? I don’t get to go on rides anymore because of my legs. Getting into the back seat is really hard, even with a ramp, so mostly I stay home and guard the house when they go for a ride. But not today!
Mama and Daddy helped me up the ramp and I stood up in the backseat of the car. The car is very little and I don’t fit in it too well, but that’s okay. Mama sat in the back seat with me and reminded me to sit down so my legs wouldn’t get hurt. I wanted to listen to Mama, but there were so many birds and I wanted to bark at all of them! Daddy rolled down my window, and I stuck my head out. My tongue went flap flap flap and my ears went flop flop flop. It was the most funnest ride I ever went on. When we came home I got to even more ice!
Family cried a lot, but then they would hug me, and I made them feel better. Mama took out the toothbrush and brushed all of my teeth for me. I love toothbrush time. It tastes good. Then she got the fur brush and brushed me and brushed me and brushed me for a really long time. She sang The Harvey Song to me, and cried, but I just smiled at her and hoped she would keep brushing me.
Daddy said that a lady was here. I heard him open the front door and say hello. Boy yelled and started to cry, and that was kind of scary. Mama hugged me hard and cried some more, but then she stopped and went to talk to the lady. It took me a little bit, but I finally got up to see her.
The lady had a big brown bag that was full of strange smelling things. I didn’t like those smells, but I liked the lady. She scratched me behind my ears and told me I was a beautiful boy. She was very nice. Since she was nice, I didn’t have to protect Family from her, so I went to my favorite spot by the dining room table and laid down. There is a big window, but I didn’t want to look out of it, I wanted to watch Family and the lady. Mama and Daddy moved the table out of the way and everyone sat down with me. Mama looked out the window at the birds and squirrels, and I looked at her. The lady was talking a lot, and the whole family was crying some more. I wish I could talk to them and tell them that they don’t have to be sad because I’m right here. But I can’t do human talking, so I just put my head down and looked at Family and hoped they knew I was right there for them.
Then I felt a poke in the back of my body and that kind of hurt, but not for very long. After a little while the stinging feeling went away and I just wanted to lie down. The sun came in through the window and my back side was in the patch of sun. It was warm and it felt so good. I was getting very, very sleepy. Daddy picked up my head and petted me. Mama scratched my snout, just the way I always love. Boy was petting my back.
“Mountain Dog,” said Mama. “Do you remember going camping in the mountains with Daddy and Boy? Do you remember how you jumped right over the pile of logs? You were so fast!”
“And remember hiking to the waterfall? You would run ahead of us to make sure we were safe, and then you’d come back and get us. You never went too far away. You always came back.”
I had to, Mama. I couldn’t leave you in the mountains! I had to keep you safe from all the things in the mountains. It was a big job and I was very good at it.
“And do you remember playing in the river? We’d shout ‘Search and rescue!’ and throw the stick into the water. You would jump right in and bring it back. You would swim and swim until you couldn’t swim anymore. You loved being River Dog as much as being Mountain Dog.”
Those times were fun times. Can we go back to the mountains soon?
“Buddy boy,” Daddy’s voice was sad. I tried to look up at him, but my head was so heavy. “We’re all going to go to the mountains. Right now. We’re all going to go and you can be Mountain Dog again. There will be a river and you can be River Dog and Mountain Dog at the same time.” He put my head in his lap and I sniffed in his Daddy smell.
“Can you see the mountains, Harvey Doo? Can you see the trail and the trees? Can you hear the water? We’re going to go play in the water now, Harvey.”
I could see the mountains! We really were going to go run! And I could hear the river, too! We were going to swim in the river again! Oh boy oh boy oh boy!
From far far away, I heard the lady say that she was going to give me another shot but it wouldn’t hurt. I didn’t feel anything in my backside this time. I just felt the wind blowing down the mountains. I smelled the trees and the birds and the mountain lions. I smelled fish and the river. And I smelled my Family. They were with me in the mountains.
It was my very best day.