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I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently. As someone who considers herself religious, I’m inclined to believe that I shouldn’t be afraid of death, because at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve done most of the right things and lived my life well so far. That doesn’t stop me from being terrified of death. I’m scared of dying myself and always have been. When I come into that dark place where I contemplate my own death it feels like all the oxygen has been ripped out of my body, and I find it hard to breathe. I almost always try to turn my thoughts away.

Then there’s the death of those around me. That’s a different kind of fear; the fear of death around you is the fear of life. You’re afraid to go on living without the presence of that other soul. To me, that fear is more oppressive than the fear of my own death, and I can’t turn my thoughts away, as much as I would like to.

The only thing worse than thinking about the death of a loved one is the thought that you hold their life and thus the key to their death in your hands. Very rarely does a human being hold that key for another human being. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we almost always hold it for our pets.

This is the second time in a year that Joe and I have been forced to draw that line in the sand with our dogs, to establish that point where you say, “Okay, there has been enough suffering, it’s time to end it.” In all honesty, I think it’s harder the second time.

The pain from Dusty is still very real. I can’t think of making this decision without thinking of how I felt the day we put her down, sitting in the vet’s office, begging Joe to change his mind so I felt like it was okay for me to change mine, so I could feel justified in keeping Dusty alive and letting her suffer just so I didn’t have to face the absence of that soft, small presence. I can’t think of making this decision without thinking about all the guilt I felt afterward. I felt guilty that I made Joe stay strong so I could be weak. I felt guilty that we didn’t do more. I felt guilty that we could have taken it too far. I felt guilty that there was so much pain around me that I couldn’t do anything about. I felt guilty about Smokey not eating and Joe not being able to mourn because I couldn’t get out of bed, so he had to take care of everything.

I promised myself I wouldn’t do that this time. I promised myself that above all things, I would be strong for Joe, because as much as I love Smokey, Smokey is Joe’s dog and always has been, which is funny considering Joe never wanted Smokey.

The day that we rescued Smokey we were there to look at another dog, a female. Unfortunately, she was too broken for us to bring home; we knew we would be doing her a disservice because we didn’t have the time necessary to mend a heart as tattered as hers. I insisted we look at Smokey. If I hadn’t insisted, we never would have brought him home, because Joe didn’t like that he didn’t have “traditional” coloring (i.e. black and tan) and he didn’t want a male.

Of course it didn’t take long for Smokey to wrap Joe around his paws however, and now that Joe and Smokey have begun clicker training together they are all the more bonded. At first, it was painful for me to relinquish my control of the training situation in our house, but it only took a class or two for me to see how well they worked together and realize that they were a duo that was just meant to be.

After we brought Shelby home, it didn’t take long for us to slip into the routine of “mommy’s dog” and “daddy’s dog”. Shelby is very firmly “mommy’s dog” just like Smokey is very firmly “daddy’s dog”. Given the choice, Smokey will always pick Joe’s side of the bed to lie on. When he isn’t feeling well, it’s always Joe’s lap he wants to sit on. Of the dozen plus tricks Smokey knows, I’ve taught him exactly one.

So I promised myself I wouldn’t cave and fall into the darkness this time around. I guess I’m holding up pretty well so far, at least when other people are around, but most importantly, when Joe’s around. I’m curious to see how much of that is denial on top of false hope and how much of it is actually my conscious effort to stay strong. That’s probably another one of those things that only time will tell. Just like Smokey’s ITP/IMHA, just like his platelet levels and his blood cell counts, just like his bleeding and limping and pain – only time will tell.

I remember writing a post about Dusty and how confusing it was because I kept getting opinions on where to draw the line in the sand and how the opinions kept changing. This situation is similar. Experience has taught me one thing however, not every dog is your dog, and not every case is like your case. These intricate diseases are like snowflakes, every one is different. That makes it difficult, because there’s no set code or procedure or plan, there’s no ruler you can lay down on a chart somewhere that tells you exactly when the right time is or how far you should take it. It depends on you and your dog and your finances and your religious and political beliefs and how much you can take and how much your dog can take and how much is too much and how much isn’t enough. There are so many variables it makes my head spin. But eventually, after you’ve analyzed and read and talked and cried and bled, you come to a decision. And you stick with that decision, even if you don’t want to, even if it means that the day you have chosen comes tomorrow or ten years from now, the only thing that’s for sure is that the day will come. So you sit back and you wait and you cry and you reanalyze and you get some more opinions and then the day comes and you have to execute your decision. And then days and days and weeks and months later you still feel guilty and tortured and horrible because there is no set protocol or standard that you can apply to life.

The only thing that is for sure is that you hold the key to life and death in your hand and eventually, you have to draw a line in the sand.