Most days I love my job, with everything it has to offer. Animals simply make me smile. They warm my heart in a way, that hot chocolate warms your stomach after a day outside in the snow. I love all creatures big and small and even the most, crazy pet parents can’t ruin that feeling. But it is this kind of love that makes it so hard to let go. Some patients just become a part of me. I look into their eyes and start reading them. I believe I can feel their pain and sense their needs. We become true friends and my obligation to be their advocate becomes a priority, but it also becomes a burden. As their health declines and cancer or age eats away at their health, finding the right time and assisting the owners in making the right decision is a challenge I take very seriously. Some of them I support through weeks or months, assuring them, we will know when the time comes intuitively.

Today the time has come for one of my favorite friends Zelda. She has fought cancer for a few weeks and it has taken over her body. The first time I came to her house, she greeted me at the door and made sure I understood she wasn’t ready. She was happily wagging her tail and smiling at me, in total denial about the urinary catheter that had to be placed at the specialist, to assure she could still urinate, past the huge tumor compromising her urethra. She acted like nothing was wrong with her and had no idea she had gotten sent home to die.

Her daddy and I sat in the living room for a while, watching her bouncing from one to another, making sure we understood she was happy to be home. We opted to give her more time and started hospice care, but mostly we started ushering her with love, not like she hasn’t been loved before, but like you love, when you will never have a chance to love again. She gotta live like she was dying, which doesn’t sound nearly as good as it really is. This invaluable time where every day you say good night, like there may not be a tomorrow, where every meal is served like it could be your last and every kiss is so intense, like it is your first. We thought we would be getting days of this, but instead we had weeks, her urinary catheter was removed and she was able to urinate again and even though we knew it wouldn’t last, it was the most precious time of her life.

Today she was in pain. Her leg had swollen overnight, her breathing was labored and we knew it was time. I came to see her and despite her wagging her tail, I knew she needed me to help her. Her eyes were sunken and sad as she licked my hand to assure me, we’re doing the right thing. There was an emptiness in them, a cry for help. My heart shattered at the thought of losing her, yet I knew I had been chosen to make it easier for her. She laid down all on her own, as if to let me know she’s ready to take a nap. As my eyes filled with tears, she licked my hand as if to hold it, if I needed her. I gave her the sedative and she never flinched and her tail kept wagging, as I continued to gently stroke her sad face. Slowly the rhythm of her tail drumming on the hardwood floor came to a silence. In fact, it became so quiet, I thought we could hear our tears reach the floor. The second injection made her take one last deep breath and stopped the heart that loved me as much as I loved her. Hard to believe she was truly gone forever. I hugged her owner, trying to control my tears as I took her on her last car ride to the clinic. Today my heart has stopped with hers, because some days are just harder than others.

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