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Robbie’s Days

I meant to blog more this week, but I’ve been dealing with Robbie. After two years of thinking any day could be the day, we’re finally nearing the end.

This morning I came this close to texting Furrydoc to ask her to come over. Robbie’s appetite has been decreasing the last month, and this week he’s begun refusing food. Wednesday afternoon I coaxed him into eating rice mixed with a little kibble and he was sick in the night. I was sure Furrydoc’s visit couldn’t be far away. Then, after a cup of plain rice and a truncated morning walk today, he perked up. Took a cube of frozen chicken breast for a treat when we arrived home and seemed fine.

Still, I’ve had to stay with him in case he needs to be let out suddenly. Can’t spend hours on the library’s wifi. So I wrote this at home and am making a quick sit-down on the library steps to post this and something for tomorrow.

I’ll keep Robbie on rice and cottage cheese or rice and hamburger for now. But whether he has only days or still has months, I know he’s not going to last beyond summer. Because no matter what, I’m not going to put his old bones and joints through another winter.

I thought the same last summer, too. Then he finished the summer better than he started it and the mild winter scarcely bothered him. This time for sure, though.

And oh my, the indecision and the guilt!

I’d rather put him down too soon than too late, when he’s tired and worn out but not in a dire crisis. My worst fear is that his last days or hours will be spent in agony. On the other hand, it seems selfish to extinguish his spirit while he’s still enjoying life. Except that you can never actually know. That’s the thing. Dogs can be suffering and never let you know.


And Robbie, of course, is inscrutable. When not happily licking some complete stranger, he’s as self-contained and unreadable as a statue of a dog.

Robbie isn’t my #1 heart dog. That was, and will always be, Jasmine, who died in 2005. (Furrydoc gave her her exit, too, weeping along with me.) But Robbie’s next in my heart, partly because of his inscrutable macho. Although I know deep down he’s as devoted to me as Ava (who wears devotion on her face and in every people-pleasing gesture), he has always made sure not to let me know it. Obedience? Strictly optional. Affection? He prefers strangers. Play? Oh, how dull. I am free to worship and wait upon him. But that is simply his due.

While I am not one of those people who imagines that every dog spends all day conniving ways to dominate its humans, it’s actually true of Robbie and always has been. Not only was he a giant bully to all the other dogs in his youth — the Rulz enforcer, the anti-fun police — he was always pulling some power trip on me.

The only game he ever played in his life (unless destroying indestructable toys counts as a game) was tug-o-war. And he’d play it only with me. He didn’t allow any other dogs to play tug, even with each other. And when I told him tough luck, I’m playing tug with them because they and I thought it was good clean fun, his disgruntlement was clear. That game is a real dominance test.

Before I really knew him, he jumped up and bit my thumb to the bone in his determination to get back a tug rope I’d wrested from him. He wasn’t being vicious; it was an accident. He was just so set on winning. After that, tug-o-war games with him became a rare occurrance, never lasted more than five minutes, and if I got the rope away from him, he had to sit until I gave him permission to catch the loose end of the rope.

Our lives together have been like that. He likes me just fine. But he’s not conceding one paw’s-width of authority to me unless I have something he really wants. Then he lets me know he’s doing it grudgingly.

And for this macho insolence, I have always loved him like mad.

Even now, old, deaf, foggy-brained, half-crippled, he still has his ways of demonstrating his opinion of my position in the pack. At the end of our woods walks, when it’s time to get back in the car, he lumbers along eagerly — to a point. Then 20 feet from the vehicle (where Ava and I already await), he stops, lifts his head, and sniffs at the air as though scenting seagulls miles away at the ocean. And there he stands until I physically herd him to Old Blue.

He’s only done this in the last year or so. Part of me wants to say this is a dying dog taking in every last possible pleasure. And that I would not begrudge him.

It’s just that every time, right before he pulls this wistful-seeming little stunt, he looks me straight in the eye with that vast inscrutability. And when I finally go to him, get behind him, and nudge his backside to set him in motion, I swear, he’s grinning.


The day Robbie dies, Ava and I will drive up to a ridge a few miles from here and take a three-mile round-trip walk whose high point, both geographically and aesthetically, is a view of the Pacific. The spot is miles from the ocean, actually, but sometimes when the day is still, you can hear the roar of the waves.

We used to do this walk often, but Robbie hasn’t been able to manage it recently. He did walk it once last year, but that was because Annabelle, a sleekly beautiful lab-mix who belongs to my friend G., was along. Robbie was suddenly young again in his gorgeous girlfriend’s presence.* Even that’s been a while.

Ava and I will take that walk up the ridge just because we need the exercise after too many recent, shotened treks, thanks to Robbie’s limitations. But also to let the clean air blow away the pall of sickness and death.

A little bit of Jasmine — a handful of her ashes — still lives in that spot (as well as several other favorite places in the woods). Later we’ll walk up there again and leave a bit of Robbie, too.


* He has always liked the long, leggy type, perhaps because of being the short thick type himself. The females in his life, and how he has repeatedly made a fool of himself over them despite being properly neutered, may be a subject for another day.


  1. Pat
    Pat June 30, 2016 12:29 pm

    For Robbie’s sake, and yours too, I hope he goes in his sleep before you have to put him down. But he’s had a good life with you (a better life than many pets who are not allowed to be themselves), and there’s no need to feel guilt – that’s only your humaneness working overtime.

    I hope Ava doesn’t take it too hard.

  2. Claire
    Claire June 30, 2016 12:32 pm

    “I hope Ava doesn’t take it too hard.”

    Oh, Ava will be glad to see the old scoundrel go. 🙁 The two have never gotten along, though they’ve learned to tolerate each other in the last four or five years. But I know my Ava. Her only thought will be, “Now I get ALL the attention. Except for the cat. And I can just eat the cat.”

    But seriously, I’ve been hoping for the die-in-his-sleep outcome, too. It would be a good death for him. He loves Furrydoc, but everytime he lays eyes on her, he pees himself. ‘Course, he’s probably going to pee himself when he dies, anyhow. Sigh.

  3. M
    M June 30, 2016 1:31 pm

    They go too soon, Claire. I’m down two girls – a 15 y/o Maine Coon as of my birthday last year, and my sweet 16 y/o tortie the week after Thanksgiving – to the two boys (both over 12) and the pup (going on 9). Thought we were going to lose the pup last year when we found a big lump on her jaw, but she pulled through.

    It’s going to be a heck of a time when the two human girls get to learn about it all, and I’m going to miss that pup worse than I miss a good number of people.

    While I’d *certainly* never advocate the illegal application of prescription narcotics, I’ve heard that the codeine that they prescribe for coughs works awfully well for end of life palliative care, in a pinch.

    The only thing worse than losing them is not having them in the first place.

  4. Bob
    Bob June 30, 2016 3:28 pm

    ” I’d rather put him down too soon than too late, ….”

    I guess I’ve done both, and the ones which still bother me years later are the couple of times when I think I did it too soon. Maybe it’s my motivation which I question.

  5. Shel
    Shel June 30, 2016 4:05 pm

    Sometimes I think it’s our curse to outlive them, but I believe I prefer that to their having to endure outliving us.

  6. Ron johnson
    Ron johnson June 30, 2016 6:46 pm

    My wife had to put down our border collie mix while I was out of town. She saw he was struggling to walk…the nose tumor had reached his brain. She took him to the vet and a few seconds after hooking up the IV, Kojak lay there, head between his paws, eyes open, dead. Oh, she thought, do over! Do over! It was a mistake to put him down! She was racked with guilt until I got home and assured her she had done a good thing. She had given him a good long life and a painless death. That made her feel better until her brother said “About time! You were selfishly torturing the dog!” That was a whole new guilt trip.

    Lesson: there is never a right time, just a decision to make, and no looking back.

  7. Andrea
    Andrea June 30, 2016 10:40 pm

    Between you, your furrydoc & Robbie…. you all will know when it’s time. Don’t fret about that future day. Don’t worry about when it will be. Ride the wave of life one day at a time. Be present in the moment & if Robbie is in that moment, enjoy him. Love on him. He’s not thinking about his demise & you shouldn’t be either. It’s summer… enjoy the sunshine with him. Sending love to both of you.

  8. Sam in Oregon
    Sam in Oregon June 30, 2016 11:08 pm


  9. Sagebrush Dog Walker
    Sagebrush Dog Walker July 1, 2016 6:52 am

    Hang in there Claire. It’s never easy when they get to this point. I hope you have wonderful moments with him until the end.

  10. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty July 1, 2016 6:58 am

    Remembering my sweet Bitta’ and Rascal… the two that had to be put down to prevent them from suffering any longer. There is no “right” or “good” time for this action, really, and we live with guilt so often that we have not truly earned. Part of being human. And so few things in life are truly fair, besides. I hope you can find peace with your decision soon. I know it is hard. 🙂

  11. Mike
    Mike July 1, 2016 8:54 am

    It’s the worst of times when the actual moment is on us. When we lost our dobie Nigel a few weeks ago, it was like the light went out of the house. My wife still cries nearly daily thinking about the loss of his exuberance. Maybe it’s easier when you know its coming as opposed to the unexpected suddenness of Nigel’s passing but I’m not sure. All you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other until the hurt scars over and becomes less painful. Hopefully the gods will give you the wisdom to choose wisely.

  12. FishOrMan
    FishOrMan July 1, 2016 2:09 pm

    >>>HUGS<<< *then going to hug on Daisy some too.

  13. Claire
    Claire July 2, 2016 12:02 pm

    Thank you, everybody. And hugs and special thanks to all who’ve loved and lost beloved pets. That’s especially horrible news about Nigel, Mike. I’ve met him and know he was young and full of life.

    I emailed Furrydoc today and asked her to be ready to come by soon and give Robbie a peaceful ending.

  14. Pat
    Pat July 2, 2016 5:29 pm

    “Peaceful” is the key ingredient here, Claire, for Robbie’s sake. I know you’re hurting.

    Can you give us one last picture, during happier times?

  15. Vince
    Vince July 3, 2016 7:11 am

    Eighteen years ago I walked into the animal rescue shelter and stood still among the kittens awaiting adoption. Every one of them ignored me except this one orange male. He walked up a ramp until he was chest high and stepped onto my forearms and settled in, sleeping peacefully. “I’ll adopt this one please!” That was Jasper and he just passed away in May, 2 or 3 months short of his 18th birthday. He bonded with me and was my cat (or I was HIS human). He never bit or scratched and in the last few years he got medication for a hyperactive thyroid. I knew his time was short and when I found him lying on the floor by the patio door he loved looking out I crumbled. I put my head down on the dining room table and cried. At that point my daughter’s 3 year old female, who had previously ignored me, jumped up and head bumped me in sympathy.

    I know you will cherish, as I did, these final moments with a beloved family member. Robbie has had a far better life with someone who cares for him than he would have found anywhere else.


  16. daryl
    daryl July 5, 2016 6:57 am

    My heart goes out to you, Claire. I posted when I lost my cat last year, not a day goes by I don’t think of him. Hang in there. And pet Robbie for me.

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