I slowly open my eyes and stare at the ceiling. Holding my breath, I wait until I hear his shallow breathing on the floor next to me. Only then I inhale deeply and exhale with a long sigh…. I’ve got an appointment today.
Over the last couple of months he went downhill fast. His eyes got cloudy and not as intense. They had turned almost puppy like, but not with enthusiasm, it looked more like embarrassment. Like he was letting me down because he couldn’t function. Loyal to the end, he just wanted to be with me and would try to follow me from room to room his tail slowly wagging, but his body was breaking down after years of hard running.
Today he can hardly raise his head and will not eat or drink. He can no longer take pills for relief. I’ve had to carry him out to use the bathroom and squirt syringes of water in his mouth to try keep him comfortable. Selfishly I waited too long, should’ve done it Friday. I wanted the kids to see him one last time and horrible decisions like this make it way too easy to procrastinate.. This morning my wife stayed home just to keep him company but at 10:30 she called and told me I needed to come now. As I was driving in I called the vet and moved up our time. My son's school was my next call, telling them to send him home with no explanation offered. Nate has grown up with Gator and hunt tests, he insisted on being with us.
It is a beautiful early spring day and in the back of my mind I’m thinking it would be perfect to go make a few retrieves. Instead we carry Gator outside and lay him on a blanket so we can sit with him in the sun. I can only hope it gives him some last little bit of pleasure as we wait for the dreaded appointment.
Slowly the time ticks by and we get in the truck for the short trip to the vet’s office. Gator riding there in Nate’s lap on a blanket and returning home in his lap, now wrapped up in the same blanket. The spot in our backyard had already been selected overlooking the muddy Nottoway River. I unbuckle Gator’s collar for the last time and gently lay his head back down. Together Nate and I dig a deep grave in the sandy soil and lower Gator in it, still wrapped in his blanket.
That night, after dark, I walk alone to the duckhouse, thirteen years older and hanging another faded orange collar on a nail in the rafters.