Friday night, I took Patches on one last Hurrah, a road trip, just like the two of us used to take, to the beach… In our early days, she’d accompany me on my “Guy Weekend” which really amounted to little more than me going to the Outer Banks to drink beer and surf fish at Oregon Inlet. We always camped in the state campground there at the inlet and spend our days on the sand, me pretending to fish, her not pretending at all to want to eat everything she could find that washed ashore. So it seemed fitting that I give her that one last night on the beach, just Patches and I, like it used to be.
She seemed a little distant on the trip down until I rolled down the windows to let the fresh country smells into the truck. Almost like a magic elixer, she lifted her head and started the scent radar, swiveling her head this way and that, smelling the late summer crops, the fresh cut grass, the hint of smoke from an occasional backyard fire.
Saturday, I spent most of the day just laying with her on the floor of my parent’s house in Calabash, kissing her forehead, stroking what remained of her silky fur, soaking in the deep, intelligent brown of her eyes. That evening, once the tourists had departed, we sat on the sand of Sunset Beach, just outside the reach of the encroaching tide watching the blue moon transit the sky, listening to the crashing waves and the occasional dog and human passing by. A few complete strangers walked up to us, lavishing her with praise and love and affection, just like she’s always seemed to get from total strangers. She was a beautiful dog. More so than most, and I don’t say that because I feel I have to.
We sat on the beach until after Midnight when I finally packed us up and headed for home. Sunday, we loaded up in the truck and made the trip back, but at this point something was different. She had stopped drinking as much as she usually did and I had resorted to adding water to her bowl of food to trick her into hydrating herself. She didn’t perk up much on the 3 hour drive back to our home of 10 years but she did keep her eyes on me, staring into me, keeping me fixed with her Border Collie Laser Gaze.
Sunday passed languidly, with me spending most of my day on the floor with her, stretched out on a king sized comforter that I had folded in quarters to make a nice bed for her to spread out on. Just as earlier, she was disinterested in water but kept her healthy appetite, so I continued giving her “soup” with the rice and chicken I had been feeding her. Dana wanted to know if our trip had perked her up enough to go back this coming weekend, but I had to tell her that no, it was time.
Labor day proceeded with me not attending cookouts, nor sitting with my buds drinking beer and doing whatever it is people do in groups on Labor day. Instead, I worked that morning and some of the afternoon, then spent the rest of my evening on the floor in my now accustomed place with Patches stretched out at my side. Dana had managed to find a kind soul at work who covered the holiday shift so we could spend the evening at home together with our First Dog. Together we sat or laid in the floor with Patches until 2 am when I finally had to call it a night. I gently scooped up The World’s Best Dog In The World and carried her into the bedroom. For one last night, she slept between us.
Early on, she learned a sneaky trick. She’d hop in the bed and sleep at my feet, but she didn’t really sleep. No, she waited. Then she would inch herself up between us, just a few inches at a time, sometimes taking up to an hour to get to the right place. She had the patience of a military sniper, crawling through no-man’s-land until she reached that perfect spot. Once she got to where she could get the best leverage, she’d put her back against mine, and her feet against Dana, and push with all her might until she had created a Patches sized valley between us where she would sigh deeply, lay her head on me and finally fall to sleep for the night.
So Monday night, we put her in her spot, right between us, and we slept like we did before. And sure enough, as weak as she was, she rolled over and pressed her back against mine and spread out her legs. She may have lacked the strength of youth, but she gave it her best effort and snuggled between us with a deep, happy sigh.
This morning, I didn’t want to wake. I wanted the night to go on forever, unstopping because I knew what had to be done today. Reluctantly, I crawled from bed, used the bathroom, let the other dogs out. I started a pot of coffee. I looked at a magazine. I crawled back into bed to rub on Patches some more. Anything to avoid the harsh reality ahead. But finally, I made The Call to our trusted vet who promised to come all the way out to our house in the sticks to send Patches over the bridge. We spent a very special morning, petting her, kissing her and stuffing her full of all her favorite treats, whether they were safe treats or not. She got two small steaks, which we cut into bits and fed her by hand. She got her chicken and rice, which I’m positive she preferred over her kibble and veggies anyway. She got M&Ms and a bit of a chocolate bar I brought back from Europe on one of my recent trips overseas. She got crunchy bacon, cooked just for her. She ate a LOT of ice cubes… it wasn’t drinking, ice cubes were a treat! And most importantly, she got a cupcake. Her very own cupcake, which she wolfed down almost whole. You see, it’s just into September. Her birthday was in August and with everything going on, I had missed it. So today, her very last treat was her 12th Birthday Cake which she ate as I sang Happy Birthday to her.
When the vet called to let us know they were about 30 minutes out, we packed up the how and moved outside to the shaded space between the trees in our back yard that Patches would always retreat to on hot days. We spread out her comforter so we could all lay on it and we all sat there, as a family, sobbing, sniffling, crying, laughing and smiling as we remembered the good times and all the love that Patches had given over the years. We all were there, Dana and I, Patches, Jazz and Faith.
As the vet arrived and began setting up her equipment, I blubbered out the last few things I wanted Patches to know. I told her how she was the first dog that was 100% mine. How grateful I was that she chose me that day 12 years ago when I went to look at a litter of Border Collie pups. I told her how proud I was of her, and how brave she was. I told her how much I loved her and how I would carry her in my arms to the bitter end… I told her to tell Jack that we miss him, and that she should wait with him on their side of the bridge. And as the Vet administered the shot, I kissed her on her forehead, and whispered into her ear as she breathed easy at last, “That’ll do, Patches. That’ll do.”