By Carol Banner
Ruth Marshall Benton slowly stroked Galahad’s huge head resting in her lap. Sedated his eyes were half-closed and he lay there content, unknowing.
His body took up the whole rest of the leather couch in the small white room. She had tried to prepare for this moment. But it was hard and she struggled against the tears pushing up inside her from the tightness in her chest. She had cried enough behind closed doors over the past year as her companion’s muzzle grayed, his gait slowed and he struggled to climb the stairs to their bedroom.
She remembered the night he ran to jump up on their bed and only made it half-way. He froze, confused that his hind feet were still on the floor. And Ruth had climbed back out of bed and tried to lift his sorrel rump up onto his blanket.
“It’s okay boy,” she said running a freckled hand over his body.
She wasn’t strong enough at first. He was nearly 90 pounds. But they had worked it out together one leg at a time. That was when she knew she was going to lose him and her pillow was wet that night.
Ruth had tried to prepare for this day. She wouldn’t leave him until it was over. He deserved that. The needle had been inserted. The bag was hung. It was her call now — when she was ready. She was willing her body to hold back the inevitable tears, not to let go. She needed to keep calm for Galahad. But she was almost shaking and he knew. He raised his head to comfort her and. for a brief second the light returned to his eyes as his pink tongue washed across her hand.
“It’s okay,” he was saying. “I’m here.”
”Good old dog,” she whispered. He had been a faithful friend, the reason she rose every morning. It was his persistent time-to-put-the-coffee-on-bark that made her swing her legs off the bed and push her sagging body upright. They had grown old together. She ran her hand down his padded ribs and clutched the soft white fur on his belly. The veins on the back of her hand stood out like ugly roots.
She pushed the call button. And her vet entered to administer phase two.
“This will painlessly put him to sleep so you can say goodbye,” she said. Ruth watched her turn the IV’s valve off and inject clear liquid into the small chamber before turning it back to open.
“He’ll be comfortable. Call me when you’re ready.”
“How long will he have after the final injection?” Ruth whispered.
“Less than a minute. It’s a powerful drug and quick. He won’t suffer.”
“Galahad . . . he’s big. Please. Give him a lot so he doesn’t feel anything.” She looked down unable to stop the tears any longer.
“I will. Are you all right?” Ruth nodded.
“He’s just a dog. A good old dog,” she said wiping her cheeks and attempting a smile.
“Take as long as you need. Call me when you’re ready.”
For the next 18 minutes Ruth loved her dog. She remembered every adventure they ever had together after finding each other at the local pound. He was already 35 in dog years back then. Now he was pushing 90 and she was close to that. He had filled her last alone years with unconditional love. Ruth was terrified of what her life was going be like without him. She petted him with her old hands willing them to remember the feel of his fur, every contour of his body and the rise and fall with each breath.
Finally when she had no more tears within her to mask the weight in the pit of her stomach, she pushed the call button. When the vet came in to administer phase three she said, “I want to be alone with him when he dies.”
“Of course, I understand.”
Ruth watched her inject the powerful drug that would stop Galahad’s heart into the IV. Finally she opened the valve and left closing the door behind her.
With one hand on Galahad’s chest Ruth watched death snake down through the tubing and into the needle taped to his leg. She felt his last breath.
Then quickly and calmly she reached up and closed off the valve. Peeling off the bandage on Galahad’s leg she gently pulled out the needle. Burying her face in his fur she uttered a single final command.
And in one fluid motion she opened the valve and drove the needle into the largest vein in her left hand.