The long goodbye

We first met Champ about twelve years ago after responding to a Craigslist ad offering him up for free. His home was fairly far away, just south of Madison, WI. We bundled up all of the kids and drove there to check him out. At the time, he was about 18 months old, a beautiful young male purebred golden retriever. The owner left us to get acquainted with him in their fenced in yard; literally, left us and drove away on some errand or other, telling us that if we wanted him, we could just take him.

We couldn’t make up our minds and so we left him there and drove part of the way back home. Something crystallized as we drove home, however, and we made the decision to turn around, drive back to his house, and take him home to be with us. The kids were ecstatic.
It was one of the most important and beneficial decisions we’ve ever made.
Champ was everything we hoped for: a gentle, loving, and happy dog who’d be ideal for our little children to grow up with. He has always been eager to please, loves nothing better than to be petted (he’s known for coming up and nudging your hands repeatedly to force you to pet his head), and quickly became a dear part of our family. I’ve never known a dog like him, one to whom I’ve become so attached, and I’ve had dogs around me my whole life. Others routinely claim their dog is the best; I know this to be true of Champ, and there will never be another one like him.
Fast forward to today and our children are now mostly all grown up. Champ is gray around the face and quite literally on his last legs, poor thing. He is unable to get up on his own and finds any movement difficult. He is hard of hearing, his eyesight is poor, and he is often in physical pain. It’s time. Very soon, I will somehow need to figure out a way to carry him out to our van and take him to the vet to be put down, and we will need to say our final goodbyes.
About a year ago, as we were going to spend Christmas with family in northern Wisconsin, we boarded him at our vet for the last time. As usually happens, they took the opportunity to update him on various shots and ran tests. While we were gone, we received a phone call saying that he had tested positive for heartworm and they initially advised us to have him put to sleep. It really shook us all because it was so unexpected. Fortunately, upon our return from our trip, in consultation with the vet and after taking more tests, we decided to let things be and see how he got along in the next weeks and months. We weren’t sure how long he would last, but we knew that if he began to suffer, we would have him put to sleep immediately.
We’ve had about eleven more months of caring for him, loving him, coddling him as much as we know how. It’s been a long goodbye, and we will shed a lot of tears when Champ is gone. But I think he’s suffering now, and I don’t want that for him. It’s time.
Goodbye you big, red, beautiful creature. We love you.

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