I was standing at the kitchen counter, cleaning the dishes after dinner, when I heard Presley yelp. I turned, saw his body splayed out on the laminate floor, and knew that something was seriously wrong with his back leg. Presley is an Australian Cattle Dog, athletic by nature, and when he couldn’t get up, I felt my heart sink. It was that feeling you get when you know that something horrible is happening and there is nothing that you can do to stop it. Add three little kids running around, contributing to the chaos, and I did what all parents do, I kept moving.
My husband picked Presley up and rushed him to the ER, because all injuries, even canine injuries, happen after hours. I flew through the kids’ bedtime routine: brushed teeth, read books, and tucked everyone into bed. I checked that my sister was settled in, watching the baby monitors to ensure that all was well at home. Then I hurried to join my husband at the pet hospital.
It was a long wait, three to four hours, but I didn’t mind the waiting. My husband and I are so rarely alone that it felt like a reprieve, a very sad but unifying reprieve. The nurses took Presley back so that the doctor could evaluate him, and they left us in a private room, waiting for news that would eventually break our hearts.
As we stood there, I started pulling up pictures of Presley on my phone. In most of the recent photos, Presley is in the background, my children playing around him. There he is in the backyard, sunbathing while my daughter practices walking in her first pair of shoes. There he is in the kitchen, eating table scraps off of the floor while my boys have a dance party in the foreground.
I scroll back a tad further, before my kids took over my phone and my life, and I see the sweetest tricolored puppy, smiling and running, the center of my world. I have almost as many pictures of Presley as I do of my children. What surprised me the most was how many of the photos also include my husband and me, a trio of best friends, so happy and carefree. We looked young, really young. There were no bags under our eyes, because we were sleeping through the night. We were thin from all of the time spent exercising, and we looked absolutely in love.
How did I so easily forget what life looked like before kids? Why did I take so many pictures of us with our dog? Were we really this joyful and content? I think that we were. I remember that we were. How glad I am for these photos, memories of a time not that long ago but that seems like forever in the past.
There we were, huddled together after a long hike in the park, cuddled up on the couch watching a movie, living life together in our small apartment, an adorable dog right by our side. My home was clean and decluttered, quite the contrast from my current home which is constantly messy and covered in toys. I was dressed in real clothes, no spit up on my shirt, no Play-Doh stains on my sweatpants. My husband seemed relaxed, not stressed from balancing work and family life, and he had quite a bit more hair on his head.
As I scrolled through picture after picture, my heart started yearning to go back, for one more stroll together in the park, one more night snuggled up on that couch, with my new husband, my healthy dog, and my spotless floors. There was a calm in these photos, and for a moment I could feel myself there again, young and unencumbered, with endless time on my hands. It was back when I was truly head over heels for my husband and to the moon in love with my precious puppy.
Oh how I miss those days today.
Presley has been with us for nearly ten years now. We adopted him right after our first anniversary, when we wanted to share our home with someone else but weren’t yet ready for kids. We chose him from a local rescue website where he was smiling at us, goofy-grinned and slightly manic, covered in brown freckles and begging to be loved. Presley was our first baby, before we had human babies, and he has been with us through all of the big milestones of the last decade.
I’ve had three babies and bought two houses since he arrived. I’ve changed jobs numerous times and said goodbye to grandparents. Time has continued to move around me, but I’ve been so focussed on keeping my tiny humans alive that I missed seeing that my dog was getting older, that he was sick.
The vet says that bone cancer caused his leg to break. He will not heal, though we’ve given it time, more time than perhaps we should have. We’ve scheduled a date to say goodbye, and we are heartbroken. Presley appeared healthy a month ago, and now he is ready to leave. I am not ready to let him go.
I feel like I am saying goodbye to one of my best friends, one of the last parts of my childhood. It was the time before kids, when I could still be a kid. I am saying goodbye to the couple in the pictures, the girl with the boy attached to her side, the kids with all the time in the world and the happiest companion along for the ride.
My children want to throw Presley a party, so that is what we will do this weekend. We will bake a cake, which my five-year-old plans to ice on his own, hang streamers, and sing songs of thankfulness over our beloved dog. The boys want to build a stairway to Heaven for him, to watch him walk into Jesus’ arms. It takes all of my effort to calmly explain that he will leave us from the vet’s office, not at the end of the party. I am not sure what happens to dogs when they die, but I say a prayer for Presley, because I know that God hears prayers. Then I snuggle him close and whisper that he is the best dog in the world.
As I’m writing these words, I know that my puppy will have passed by the time that they are read. Tears stream quickly down my face and land on my hands, there are too many to wipe away. I hope that somehow these words will bring healing to my sorrowful heart, to my young and grieving family. There is a special place in families for dogs, dogs like Presley, dogs who become incredibly loved and who share an abundant love in return.
I look at the pictures of Presley once again: sitting next to me in the car on the first day we brought him home, licking my husband’s face in the middle of a snowstorm, playing with my children under the swing set that their father built. How thankful I am for these memories, grateful that the moments are captured on camera, snapshots of sunny days with my sweet Presley.
Oh how I miss those days today.