The Friday before, after a day and night of being unable to rise, Sarah struggled up and made it out to the family room to be with them. She eased herself down on the rug spread for her there on the tile floor and morning sunshine streamed through the windows, warming her. Carly, their other yellow Lab, a boisterous two-year-old, walked over and lay quietly on the rug near the old dog.
Sarah had been seriously failing for over a week, with brief rallies that gave only false hopes. Her coat hung loose on her wasted body, and as the couple knelt before her, she raised her head and looked at them with those big dark eyes. Then she put her head back on her paws and moaned softly. She had come this far. The rest was up to them.
They parked beside the clinic in front of its covered holding pens, and Bill swung open the RAV's rear door so Sarah would be in the sun. Ann still sat beside her, stroking her, telling her how much she loved her. The smell of cattle blew across and he saw Harlan, their vet for over 13 years, working with some calves in the shaded pens.
They sat out of the wind in the back of the RAV and waited. Bill pulled a blanket up around Sarah and scratched behind her ears; she always liked that. "It's okay," he said. "It's okay."
Harlan was an old-time country vet, lean and somewhat gruff. He seemed partial to the big animals that made up most of his practice, but over the years, he and his staff somehow bonded with Sarah. She never took easily to people, yet she was always glad to see everybody at the clinic and looked forward to her treat at the end of each visit. Bill doubted they'd seen a more cheerful patient.
Finally, Harlan came out of the pens and walked slowly toward them. He had on jeans and a heavy barn coat against the cold. Bill moved away so Harlan could look Sarah over. His profession dealt with life and death more than most, but he was easy with her and murmured something to the old dog as he checked her eyes and felt along her body. After a few moments, he reached across and touched Ann's arm. "I'll go get the anesthetic," he said.
The rest of it took only a few minutes. They couldn't recall what Harlan said to them in his low, soothing voice, but they remembered his gentleness with Sarah and how peacefully she died. That meant a great deal. A dignified death was the last good thing they could give her.
Bill and Ann will always miss Sarah, but the cycle continues. It's morning again, and Carly has nudged Bill twice, wanting him to get up from his desk and go get her breakfast.
He does that, thinking next spring they would look for flowers in Sarah's field.
Barry Basden lives in the Texas hill country.
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