In the last four months we’ve had to make the difficult decision to help two of our beloved RAGOM dogs, Parker, then Angel, cross the bridge. It’s always agonizing making the final decision to help our pets cross the bridge and once our pets are gone, we are left with a cavernous void in our homes and our hearts.
We cherish memories of our dogs and wish for one more hand nudge, one more golden lean, or one more excited tail wag. We hope they’re still with us in spirit and sometimes we look for signs that show they’re still with us.
Parker passed in mid-October and on his last day with us, we bought a Happy Meal for him and took him to a place we fondly call Parker Park to have a picnic before we said good-bye. It’s one of our favorite local places with a beautiful scenic overlook where city and nature collide: the Big Rivers trailhead on the Big Rivers Regional Trail. From the overlook you see the vast Minnesota River Valley and wildlife refuge, and just north of the river valley sits the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport.
Immediately after Angel passed, we visited Parker Park because it gave us a sense of peace and closure knowing these two beloved dogs, who strangers always assumed were litter mates, were together again. As we approached the scenic overlook, I noticed one long stemmed yellow rose resting atop the snow on the decades-old stone ledge. Perhaps someone had also lost a loved one and this overlook was a favorite place. When I pointed out the rose to my husband, I said “Look! A golden rose.” It could have been one of many colors available for roses, but on this day, it just happened to be a golden rose, frozen and preserved for that moment in time. A sign? I took it as a sign of reassurance that the decision we had agonized over on this day, was the right decision for Angel.
It has been said that cardinals are visitors from heaven. This past Christmas, we visited family and friends in Phoenix. Late in the afternoon on the day after Christmas, we returned to our hotel room. I walked to the window to look at the pool and palm trees just beyond the towering bougainvillea in full bloom outside our window. Just to the left of the bougainvillea, almost camouflaged by bright red flowers, sat a male cardinal, perched atop the pool fence just 8’ from our patio door.
The Phoenix area is a small sliver of the cardinal’s overall U.S. territory. When I mentioned this sighting to a friend who has spent her life in Phoenix, she remarked that she had never seen a cardinal there. I’d like to think it was Parker, a day late in wishing us a Merry Christmas only because it took him a little extra time to find us because we weren’t in one of two of the usual places we spend Christmas in Minnesota.
The day before Angel passed, I looked at a photo of Parker and asked him to meet her at the bridge because she was stubborn and wouldn’t want to leave this life. He was a very good boy for 12.5 years so I knew I could count on him. As the vet administered Angel’s medicine, I told Angel to “look for Parker, go find Parker.”
When we arrived home, I looked out the window overlooking our backyard and saw a male cardinal sitting on a perch at the bird feeder, and I said “Hi Parker.” I smiled and turned away to pour a glass of water. When I turned around and faced the bird feeder again, the male was gone and a female cardinal had taken his place. Good boy, Parker. Good boy.
I know they found each other.
The most agonizing decision pet owners face is the decision to help their pets cross the bridge. I second guess myself every single time: is it too soon, did we wait too long, did we do the right thing? It is the single most important decision we can make for a pet’s quality of life. New pet owners ask “how do you know when”, and experienced pet owners reply with “you just know” or “your pet will tell you.”
You know your pet’s behavior better than anyone else, and your veterinarian knows their medical condition better than anyone else. Combining this knowledge can help guide you to the best decisions regarding your pet’s quality of life. Some of the things we think about: Do they still play with their favorite toys? Do they still come up to you for attention like they always have? Are they consistently laying differently on their dog beds? Looking back, the new, odd way Parker laid on his bed might have been a result of the discomfort he felt as a tumor grew in his abdomen. Has your dog stopped using their dog bed? Have your pet’s eating habits changed? Is the happy-go-lucky look in their eyes gone? Is their tail hanging down all the time?
Dogs have an incredible pain tolerance and want to please us at all costs, but there are signs. Look for the signs and trust your judgement, and trust the advice of your veterinarian.
A veterinarian once shared sage advice to help guide our decision making, and it is something we’ve kept in mind as we monitored Parker and Angel’s health: “Don’t make their last day, their worst day.” At the moment in time that we made the decision to help each of our dogs cross the bridge we second guessed ourselves, but looking back, we know we made the right decisions for Parker and Angel…and we continue to enjoy each cardinal that visits our yard.