How do you decide when is the right time?

Right now, our labrador retriever, Princess, is barely breathing. She’s taking shallow breaths, her muzzle white with age. Her hips, stiffened with arthritis, make movement slow, painful, and limited. Her eyes are milky and as we carry her up and down stairs, out to the backyard, or out to her favourite grassy area at the cottage, she smells things more than she sees them.

She lives on a diet of senior food, and pain killers. She looks apologetically towards us after every in-house ‘accident.’

It is time.

While her registered purebred name is Lilac Rose (the choice of the breeder), she was called Princess when she came to us at age four. We quickly shorted it to “P!” and for our family, friends, and the kids in our neighbourhood, it’s remained “P!” For the caregivers (Jennifer the canine masseuse, and Julie the groomer) who have come to appreciate her, it’s been “P!”

We took her to see Dr Martin last week and asked if he thought she would tell us when it was time.

“It’s not likely that she’ll let you know,” he said, holding her paw. “Labs are such optimists. They never want to let you down, and so they cock their ears and wag their tails to the end.”

It’s true.

And as we look at her 15 years of living, 11 of them with us, we remember and laugh. Labs are water dogs, their DNA has them bringing everything to you and dropping it at your feet. They’re not hunters. They’re not herders. They’re not really watch dogs, either. They retrieve and present. And swim.

But “P!” had grown up in Churchill, ON, with no water in sight. So, the first time we tried to put her in the boat to take her to the cottage, she was terrified. Terrified of the dock, and no way she was getting into a boat. We actually had to put her in her cage and carry the cage to the boat to get her to the cottage.

It didn’t take long, though. If we went out rowing, she’d be swimming behind us. If we left her outside while we went to see friends, she’d ‘break into’ the cottage to get back inside. Labs are homebodies. Labs also need to be no more than four feet from their family at any given time. And they’re quick to love just about anyone as family.

“P!” is our first lab and we so enjoyed the whole concept of retrieve and present. I’d be getting dressed for work and unable to find a shoe, or stockings, or something and she would have ‘presented’ it at the front door.

Labs have no ‘fill’ line on their stomachs, either. We fed our former dog, Jenny, a couple of times a week and she’d eat as she chose, a bit here and there, a really full bowl lasting two or three days. We didn’t know any differently and so overflowed “P!”s bowl when we first got her. Two days worth at least. She ate it all. At Once. We expected that she would explode as the kibble increased in size in her stomach! Lesson learned. Diet control would matter!

She’s been a determined, stubborn, tenacious, loyal, adoring, welcoming, unconditional friend. She loves carrots; in fact, I think we could get her to do almost anything for a carrot. But tricks? Nope. No roll over, no shakeapaw. Those who are purebred enthusiasts (we’re just dog lovers) would gloat over her stance, her bearing, the thickness around her neck, the curve of her tail. We just saw a dog with a great attitude.

This week as we’ve prepared to say goodbye, we’ve had to draw on our own loving attitude to let her go. As some point, we’ve had to question whether it’s our selfishness to keep her and her generosity to refuse to tell us it’s time.

And, so, “P!” you join so many other loving, unconditional companions in the human memory banks of what it means to be loyal. Have you gone to a better place? No. You’ve been a better place!