Bananas are Part of Dylan’s Morning Routine
I can’t see a banana without crying. This wasn’t always the case. I used to love them. I made sure we had plenty of ripe ones at all times. I’d even go to the store at night, if I noticed we had none for the morning. Sure, I enjoyed them on cereal, on yogurt, in smoothies. But the real appeal of bananas for me lay with Dylan, our Chocolate Labrador Retriever.
Touch a banana in the kitchen and Dylan would instantly appear at your feet, hyper aware, salivating, sitting obediently with military- like posture, eyes glued to you, the tip of his tail wagging in anticipation of his treat. This was our morning ritual. Every day I would share a banana with Dylan. We both loved it. We both looked forward to it.
I would give him exactly 4 slices, feeding them to him one at a time, intermittently spaced between slicing the rest of it into my cereal or whatever concoction I had that day. I fed them to him flat handed, the way you feed a horse, so as not to have my fingers bitten off. That’s how excited he was about his banana.
At the 4th slice, I’d hold it out and make eye contact saying, “last one”, and he knew exactly what I meant. He’d snap it up and then look at me hopefully, with that total optimism unique to dogs. I’d open both palms and show him my empty hands, whereupon he’d lick my hands, then his chops, and leave, being sure to check the floor for scraps on his way.
That was our coveted daily routine. One of his pet sitters once suggested to me that he had taught Dylan to love bananas. I just smiled. Let him think what he wanted. Dylan and I knew better.
As Dylan got older, his legs got weaker, but his banana fetish remained strong. Even when he could no longer make it up from his couch in the basement to join me in the kitchen, he knew when a banana was being peeled. And he wanted it.
So I started giving him room service. I’d save 4 slices and bring them to him on his couch amid wild wagging and salivating. Same ritual, different location, both of us still thoroughly enjoying it.
But it was a telltale sign of things to come.
Dogs Don’t Live Long Enough
For almost 13 years life was wonderful with Dylan. And then, late in his 12th year he contracted aspiration pneumonia three times. The final time proved too much for his body. He simply wore out.
At the end, he spent days on oxygen at the ER vet, being hydrated, and plied with different antibiotics – none of which, as it turned out, worked for him – before we brought him home.
Alas, my beautiful Chocolate Lab, whose fondest pastime was eating – even before chasing the ball and swimming – wouldn’t eat a thing for days. We tried wooing him with bananas, apples, and stinky dog treats, cooked him salmon, chicken, and steak. But nothing worked. He simply couldn’t do it. He’d sniff the latest offering and then turn his head to the side, resting his chin on a paw or a nearby cushion. It broke my heart.
But that’s how it is with dogs. They steal your heart utterly and completely through tiny, simple acts – the love of a banana, the dive for a ball, the excited wag when you come home. You learn to appreciate and live for each of these moments, and even though sometime in midlife they become routine, maybe a bit mundane, perhaps even a chore at times — they still make you smile. And you are lulled into a false sense of security that this relationship will last forever – that this dog will be with you always, that it’s a lifetime bond between you.
And then, one day, at the market, you glimpse the bananas neatly lined up and tiered in triplets in the produce section, and you burst into tears. Right there in Safeway you are reduced to mush. And you have to turn away, maybe even abandon your cart, leave the store, and go sit in your car to compose yourself. Because at that moment you realize you have lost the love of your life.
“We Have to Let Him Go Sometime”
We tried. God knows we tried. If love could save a life Dylan would surely be alive today. But when it got down to it he couldn’t make it. And he tried very hard – for our sakes. Especially for Robert, I think. Dylan knew I would let him go more easily. Having sat through death before with both parents and my favorite cat, I expected it. But even that didn’t make it any easier, just less surprising.
So when Dylan began to really, truly fail I found the courage to softly say, “we have to let him go sometime.”
And Robert agreed almost immediately. No matter how hard it was, neither of us was willing to let our precious dog suffer.
The next morning, after Robert had taken Dylan outside two or three times the night before, carrying him to “find his spot”, while diarrhea streamed down his shirt and pants, we decided. We knew that, loud and clear, Dylan was asking to be released, let go. He was asking us to do what he knew we were capable of doing – lay him to rest.
His body was depleted. He hadn’t eaten or drank in days, he’d stopped wagging almost completely, and he’d started dragging himself into the laundry room to hide out, turning his beautiful face away when I went to kiss him.
That morning Robert suggested tomorrow could be the day. But an hour later we knew it would be today, maybe this evening after his Reiki massage and acupuncture.
And then we decided on 2:30 PM.
We Make “The Call”
Robert gets credit for making the call – what a brave and selfless thing to do. I doubt I could have done it. I even craved consensus from his masseuse Jennifer Streit and acupuncturist Dr. Richard Panzer, both of whom agreed that it was best to help him go before he felt real pain or, at least in my mind, any more shame or humiliation.
When the doctor arrived Dylan had moved from the couch to the big, puffy dog bed after finally getting the message across to us. “Out?” we asked, and he’d hunker down on the couch refusing to be moved. But he kept glancing around until I finally asked, “want to get into your bed?”
Then he got there almost airborne, making the short distance from the couch to the bed on the floor, with our help. Lame dog flying.
I had to straighten out his wrist after he landed, but his eyes closed and he dug right in, relaxed, and fell deeply asleep almost immediately.
Awhile later Dr. Sarah Render Hopkins from Compassion 4 Paws arrived and his tail wagged for the first time in days as he looked up at her. Not just a twitchy wag, a full on happy to see you, glad you’re here wag.
It brought me to tears.
Then he closed his eyes and I buried my face in his neck, just behind his velvet ears, and took long nose hits, committing him to memory.
She sedated him and his relaxation deepened, and my heart sang as he melted further into his cushy bed, finally at ease after days of agitation. Then, after a small fiasco to find a good vein – hard to do after all his IV’s, poor guy – she gave the lethal injection and he was gone.
And for me, at that moment, the magic left the room. Things were duller as the bright light that was Dylan was extinguished.
I will, of course, carry on and love other pets, even other dogs.
But this one, this special one, will always tether my heart. He’s the one that caused me to finally stop eating bananas after binging on them in his honor, tears streaming down my face. I created an altar to him with a tennis ball, a “wet dog” candle, a picture of him, and a banana. I now see sunsets as signs from him that he’s doing well — running, swimming, happy. I bought red roses because once I see that their color is called “freedom” I can’t do otherwise.
This is a clear sign that he is free at last from his worn out, used up old body. That once again he runs strong and glad. And I know in my heart that that’s the gift we gave him when we summoned all our courage and called the vet that sad, sad October day.
Life will never be the same. But it will always be better for having had Dylan in my arms and in my heart.