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Is It Time?


Even though I wanted to prevent her from suffering even one single minute, I couldn’t. The last 20 hours or so were uncomfortable, really uncomfortable. But I have to believe Riva could see that I did the best I could. Would it have been more humane to put her down a week earlier, when I had made the first appointment? Probably. But as it is, I sometimes wonder if I should have brought her into the vet that morning, had the doctor check her. Maybe she’d be alive today! Those are the irrational thoughts that go along with the here-one-day-gone-the-next nature of death. I even worried that Riva would “wake up” in the vet’s office, scared, wondering where I was.

Everyone says your dog will tell you when it’s time. That you will know. That only makes sense in retrospect. You did it, so it was very much the right time. My ex didn’t send me a check for half the euthanasia or cremation, but he did call me to tell me he would be up to spread the ashes. When I told my husband, he responded, “Tell him no cash, no ash.”

I went back and forth about what to do. Finally, I opened the wooden box (a private cremation comes with a lovely cedar container) and we dished two heaping ladlesful of Riva into another baggie. As I did with my father’s ashes, I sifted through Riva’s remains, hoping for what, I’m not sure. Some feeling that it was her. But as with my father, it was gray bone fragment, and I could make no connection between it and the living being.

When I went to meet my ex with the ash and Riva’s collar, he asked me if I wanted to go with him. I felt like I needed an ending to my story, an ending, in many ways, to my relationship with my ex. We had kept in close contact because of Riva, but that would be over now. I then realized that the day he sat on the deck with me, drinking chardonnay, he was there not so much to say good-bye to Riva as to say good-bye to me.

We hiked up the hill behind the house we once shared. Since her death, he had gotten a dog paw tattooed on his forearm, and underneath, Riva’s name. I refrained from telling him, even in my usual passive-aggressive way, how ridiculous I found that. I saw that even though we both lost the same dog, we both had our own journey with it. When we reached the top, the valley unfolding into the lake, my ex opened the baggie and let the wind take the ash. It swirled around, scattering on the dirt below us. He then drove a metal cross into the ground with a mallet and wrapped Riva’s collar around it. We both sat there for a long time, looking out across the lake.

A woman with a dog came up the trail, and said, “Great spot, huh?” We allowed that it was.

“My husband proposed to me right there,” she called.

“Right where you’re sitting.”

She walked off with her dog, and I said, “Should we tell her?” We both laughed for a long time and then agreed it was time to head back down. When we reached my car, my ex gave me a check for half the vet bill without being asked. And then, finally, we said good-bye.



This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 77: Spring 2014

Suzanne Roberts is the author of Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail (winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award). She writes and teaches in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

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Submitted by Jacqueline Guerin | March 18 2014 |

Thank you to Editor in Chief Claudia Kawczynska of The Barkand Firend of the German Shepherd contributr Clarence Goodlein for sharing these moving End-of-life essays with our group. Thanks to Suzanne Roberts for writing it. J. Guerin

Submitted by CathyJo Buley | March 21 2014 |

I too am a member of Friends of the German Shepherd. Thank you so much Claudia Kawczynska for allowing this link to be posted in our forum. Thank you Clarence Goodlein for your efforts in bringing these articles to us. I'd also like to thank Riva's "Mom" for sharing her story with us. I know it was harder to tell that story than it was for us to read it. In my case it was a "two hankie" story because of the tearful memories it brought back. I have been at that crossroads myself many times. Riva will live on in the memories of hundreds that don't know you because you shared her story with us. May God comfort you in your loss.

Submitted by Sue Vilsack | March 22 2014 |

Being in rescue for many years, I always read these articles (and books) and have never come across one that is so perfect. Thank you Suzanne Roberts for writing this and thank you Bark for publishing it. It is beautiful... Riva Jones... you were so very loved... rest in peace beautiful girl!

Submitted by Jill foley | August 23 2014 |

Thank you for the painstakingly beautiful article. My golden retriever Trooper is12 suffering from cancer. He is still comfortable on medication, still wags his tail when I comes home, eats and drinks well, loves his apples for a treat... I'm not ready.... I may never be, but he will be. He is my first dog and first baby, I don't know how to know or how to cope but he will go out with dignity .... Thank you for the car advice, I will use it when it's time.... Thank you although I sit here and cry waiting for him to tell me, I know it me that's going to be strong enough to make the choice. It's not yet but it will be soon....love Jill and Trooper

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