Some months ago, I wrote a story for Modern Dog about my little dog, her early days, and her transition to old age. She survived illnesses and bounced back many times, amazing and mystifying me, and dazzling her little world with her resolve to stick around.

She was entering her 18th year on Earth and people found it extraordinary that this old girl was still here, in spite of a few “touch and go” situations.  But she endured, and every day when the sun rose, she did too.

Today, I look at her empty bed and think back over the last couple of weeks. People told me that I would know when her time was up, and I’m not sure I believed them. I mean it all seemed more complicated than that. She couldn’t tell me how she was feeling. She didn’t “complain” and I guessed a lot, perhaps occasionally reading her gestures and face correctly and, perhaps, occasionally not. There is a lot of guesswork involved when you have an old dog. I kept looking for signs that she was ready and I didn’t see them, until a few days ago.

She was looking confused and wanted to be held more than usual.  I pressed her close to me and whispered, “Kukla. If you want to go, it’s okay.” But eventually, she struggled to get down and walked into her bed, where she slept for the remainder of the day. There was no interest in her eyes when I mentioned the dog park, a place that seemed to give her joy and comfort. She did, after all, have “friends” there, and she could roam freely and smell the smells of old and new dogs. She could slowly walk around the perimeter, stopping to listen to sounds in the distance and sniff the weather odours that traveled in on the winds. On this day, the mention of her favourite place did not prompt her ears to lift up or her eyes to anticipate a good time. It was the first time my little dog wanted to sleep, only sleep, and be left alone. With her thoughts? Did she have any idea that, like the inner workings of a clock, her spring was winding down and would soon cease to run? Or did she only know the tiredness, the weariness, and resting was her instinctive non-action. I don’t know, having no idea what’s in the head of a dog, but I did know that none of this was her usual behaviour.

One night, she awakened and became quite confused. She had tremors and began walking into walls and furniture, and when I saw her face I was alarmed. The fear in her eyes was apparent, and when I picked her up she clung to me like an infant, and touched me intermittently as if to check that I was still there. I resolved to bring her to the veterinarian if she did not improve, but she characteristically looked better the next day, even though she slept more than usual.  By the third day, she was almost back to herself.

So this is how her last weeks unfolded, going from worse to better to just okay. It was impossible to ignore the changes, but more positive to rejoice in the good days. And as long as she still had the good days, I brought her to the park and for rides in the car. Her appetite waned so I bribed her with the foods she loved. And suddenly one day, she had no interest in eating. She had no interest in anything other than curling up in her bed and sleeping. Her walking was compromised and wobbly and I assessed her thinness and lethargy. “Bathroom” functions were diminished and the fear in her eyes had returned.

Anyone who has a pet knows that this final mercy is the ultimate gift, but such a daunting responsibility too. Is it time? Have I done everything possible? And, of course, the nagging regrets—the day I raised my voice because she urinated on the rug, the day I had to leave her alone for a longer time than usual…all of this flooded into my mind—and then, I stopped beating myself up. She had a good life. She lived a lot longer than I ever expected. And she was loved and cherished, a part of my family.

She will live in my heart forever. Such a little dog but such a large presence.