It was 4:30 when we loaded our terrier, Buttons, into the car. A cold misty rain fell, accentuating our dismal mood. My oldest, Rachel, clung to Buttons in the front seat while Michelle and Stephanie sat soberly in the back. During the forty-five minute drive, the winter sky darkened and the rain poured. A feverish Buttons twisted and turned in Rachel's lap, periodically nestling his nose into her neck. Adjusting his blanket like a mother tending her sick child, Rachel quietly wept, her tears falling onto Button's tousled head. Staring straight ahead, I suppressed a sob.
A melancholy foursome walked through the vet's door. I approached the counter and told the receptionist that we had a sick pup requiring immediate attention. The nurse escorted us right back to an examining room. When the doctor came in, Rachel placed Buttons on the table as we all gathered around to observe. She stroked Button's stomach, while Stephanie patted his head. Michelle stood aloof. I watched, my thoughts scrambling for order and direction.
The vet felt all around Button's small bloated body, starting at his head and working down to his tail. His temperature was 103 degrees. After the customary tacit period of the exam, the vet took a deep breath and spoke.
"Buttons may be suffering from some type of intestinal blockage or tumor. We would have to perform more tests to determine exactly what the problem is. Most likely surgery would be necessary."
I asked more questions to clarify the data, wanting to make sure we understood before making a determination. In the intense pressure of the moment, I knew I bore the brunt of any decision. I also knew the girls were relying on me to do the right thing for Buttons. Looking around the room, I studied each girl's face in hopes of finding an answer.
"Could we have a few minutes alone to talk about this?" I asked the vet.
"Sure. Take as long as you need," he responded, lowering his head and turning to leave.
As the door closed, the girls and I stared at Buttons, then at one another. Rachel and Stephanie continued to stroke Buttons. Michelle hung back. I wondered what she was thinking and feeling.
"Well," I stammered. "We need to decide what is best for Buttons now." I started to cry, which made Rachel and Stephanie cry more, while Michelle stood in her corner observing the scene. "Buttons is in pain," I labored on. "He's thirteen-years-old, has congestive heart failure, and now a new condition on top of that. I think his physical problems are just going to get worse. Even if we treat this one, it's only a matter of time before another ailment crops up. We love him as our pet, but we need to use our best judgment." Michelle spoke up from her corner.
"I don't want Buttons to suffer any procedures. He wouldn't like that. He's been through enough."
I glanced at Rachel and Stephanie for confirmation. They remained silent and continued to stroke Buttons. I could tell from their demeanors that they knew Michelle was right. They just couldn't verbalize it.
"Well, then," I blurted, beginning to shake with emotion, clutching my sides in hopes of gaining composure. "We'll let Buttons go."
Summoning the nurse from the next room, I told her we were ready for the doctor. After a minute, he cautiously opened the door. With downcast face, he approached the table.
"We've decided to let Buttons go." The words spilled from my mouth like water from a faucet.
The vet laid his strong, gentle hand on Button's side. Our dog that normally would have scrambled to exit the room, lay still, his anxious brown eyes like wide deep pools, searching ours.
"I understand," the vet sympathized. Noticing our tears, he added, "I'll give you a few more minutes with him." Fully aware that the decision we had made was final, we sobbed, gasping for air with every breath, each in her private world of pain, yet united.
We gathered around Buttons talking to him as if he understood the import of the moment. I lowered my head, closing my eyes in silent prayer. At last, we called the doctor in. He filled the fatal syringe as Stephanie stood crouched holding Button's head, sobbing and kissing him and speaking to him with gentle reassurance. Rachel and I held each other while Michelle stood against the wall, still observing without emotion. Struggling, I released each girl to experience the hurt in her own way. I was thankful that my teen girls were mature, able to understand the decision and work through the pain.
Right before the injection, the vet again laid his hand on Buttons and asked if he could say a prayer for us and our dog. Having never received such a request from a vet before, I was surprised, but comforted by his caring gesture. I heartily agreed.
"Dear Lord," he began, "please be close to this hurting family and their beloved pet, Buttons. Comfort them in Your name. Amen."
I inwardly mused. How like our precious Father to put a praying vet into our lives at just the right moment when we needed a touch from His hand. God was reassuring us that He who made all living things, who notices when a tiny sparrow falls, also cared for our Buttons.
We drove home in silence. Rain was still falling, but it couldn't equal the torrent of tears we had shed. We arrived home with puffy, thick eyes and numb hearts. I called my husband at work, sharing the details with him. Weeping, he longed to be with us, hold us, and share in our grief. I realized through Button's death that my girls had learned a life lesson--letting go of someone you dearly love and trusting God to take care of the pain. We would have precious memories of Buttons to cherish through the years and God's comfort to hold onto through the tears.
Eileen Rife, author of Second Chance, speaks to women’s groups. Her three daughters are now grown with families of their own. One of her chief joys is playing with her six grandchildren who provided the inspiration for her upcoming gift book, Wit & Wisdom from the Wee Ones. www.eileenrife.com, www.eileen-rife.blogspot.com