Emma was a member of our family. And if you have ever experienced that moment with someone when you realize saying "goodbye" means forever and never again at the same time, then you know how this feels. Gentle, unselfish, loyal, trustworthy, perpetually happy, unconditionally loving, Emma embodied all the qualities we would love to see in people, but know we could only find in a dog. In a great dog like Emma.
Her silver muzzle distinguished her as a respected tribal elder. Our extended family often gets together at the cabin, and the numerous canine family members enjoy the tradition as much as anyone. Almost too wise to engage in the antics required to become leader of the pack, Emma was content in her role as tribe elder. She would be calmly and politely playing with the kids while the other dogs were tearing around with crazed looks in their eyes, either wagging wet tails at people and dropping slimy sticks in their laps, or barking incessantly at rocks they had brought up from the bottom of the lake. Sure, Emma would go for a swim and fetch a stick, but only when it was her turn ... she had nothing to prove, not to mention she didn't suffer from any of the neuroses that the rest of our dogs seem to have, like rock-barking or stick-retrieving addiction.
When I got the call that Emma wasn't herself, and that my sister-in-law had a feeling it might be serious, I knew she would be right. Emma was the type of dog that would do everything in her power to act like she was fine, but she just couldn't pretend this time. One time I saw her because a toenail had grown abnormally. It curled around, puncturing and growing deep into her foot pad, and all the time that was happening, she barely so much as let herself show a limp. It just wasn't in her nature to want any sympathy, so when I heard she was losing weight, not breathing very well, didn't have any energy, and had been having some discharge from her backside, I wanted to check her out right away.
All suspicions were confirmed with x-rays: she had pyometra, a life-threatening infection of the uterus, as well as some radiographic abnormalities consistent with cancer. She was suffering from two serious ailments at the same time, and a difficult decision had to be made about whether to put her through the surgery necessary to cure the pyometra, if the complications associated with age or underlying cancer would be too much to ask her to cope with post-operatively, or if putting her to sleep would be in her best interest. Emma's family - my sister-in-law, her husband, and my two nieces, thought hard about what to do overnight.
They made one final trip to the pet store for the Christmas-rawhide that would have been waiting under the tree for Emma on Christmas morning, and gave it to her early. They brought Emma on one final trip to the cabin on their way to the veterinary clinic. And they gave her one final gift: the relief of her suffering. As she drifted away while her family petted her for the last time, her candy cane rawhide by her side, she left no doubt in my mind how much she was loved, and how special our animal family members are to all of us. Goodbye, Emma.