Jon Katz's Going Home: Spend one, last, perfect day with your dying dog.

Pets and people.
Feb. 2 2013 8:30 AM

The Perfect Day

His dog was dying. But they could spend one last day together.

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Next they went to the town pond. Harry sat by the water's edge while Duke waded in, paddled around, swam back, shook himself off, then repeated the routine about a dozen times. Every few minutes Harry tossed the dog a liver treat. It practically rained the small and pungent treats. Once again, Duke looked as if he could hardly believe his good fortune.

They came back to the house and napped. After lunch, Harry took Duke to the vast state park outside of town.  He picked a flat, gentle trail, and the two of them walked a couple of miles. Eventually, they came to a stone abutment with a beautiful view. Harry walked over to the edge and sat down. Duke clambered out and curled up beside him. It was a gorgeous afternoon, and the wind ruffled the dog's hair. Duke held his nose up to the wind, picking up the scents of the earth.

God, I love this creature, Harry thought. I never feel this peaceful, this much at ease. It is something to remember, to honor.

They sat together for nearly an hour, enjoying a bond of complete understanding and affection. If only the world could stay like this, Harry thought, this simple, this good.

Harry knew that Duke was tired, so they took their time walking back, stopping frequently to rest. A few years earlier, Duke could have hiked all day, and sometimes they did that together. But not anymore.

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When they got home, Harry cooked Duke some prime sirloin, then chopped it up. The dog was beside himself, looking up at Harry as he ate, expecting the food to be taken away. That evening, Harry put one of his favorite Clint Eastwood movies into the DVD player and Duke hopped up onto the couch, put his head in Harry's lap, and went to sleep. When the movie was over, Harry carried the dog up the stairs and laid him down on his bed.

Several weeks after the Perfect Day, when Harry came home from work, Duke was not there by the door to greet him, and he knew he was gone. He went into the living room to find Duke dead. He knelt by his dog, closed his eyes, and said a prayer. Then he dug a deep hole in the backyard and buried Duke there, along with some bones, his collar, and some of his beloved red balls.

Of all the photos Harry took on the Perfect Day, the one he loved the best was of Duke sitting out on the stone ledge in the state park, taking in the sights and smells.

Now every morning before he goes to work, he flips open his cellphone and smiles at the picture of Duke, looking for all the world like a king surveying his territory.

Harry passed on the idea of the Perfect Day to friends and other dog owners struggling to come to terms with their own pets' failing health. Many have since shared with him the stories of their dog's Perfect Day. It makes him happy to think about Duke's legacy—all those Perfect Days for all those other great dogs leaving our world behind.