"Would you like to spend some time alone with him?"
"Yes," I said.
The vet looked down at Ramble the Dog. He shook his head from side to side.
I caught my breath. I realized I had committed myself to something irrevocable.
Ramble was spread out on the floor of the doctor's office on his chest. He was an ancient golden retriever who weighed 86 pounds at the top of his game. But time and cancer had brought him down. Now he was too weak. He couldn't even lift his chin up from the rug on which we had borne him into the examining room.
"How will you do it?" I asked.
"He won't be hurt at all. We'll put the needle in his left front leg. He will nod off to sleep. It will be like getting an anesthetic. But he won't wake up."
Ramble came to live with Christina the Lawyer and me three years ago. From the first day, he took over the house.
I had never had a dog before in my life. Never wanted one. But Ramble taught me quickly how important a dog can become to you.
He had the run of the house and the yard and the neighborhood.
He followed Christina the Lawyer and me around. He sat right in the middle of the kitchen while Christina prepared dinner. He sat right in the way in front of the television set. At night, he slept at the foot of the bed or, sometimes, on one side.
If we went out, he plopped in the front hallway, waiting for us to return.
"Do you want a bone, Ramble?" I'd ask.
Ramble would leap to his feet. His tail would start wagging. His mouth would open. He was already moving to the spot where he knew the bones were stored.
Ramble had been a Seeing Eye dog for years. Then he got tired of the business. He wanted to retire. So he came to live with us.
Maybe he figured the lifestyle would be easy with us. Perhaps he figured Christina the Lawyer for a soft touch. He was right.
He was already better than 8 years old when we got him, and we knew the years he had left were twilight years for a dog Ramble's size.
We made no great demands upon him. He didn't have to learn new tricks. He didn't demand much from us, either.
If we didn't take him for a walk when he wanted, he simply set out by himself. He came back when he was through. He always bounced with excitement on all four legs when he saw us again. It seemed as if he knew he had done something wrong and wanted us to like him again.
We never scolded him about anything. We just gave him another bone and a hug, no matter what.
Ramble was easy to be around. He took an immediate liking to anyone who entered the house. Christina the Lawyer told me he would be a great guard dog. As a guard dog, he was a bust. What he was was a great friend.
I don't know when Ramble's health started to fail. It just seemed that he needed to rest more and more. He grew terribly tired on his walks and he could barely make it back home. In the last week, it became impossible for him to climb the stairs to the upstairs bedroom.
Ramble and I went to the vet together almost every day during the last week. I realized it was near the end when the doctor told me that being in the hospital wouldn't help Ramble.
"He'll be more comfortable at home," the vet said.
Then it became impossible for him to get to his feet. His rear legs no longer worked right for him.
I would call for him to come and Ramble would just look up at me with his big, kind, sad eyes. It was almost as though he was apologizing. Maybe Ramble knew long before I did that the vets could do nothing for what ailed him.
We were alone in that room for maybe five minutes at the end. I rubbed his head and talked to him. I rubbed his belly. I knew how much he liked that. I couldn't believe I was going to walk out and leave him.
For the last couple of days, he had lain on the floor next to the stereo speakers in the living room listening to Bach, Mozart and the soundtrack from Guys and Dolls.
Ramble loved either the music or the vibrations that came to him through the rugs. He liked it, too, when you ran a brush through his thick hair and straightened it out. I never did that enough.
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Finally, I heard the door open. The vet was back in the room.
"Do you want a Kleenex?" he asked.
I didn't want to look away from Ramble for that final time. I didn't want to turn and say goodbye.
I don't know how I finally did get out of the room.
I called Christina the Lawyer at work. I told her that Ramble was gone.
She started to cry on the other end of the phone. What was there for either of us to say? It hurt.
And I suppose in the days to come, we'll only remember the good times with Ramble. There were so many of them.