Your last breath: Saying farewell to our darling dog

Virginia Muzik
6 min readAug 25, 2020


Our magnificent boy, Jett, in his prime.

I couldn’t sit with you as the vet prepared to insert the catheter that would deliver you some ‘green dream’. Deliver you from all evils that your poor old body had doled out for six months.

I just couldn’t be close in case I fixated on the needle going in, then replayed that image over and over in my mind for weeks after… So, I sat at the other side of our deck, while my partner and our friend sat with you, so you could see them.

“Good boy,” I called out, so you could at least hear my voice, after I asked everyone with you: “How’s he going?”

The vet replied: “He’s okay. I’m just having trouble finding a vein…”

But he did. And when you were ready (Lord knows I’d never be!), I came to kneel by your beautiful face, looking into your eyes as I gently stroked your head. That noble knob on the top of your head had become more prominent under my hand in recent years; the normal muscle-wasting of an old dog.

You were over it, darling Jett, I knew that. But still so patient and dignified.

I had so much still left to say, yet I’d said it all many times over the last 13 — nearly 14 — years. Preparing for this moment…

“Sleepy bye-byes, darling.”

“Goodnight, my sweet prince.”

Handsome chap, a few months before we had to say goodbye.

What I hadn’t rehearsed was the precious moment before the vet and vet nurse arrived. Our friend and I sat with you while my partner was inside briefly. I knelt down, gazing softly into your eyes, thanking you over and over for being such a good boy. Such a brave, determined, stoic boy.

“You’re my hero,” I whispered, as I’d told you for weeks leading up to this day. By coincidence (or in response?) you gently blinked your eyes, not quite meeting my gaze. I’m going to believe you were letting me know you understood and acknowledged my words, in that special moment.

Then the vet asked: “Do you need any more time?”

And there was nothing I could do to keep you here longer. Those six long months since diagnosis, watching you steadily lose use of your hind legs as the degenerative paralysis disease dissolved nerve fibres along your spine. Those sleepless nights, giving you water and keeping you cool through the summer; cleaning up your ‘accidents’ when you’d reacted to a new painkiller…

Our new family routine, where my partner would lift you at the hips and ‘wheelbarrow-walk’ you down the ramp he’d built so you could ‘do toilets’ in the backyard, and go for a sniff on our evening walk, while Roxie, our other dog moved freely around.

That last night, when you slid off your bed — as you’d often do — and I took your spot to lay with you all night, holding you; stroking you; giving you water; whispering to you; watching you watch me; watching you sleep, listening to your crackly breathing…

All of it we’d do again in a heartbeat. And all of it had brought us to now, where the only way out was through…

Were you looking forward to being released, sweetheart?

I also had to release; to surrender; to let you go. I had to make those 13.9 years of cuddles, kisses, head butts, dog fights, silent farts, wilful looks, impatient groans, slobber chops, bed shares and black hairs enough.

I wished you’d acknowledge me, look at me once more, but you were ready. To go…

My partner and our friend answered the vet: “No.” And so did I. “No. I’ve said all I can to him so many times.”

A few moments passed. Then the vet said, “Okay, I’m starting to inject…”

I kept my eyes focused on yours.

As our friend held a hand on your heart, my partner said quietly, “See you, buddy,” and I whispered one last time, close to your ear, still stroking your head: “You’re my hero… sleepy bye byes… Thank you for everything. I love you… He’ll be waiting for you.”

My brother, who had died four years before, was one of your favourite people. I wanted to think he’d be there to welcome you wherever you were going…

A few seconds passed. Then you were gone.

So fast. Gone. So fast!

The vet stethoscoped your chest, and gently flicked one of your eyes with his fingers before announcing: “He’s passed away.”

Your eyes half open, your tongue slipped out. Drained of colour, except for a veil-like tinge of grey that seemed to come over you. You had semi-pooped too, as the vet said might happen. Involuntary wees and poos as the body… lets… go… Using toilet paper, I tried to push it back in, but it wouldn’t budge — so I let it go.

I heard a soft, exhausted groan too, as you left us. Your last breath, carrying your last sound. When I asked my partner and our friend later if they’d heard it, they said they hadn’t. This being my first time seeing a pet put to sleep, my heart ached and fretted, thinking the sound meant your last moments were in pain. I wondered if it hurt to feel the fluorescent green liquid move through your veins.

No. ‘Agonal breathing’, it’s called. I looked it up, afterwards: ‘Dog groan during euthanasia’ I searched. I learned that humans do it, too. And that agonal means ‘of agony’. But no … I asked another vet later and she said it’s not a pain response. More the body just … letting go.

Not long after you slipped away, a Jetstar airplane took off over our yard, as if it was taking you, our Jett Star, off on your next adventure. How fitting, given you loved chasing planes as they landed at the airport near where we’d walk…

We kept you with us for a few hours and I bathed your feet, belly, chest and face. That beautiful face. I clipped some of your hair and nails, so I can still smell you. Sniff that sleek black coat, flecked with not much grey, which used to smell of baby powder, but hadn’t for many months. It was still your smell, though. Still YOU.

Our friend sat with me on the deck as I washed you and we each took photos of you. After … In eternal repose. Is that okay?

Jett and Roxie served as therapy dogs, bringing joy and laughter to people in aged care.

Roxie approached you only once afterwards — I had to invite her, reassure her a few times. She knew something wasn’t right for weeks. She’d been sharing your bed whether you’d liked it or not — watching over you. But not today. She was unsettled and stayed in the house as we farewelled you, outside. She hesitantly sniffed your body a bit once you’d gone, then marched straight back inside.

Then, around 4pm on that Monday in May, our friend and my partner bundled you into the back of my car so we could take you to the vet; lifting the bed with you on it, the purple blanket still covering you. I drove, with my partner next to me, you and Roxie in the back, delivering your body so the vet could arrange your cremation. I had one last slow stroke of your beautiful frame, one more nuzzle and deep inhale into that mane on your neck, before the vet nurses gently lifted you onto the gurney and respectfully whisked you away.

By Friday, you were back with us, in your stylish charcoal-coloured metal urn, with paw prints stamped on it and your name on a plaque. You’re sitting across from my brother’s ashes for now, as there’s no space to sit you side by side.

It’s nearly September. Four months on.

Your food bowl still sits next to Roxie’s. And I still haven’t washed that blanket.