We spent the morning on the beach, Dusty and I. These last few days, this usually aloof and independent mischief-maker leaned into me. She sat on the sand, her body pressed against my leg, then allowing me to hold her longer than usual in my arms before she’d squirm and wriggle away. Aaron took her to their favorite breakfast take-out spot and ordered the egg-and-bacon burger she had lusted after but never eaten before. Today, it was all hers. But something she would have swallowed in one breath not so long ago, she looked at, nibbled, and let drop. Only strands of bacon tempted her and then, a chocolate chip cookie. No hesitation there.

Our usual vet was on vacation so we took Dusty to another animal hospital, where they were extremely kind. We waited a little outside, which is when Aaron took the above photo. Dusty was shivering a little and panting, but much less agitated than she usually is near a vet. Inside she was given a sedative as I cradled her in my arms. She relaxed as I petted and held her to my face, her tongue suddenly lolling out as the muscles all sagged. There was no reluctance any more. She gave up her fiercely guarded independence to me, in the end, and it touched me so deeply. She was ornery and feisty and selfish usually – only rarely letting her guard down. But now it was fully down; and she let me take care of her one last time.

This was not like waiting for someone to die; it was a positive act to end a life – out of mercy and kindness, to be sure – but nonetheless a positive act to end a life so intensely dear to me for a decade and a half. That’s still sinking in. The power of it. But as we laid her on the table for the final injection, she appeared as serene as she has ever been. I crouched down to look in her cloudy eyes and talk to her, and suddenly, her little head jolted a little, and it was over.

I couldn’t leave her. But equally the sight of her inert and lifeless – for some reason the tongue hanging far out of her mouth disfigured her for me – was too much to bear. I kissed her and stroked her, buried my face in her shoulders, and Aaron wept over her. And then we walked home, hand in hand. As we reached the front door, we could hear Eddy howling inside.

I don’t know how to thank all of you for your emails over the last 24 hours – as well as the thread that helped me understand this whole thing better, as this loomed in the future. Her bed is still there; and the bowl; and the diapers – pointless now. I hung her collar up on the wall and looked out at the bay. The room is strange. She has been in it every day for fifteen and a half years, waiting for me.

Now, I wait, emptied, for her.