We knew, given his age, that it would only be a matter of time before my girlfriend's beloved companion passed away. That knowledge, however, did not make the shock and sadness any less horrible when it finally happened last Friday.
Genghis died quickly and, we hope, painlessly. Friday morning when I went to work he appeared normal and active, and Friday afternoon when Michelle came home from work his lifeless body was lying in the dining room next to his food bowl. Nothing about Genghis - his behavior, his activity, his appetite - had changed in the days leading up to his death, which makes me think that it was most likely his old heart that simply gave out. While dogs really don't have heart attacks the way we understand them - clogged arteries are a uniquely human trait - other types of heart conditions were listed as the most common cause of sudden death in canines in at least one study I came across, and Genghis had been diagnosed with a heart murmur last summer. Obviously we'll never know for sure.
Besides, Genghis was old. He was just three days shy of his 16th birthday - a remarkable age for a dog of his size and breed mix. Other than the aforementioned heart murmur, which really didn't seem to bother him, and some arthritis that Michelle sought treatment for last fall, Genghis had no major health problems in spite of his advanced age.
And that's the blessing, if there is one to be found, in his death: Genghis did not experience any prolonged suffering. Michelle did not have to make any agonizing decisions about taking him to the vet to be put down. He went quickly and quietly, on his own. Not all pets, or their owners, are that fortunate when the end comes. Like I told Michelle: Genghis lived well, and he died well.
None of this is to say that Michelle is anything other than devastated by Genghis’s passing. While her family has had several dogs, Genghis was the first pet that was truly her own; she got him when she was 23 years old and he has been a part of her life ever since. It's difficult for her to imagine life without Genghis. She will get another dog, but she says she will never be able to replace Genghis.