Dear Finley,

     It would be comical if it weren’t so pathetic to coax you down the stairs.  Bribing, cajoling, and shoving seem to do nothing to assuage your new fear of the stairs.  You pant, you drool, you pace, and you circle; I’m fairly certain you’re having panic attacks.  I don’t know if treating what I assume is your arthritis pain would less your psychological terror, or if treating your anxiety would let you press on through any physical pain.  Your decline in the last 2 years has been what I’ve been fearing for half your 13+ years.  I don’t want to have to make a decision to put you down now, simply because of a flight of stairs.  Though I’ve been mourning your anticipated decline and passing for some time, I’m not prepared to face it right now.  Finley, I’m pregnant and don’t have the emotional resources for your death now.  I want you to meet the babies, much as I’m sure you will fear their unpredictable movements.  I bet  you will love their myriad baby smells and then you’ll become as attached — and aloof — as you are to us. 

     It’s true you’ve become more needy as you’ve become Old.  You’ve started whining more, being more difficult.  Walking you is annoying because you walk so slowly, and have to smell everything along the way.  You guzzle water obsessively like you’re preparing for a trek across the Sahara.  You make new old-dog noises.  Still, I can catch glimmers of your younger self as you inexplicably start tearing down the back alley on the futile hunt for cats.  I can remember plodding slowly with you down the road only to see you get so excited as you realize we were getting near Daddy’s old office.  And your daddy. 

     I’ve felt neglectful since we moved to our house, because your walks are so much shorter, and the dog park outings are no more.  Since we brought Molly home, you get even less attnetion, and she is clearly the squeaky wheel, and, honestly, she’s now the more fun and engaging dog.  I tell myself we can’t let you off-leash anymore anyway, since your hearing is fading and you don’t respond to “come” the way you used to.  With Molly, you don’t go on car rides, trips, or hikes in the woods anymore either.  She’s made you less portable, and she herself is somehow less portable at half your weight.  Two dogs don’t go places one did. 

     I remember running in the backyard of our rented houses with you, rolling in the overgrown grass with you, wrestling rags and chew dogs away from you.  I remember your favorite toy, the Ty Beanie bull I refused to let Molly have, even though you lost interest in it when she arrived.  You burst the seam, tore the squeaker out, and thrust the toy in my lap, as if pleading, “Mommy, fix it, please.”  And I did.  I fixed your toys.  I made you dog beds and dog bed slipcovers.  I let you pull me around the room like a husky tugging an office-chair sled on wheels.  I sewed bandanas for you, and you never tried to pull them — or eat them — off, like Molly does.  Remember when you were so strong and impulsive we walked you on a choke collar?  Remember how many times your father and I thrust our fingers in your mouth to pull out yet another discarded KFC chicken bone you’d picked up off the sidewalk? 

     Finley, I’m writing your eulogy as you lay on the dining room floor, breathing peacefully, very much alive.  Yet I’m mourning you more intensely now than I ever have before.  I hope we can take you to the vet and they can give you some medication to take away the pain or the fear.  We don’t euthanize old, arthritic people when they can’t go up and down stairs any more.  We install stair lifts, and put Craftmatic beds in the dining room.  We give them walkers with tennis balls on the legs. 

     I wish a tennis ball would make it all better, Finley.  I love you, and I’m sorry you’re scared.  I’m scared, too.