Ten and a half is a good long life for a big dog like a golden retriever. The vet agrees that we’re doing the right thing. Hard as it will be, we have no doubts either. So I just made Leo’s last appointment.

Leo’s back left knee has been lame for nearly a year because of a partial cruciate ligament tear. We’ve had him on increasing doses of painkillers. They made him a little dopey, but he wasn’t a mental giant before, so we just worked around the occasional vagueness. He slept a lot but did remarkably well during the past six months. He’s been able to go for walks a couple of times a week and with the pain controlled, he’s been his old cheerful self.

Of course, the limp remained, and that put extra stress on the other back knee. Yesterday morning, he bounded outside as usual, and then stopped in the middle of the yard. I heard him give a great big BARK, and he just stood there looking at me, like: “I don’t know what just happened, but it’s nasty and I need help.”

I got him back inside, but he could hardly walk at all, and this morning the vet confirmed that right knee’s cruciate ligament has ruptured completely. Leo can’t put weight on either back leg. There are doggy wheelchairs, but his shoulders are arthritic, too. There are operations, but he’d have to put his weight on the left knee while the right healed, and that would undoubtedly rupture the partially torn ligament.

Rather than put him through all that, Don has made the decision and I’ve been crying a lot.

Funny. When it’s theoretical, I’m always the hard-ass. We knew Leo was getting close to the end, and discussed all this in advance. No veterinary insanity, I declared. No sentimental self-indulgent dithering for six expensive, painful months while the dog suffers and the people delay their inevitable decision. Better to face up to a pet owner’s responsibility. But when the time really comes, I’m a wreck and Don is strong.

Leo has been a big presence in our household. With a retriever’s drive to have something in his mouth, he always insisted on carrying my purse from the car to the back door — head held high, so he wouldn’t drag the bag on the ground, and because he was proud of his work. He got Don outside and they walked miles and miles together over the years. When our son Dan was a teenager, Leo would chase balls and happily roughhouse with a boy who has grown up in a culture that doesn’t  preserve many legitimate ways for young males test their strength. When I brought Annie the dachshund home, Leo accepted her with good grace (there’s a photo of them together at the bottom of the Biography page on this site.) Annie will simply sit by the back door when she needs to go out, or wait at the bottom of the stairs when she wants to go up. Leo would notice that and bark for her. He has been a thoughtfully messy eater, as well, allowing a few kibbles fall out of his mouth so she could scoot in under him and clean them up.

We will, unquestionably, get another big dog soon, but Leo is going to be a hard act to follow. We gave him a splendid last evening  — all his favorite treats, lots of affection. It’s been a great life for him, and it will be a peaceful end.

Thanks for letting me use this blog to distract myself. And now… It’s time for me to ask Leo one last time, “Hey, Leo! Wanna go for a ride?”

Bad “Godfather” joke comes to mind: “Leave the leash. Take the cannolis.”