Martha, a 35-pound Lab-pit bull mix who was 15-plus years old, died recently. Liz Soares adopted her as a puppy from the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta. Liz Soares photo

The young woman passed us slowly in her car. A grin broadened on her face. In the back seat, a child peered out. She was smiling, too.

My husband, Paul, and I were walking our dog, Martha, around the block. She was a 35-pound Lab-pit bull mix, mostly black, though at 15-plus years, her snout had grown white. As she trotted along, Martha wore her olive-green L.L.Bean dog coat, which seemed to be made of the same material as their human field jackets.

Of course, the woman and child were beaming.

I felt a sense of pride. Martha had been steadily aging and developing new issues over the past six months. But she still relished her walks and meals. Paul and I were working hard to keep her going.

After we were back inside the house, after Martha shared a variety of treats with her feline housemates, reality set back in. She wedged herself into a corner, while trying to drink some water, and couldn’t figure out how to get out. It was not the first time.

We said goodbye to Martha two weeks later. Paul and I were able to set a date with her veterinarian, and the process went as smoothly and peacefully as we could have hoped. I wondered if we were acting too soon, but, in retrospect, we were right on time. A little later and we might have ended up in the emergency clinic, a scenario I had dreaded.


My head tells me we did what was necessary and right, that Martha lived a long and wonderful life. That she is in a better place. My heart is simply broken.

I tell myself I need to think about how hard life had become for her in the end. Last June, I wrote a column about Martha. She was showing signs of aging, but insisted on jumping down the three steps into the den, which was her hangout. Martha prided herself on making a seamless leap onto the sofa. Of course, at her age, she didn’t always make it, but I had to admire her indomitable spirit. I imagined her motto was, “Gotta fly!”

By October, however, Martha’s problems had grown more serious. As the holidays approached, I wondered how much time she had left. But we didn’t give up. We just kept trying to make accommodations.

When Martha developed some bladder incontinence, I tried cranberry treats. I believe they worked, because after a week of taking them, she never had another urinary accident, except one when trying to tell us she needed to go, but we were trying to decide whether Paul needed to go to urgent care for a tetanus booster because of an encounter with a nail.

Martha also took Cosequin treats to help with her mobility, although I think her problem was more one of balance than stiffness. Her declining eyesight probably also contributed to the trouble she was having locating her food and water bowls and crashing into the space heater.

We commandeered every Waterhog mat we had in the house, and arranged them where Martha was likely to fall. Eventually, though, we had to put her food and water bowls on a low chest in the kitchen so she could eat more comfortably. We moved the cats’ water fountain upstairs after Martha ran into it several times, dumping gallons of water onto the floor.


There wasn’t anything we could do about the way Martha would wander around the house at times. We told ourselves to assume that when she paced, she needed to go to the bathroom or wanted water. But sometimes we just didn’t know why. Nothing soothed her. Maybe she heard one of us say something about going somewhere? We finally concluded it was canine cognitive disorder.

For months, Paul and I didn’t leave the house together for more than an hour. We were afraid to leave Martha alone.

At the end of January, we took Martha in for a wellness check. Except for some weakness in her back legs, she was in good shape overall for a dog her age. Of course, her vet was concerned about her decline, but he assured us we were doing all we could do.

And we continued to do that for another month.

Martha truly lived a charmed life. She came to us straight out of her litter at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta. (All of our other dogs had previous hardships.) Once at home, Martha bonded immediately with her big brother, Aquinnah, a chocolate Lab who allowed her to sleep on his back for the rest of his life. She had no major illnesses, no major infirmities until the very end. Paul was retired by the time we adopted her, so she never even had to spend workdays alone.

Martha was fun, super energetic and determined not to let her advanced age slow her down. I learned so much from her. I loved her.

I am crying as I write this, but I am also telling myself not be be maudlin. To live a long life, to have known love and joie de vivre, to exit peacefully with your loved ones by your side — who can ask for more? It is all I ever wanted for our Martha, since the day we brought that tiny bundle home so many years ago.

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