Our backyard isn't much. City lots are small enough, but with a 3-car garage and an addition to the house, our yard is especially tiny. There is no grass since the previous owner paved it with bricks (probably just as well since grass wouldn't grow in the shade, resulting in a mud pit).
But Rosco loved our backyard. Our other dogs would do their thing and then run up the porch stairs to come back inside, but Rosco often lingered out there sniffing and/or looking for mischief (such as eating organic fertilizer out of the flower pots). We joked that he was a coydog (coyote-dog hybrid), and that's why he liked being outside so much. Sometimes he would ignore my wife's calls until she offered him some sort of treat/bribe. He would always come in for me, though—I was his person. In his later years, all I had to do was stare down at him. He'd look back, and if I kept staring he would run up the stairs, as if he wanted to be sure I really meant it before responding.
On Rosco's final night, his breathing was a bit labored, but I thought he would make it until morning. I spent the evening with him, then I went upstairs to use the computer around midnight when my wife got home from work. She fed the dogs and let them out. A while later she said I'd better come downstairs because Rosco's condition had deteriorated rapidly.
She told me how when Rosco had gone outside, he had walked slowly all around the backyard. Then he stood at the bottom of the stairs, too weak to climb them. She had to carry him up. Now he was lying on the kitchen floor struggling to breathe. We knew he wouldn't make it through the night, so I carried him to the car and we took him to the emergency vet to be euthanized.
I've been thinking a lot lately about Rosco checking out the backyard one last time—walking, sniffing, surveying his grassless kingdom. He must have known it was his final chance to do what he loved in the place he loved, and he mustered his last bit of strength to do it. I imagine it was like an old Babe Ruth taking a final lap around Yankee Stadium or an elderly George Washington strolling the grounds of Mount Vernon.*
After Rosco died, I questioned, as I have with all our pets, whether we did the right thing at the right time. I fretted that he wouldn't have suffered on the kitchen floor if we had taken him in earlier that night. But now I am certain that we did the right thing by giving him that opportunity to say goodbye to the place he loved. Thinking about Rosco's last walk around the backyard makes me cry, but it also makes me very happy.
* Those are poetic images, but after writing them here I thought I should actually look this stuff up.** It turns out that Ruth last visited Yankee Stadium two months before his death. And Washington rode around Mount Vernon on horseback just prior to his death, but that is likely how he contracted the illness that killed him. Their deaths are both interesting stories that I didn't know before.
** Write first, research later—it's the Internet way!