The Loss of a Dog
After thirty-two years of living with dogs, last week I came home to a space devoid of any. The loss of a dog seems so pale in comparison to contemporary worldly troubles. On the drive back from losing a pet, I silently calculated years I’d lived alone, ten. Years I’d lived alone with a child, thirteen. Years I’ve lived without the company of dogs, zero. I’ve always seemed to manage one cat. I like having both, but the strain of canine health issues has taken its toll on me and made me weak. That’s why, after thirty-two years of living with dogs, I came home to none.
When it’s time for an old pet to go, you imagine how great it would be if they would just fall blissfully asleep and you privately bury and mourn your beloved animal. With any luck, you’ve built up a relationship with your veterinarian, and you are okay with them witnessing the blubbering that will occur. I’ve had three successive generations of dachshunds that ranged from 1995 until 2013. Polly, Molly, and then Nortie. Polly even went to Okinawa Japan with us, and she passed around the age of fourteen from kidney disease. Molly followed the typical dachshund path and herniated her back. She stopped walking at eleven and slid around the house and yard like a champ. She also had a doggie wheelchair when she could stand it. Before Molly left me I also had Nortie.
Nortie moved with me once as well and was my constant companion until March of 2013. She had cancer, and for a few months, she was also on chemotherapy because I could afford it then. There came the point where I had pushed it about as far as I could when I knew I lost the battle. The vet whom I’d grown particularly fond of came out of the back during one of the last visits, and she had a look. I knew when I drove over it was going to be time, but there was some glimmer, or hope, that somehow this vet would tell me it was only temporary. It wasn’t. That was the day. Best dog ever.
During 2012 I had made some trips home, and my family seems to have the canine bug because not one of them can live without a dog. Or two. Maybe three. That’s as far as I’ll admit. Mom had a pit mix and a chow mix. Both dogs were sized about the same, and both had arrived the usual way they do at Mom’s – throwaways. Scruff was the chow mix, and she was quiet. One trip in particular Scruff had many stitches from a recent fight with the pit mix and Mom’s aluminum cane showed signs of intervening. I did what any kid would do. I took one dog out of the situation so that we could avoid any more dogfights and stitches plus keep Mom safe. Not a few months after I had taken Scruff out of that position Mom had more pit mixes. I’m sure all the pit mix lovers will cheer.
Scruff and Nortie got along fine because Norty was too physically exhausted from chemo that she didn’t want to fuss with this thirty-five-pound hairball. Scruff was fine with that because she was the type of dog that was relatively calm. That is until the weather changed. Scruff turned into a wild animal when the stormy weather was around and could strip door jamb molding off the wall trying to get in/out. She paced, panted, and nervously eyed me if any thunder happened. The vet and I tried everything from jackets, morphine, Prozac, etc., Nothing worked, Scruff had anxiety, and nothing was going to stop it.
Scruff was not a dog that you held in your arms, slept with, or even pet that much because if you did you’d be choking back some hairballs. The only time she even asked for a pet is when she first greeted you and then she was okay being left to relax in the sun. I had a robotic vacuum to deal with all of the hair – it was overwhelming sometimes. It seemed to fill every corner. She rarely barked, but when she did, she could scare the hell out of anyone. She liked sliced turkey, ice cream, and popcorn. Okay, we all did. The only problem with Scruff is that she was a reported cat killer and I had one. For a while, I had to train Scruff not to kill my cat, and it wasn’t an easy task, but eventually, the two became tolerant of one another. As time went on, she began having separation anxiety when I would leave the house. At first, it showed itself in trying to scratch through the back door if she was outside or if she was keeping me up at night I would close my bedroom door but she would eventually leave teeth marks in the door during heavy storms, so I always left it open.
Now you’d think by then my patience would have worn very thin. It did. But then I’d wake up in the middle of the night and see her laying in the bedroom doorway facing outward, and the sense of calm that brought me was worth more than silly panting and pacing toenails. I also learned that she liked her ears rubbed. Scruff always pointed towards the exits; never left her back exposed. Like a good Marine, she was still ever watchful.
This year, when I got back after a few days away for a holiday, Scruff was visibly weakened. She already suffered from arthritis and was often stiff when just getting up and down. I had already gotten used to walking in and her not even hearing me, but this time she couldn’t get up because I had completely surprised her. She was tense and bowed. For the next ten days, I struggled with dealing with the inevitable. Again.
I had moved recently so there was no time to develop a relationship with a veterinarian and I chose the closest one to me. Scruff weighed in at thirty pounds, and although I’d tried Rimadyl earlier, they insisted on trying it again with a cocktail of meds for pain and getting her appetite back. Tramadol, Gabapentin, and Mirtazapine. The latter turned her into a crazed animal for two days until I realized it was the medication and took her off of it. By this time I was cooking chicken and sausage for her so she’d put on some weight. I also added ice cream and yogurt. I calculated the time it took me to realize it was partly due to the meds that she was insane and I felt horrible it took two whole days.
Your son, your family, your friends. They all say or think the same thing. Why would we allow suffering if we can end it easily? It’s what she wants. I’m skeptical. So dogs are so intuitive that they communicate to all of these people that they want to die. Not only do they want to die, but in a vets office. With strangers, while Mom blubbers for a few moments. There were moments that I’d walk up to Scruff while she was sleeping and check for breathing because she was so still. I, like all animal lovers, hoped she’d just pass. Why don’t they just pass? You don’t say that because you feel stupid.
For three days she would sleep for about an hour and then suddenly snap awake and begin pacing. The weather here had been insane with snow, ice, and cold. The weather always made her frantic but now she wasn’t sleeping, and I knew as much as the medicines were helping they were probably causing anxiety. I dropped the Gabapentin after some reading. Now she slept two hours. So did I.
The last night Scruff was here she had a feast of roasted chicken and ice cream for dessert. The next bitterly cold day, for the third time in three years, I took an animal to the vet’s office to be put down. I conjured up images of the pit farm from years ago that was across the street in the neighborhood I lived. I remembered playing with Lego bricks with Brad and his mother’s fiery red hair. Mr. Jackson was outside. A dog on one end and a rabbit on the other. The dog would run around, and around, and around. Other images are foggy, and I hated them, but they helped me when things like this happened.
Still, the night before I recorded a video to remind me of these moments and how, as I age, it becomes more intense and the scale for saving animals and losing them, become so very hard.
The first dose of medicine instantly relaxed her. In these last moments, she was going to be putty in my hands. For a minute I thought she was gone and I was angry with myself because I had rushed it. Then she blinked when a tear slipped near her eye as I leaned over her with words of love. The attendants let me blubber and say silly things to a dying animal until the vet asked for the euthanasia. I contained any sobbing and let these strangers enjoy a chokehold emotive whisper, but I gather they had been through much worse.
I let old Scruff go as she lay on the doggie bed still petting her insanely furry side. The vet quietly announced that Scruff was gone and for a micro frantic moment I tried to shut her eyes. Then I realized they wouldn’t close and I thought why aren’t they closing and I tried again. The vet realized I was losing a little sanity so she covered Scruff’s eyes and I snapped back into reality. We made the final preparations for cremation, and I went to my car.
I didn’t start the car until I could see. I called my son and asked if we could have lunch. There was the promise of no blubbering. We went and talked about non-dog things. Then I followed him back to his house and hid in his mancave until I could muster enough willpower to go home. When I did, I realized that Scruff’s furry companion for the last several years was also in mourning. During Scruff’s last few days at home, Russia was never more than a few feet away from her. She looked at me with sad eyes, and we waited out the sick, wrenching feeling of being alone.