I’m not a very religious person. I’ve often had many questions, doubts, more questions about life and religions. Even as a kid in Catholic School from the age of 8, I questioned a lot. As I got older, I found myself drifting when it comes to faith, beliefs, etc, occasionally embracing more Eastern philosophies than any full organized religion. But I will admit that in times of sadness, in times of plight, of loss, I find myself wishing I could just blindly accept SOMETHING without questions in order to feel better, to feel there is more.
I say that openly because there are times in life when I really wish it were so.
One of those times was about two weeks ago.
I recall the sounds of motorcycles and traffic going outside the window. For some reason everything else seemed to be silenced out by those sounds before the veterinarian came in to greet my mother and I and check on “Dawg.”
With his very unique name, Dawg belonged to my grandparents. My grandfather hadn’t wanted a dog after losing one German Shepherd previously, but my grandmother, despite his protests, decided to get one anyway. When she passed away some years ago, my grandfather, who was not in the best of shape himself, was left to care for Dawg. It was not the kind of life a large dog like that should lead, sitting most of the day next to an old man, cooped up in the house. Just before my grandfather took a turn and passed, my mom and dad took Dawg and another dog (on top of their own dog of many years) to care for.
At times, it was as though he was born anew, suddenly a big, goofy puppy again, excited, playful, and loyal to my parents like I had never seen before. He gained years of life he likely would not have had the way his life was with my grandfather.
But even those years of life could go so far.
For some time, Dawg had been fighting numerous ailments, including what was believed to be cancer. A tumor he had would only get bigger in time and in this past month, the poor guy dealt with more cases of diarrhea and vomit by what seemed like the gallons that I can’t imagine anything but soreness when he was done. Not to mention my poor parents who were constantly cleaning it up and feeling awful because they knew it wasn’t his fault.
Multiple medications and treatments were tried, sadly to no avail, and things reached a point where he had stopped eating and going to the bathroom completely, losing an incredible amount of noticeable weight.
My mom had a feeling about these things, as she’s often had. That certainly does not make it any easier, but she had a feeling this trip to the vet would not be easy. When I looked into Dawg’s eyes that morning, I could tell he knew the same thing. He didn’t even want to go outside, the thing he loved more than anything in the world.
When I dropped the monkey off in the morning, I wished so hard that there was something I could do to help, to make things easier, to ease her pain and especially Dawg’s.
Our little guy’s first words were “woof! woof!” exclaimed every time he came into my parents’ house and saw Dawgie there. Our car rides were built with anticipation as he’d excitedly cry “woof! woof!” from the back seat, excited to see his buddy. When we arrived, a wet sloppy kiss from Dawg usually sent our little guy into giggling hysterics.
With all of this in mind, it felt like the weight of the world was on our shoulders as my mom and I sat with Dawg in the vet’s office. My father, admittedly, could not emotionally handle going, still reeling from the experience of our family cat that had to be put down almost twenty years ago after 16 years in our lives. I can’t blame him. I can’t blame either of them, and as we sat, my mom hugging Dawg tight, telling him how wonderful he was, I could see how tormented she was by what was unfolding.
The doctor confirmed that he was in pain and that things weren’t working. As preparations were made for what came next, my mom did her best to hold it together, but I can’t blame her for not being able to. This was another child, one who was sick beyond treatment, and I think she said it best when she said “it’s like pulling a family member off life support.” My heart aches just typing this as I think of those moments. She hugged Dawg and I hugged her, telling her she was doing what was best for him every time she said she knew she would “second guess this moment for the rest of my life.”
“I’m making a decision that’s not mine to make,” she said to me, face red, tears down her face. “That decision should be God’s. I’ve prayed every night that if it was time for Dawgie to go that it should be in his sleep. It’s the way everybody should go.”
I agreed, but told her exactly what I was thinking – that perhaps the way things were happening WAS God’s way of telling us what to do.
Then came questions. Standard, I know, but each one being asked of her as she hugged this big, sick dog was like a bullet in her gut, pushing her farther into a teary abyss.
“Would you like group or individual cremation?”
“Would you like a wooden urn or tin urn?”
“Would you like a plaster paw print for remembrance?”
“Would you like an ink paw print?”
Each time a question was asked, I could see it hitting my mom like someone had just sucker-punched her. She knew the technician had to ask these questions, but oh, how it only reinforced that feeling and doubt of what we were doing.
They brought us to a different examination room where a corner lamp had been brought in and dimmed. A nice blanket and pillow was on the ground, and a ceramic water-dripping fountain-thingy was on the counter, for the sound of flowing water. We laid him down and talked to him as the doctor gave him something to sleep. With his head in my mom’s lap, she petted him, talking to him about what a wonderful boy he was and how, while they hadn’t started out great when my grandmother first got him, who knew she and he would become the best of friends.
And soon, that was it. No more panting. No more pain. Only the sound of the pouring water and our sobbing. There was nothing.
“He’s gone,” the doctor told us, offering us the chance to stay.
Neither my mom nor I could emotionally handle much more, and said our goodbye and left, hugging in the parking lot before I drove her home. Wrought with emotion, my mom tearfully wondered what might have happened if they had tried something different, anything different.
But the scenario would have ended the same. He was 12 years old, long past his expected age and he was very, very sick. Between the cancer, the tumor, the frequent inability to move his back legs, he was in tremendous pain.
“You always taught me to not be selfish and to think of others first,” I told her. “If you brought him home, still in pain, trying to drag things on for him more, it would have been for you guys, not for him. You did the unselfish thing. Just like you always taught me.”
When I got her home, she and my father and I let it out before having to get the little monkey into the car for the ride home. The night that followed was a constant back and forth via text to make sure the others were “doing okay.”
It choked me up to even think about the next time our little guy would walk into my parents’ house looking for Dawg or shouting “woof! woof!” and how it would break all our hearts.
So, Meg talked to the little guy as she laid him down to sleep and explained that doggie wasn’t around anymore. That he “had to go.”
His response was to point up and say “Doggie go…sky!”
He then turned from up above, looked past Meg and pointed and said “Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!” the way he did every time he walked in the door to my parents and saw him.
Maybe he knows something we don’t. And maybe that could be a really great thing.
I really hope so.