What I learned from letting go of my dog
My apologies if this comes off a little macabre. You know how I am about sharing new experiences, and this was definitely a new one.
I promise I’m not going to keep going on about this. Maybe I need to see a nice, stupid movie to talk about…
You’re all aware of what happened with Arrow. I’ve had a lot of dogs in my life, but for whatever reason, this is the first time I actually had to make the hard choice. Sometimes they died unexpectedly, as with Vandal a few years ago. Other times it was my mom who made the decision because I wasn’t around or was too young.
Having now made that impossible choice, there are things I wish I’d known beforehand.
1. It really is for the best
Ever since we learned Arrow had cancer, lots of people told me I’d know what to do when the time came, and I would be glad I made the right choice. While I knew I would do what I needed to do, I was skeptical that it would be so obvious.
Those people knew what they were talking about. There wasn’t really a choice to make — it was either get Arrow to the vet and let him go peacefully with me and Maria next to him, or strap on the denial and let him lie there miserable for as long as he could hold on. Given the state I found him in Thursday morning — unable to stand, barely able to lift his head, struggling to breathe — he might not have lasted the day anyway. (I swear, he hadn’t been like that the night before. He had been on his feet eating as much chicken as I was willing to stuff into him.)
Before the time came, I thought “how could I tell the vet to kill my dog?” When the time came, it was “how can I let him be this miserable for one more minute?” I understand now, and I apologize for doubting everyone. You were all right.
2. Plan everything out beforehand
Once you’ve made The Choice, there are other choices that come from that. The next big one is whether you are going to stay in the room until the end. Another is what you want to do with his remains; the choices are cremation or taking your pet home. I’d already decided I was going to let them cremate him, I wasn’t going to ask to keep any ashes, and I would stay with him through the whole thing. I don’t think Maria had thought all that through beforehand. I was able to answer on autopilot, more or less, but she had to decide on the spot.
3. The pet cremation industry is run by soulless knaves
I know they provide a service and everyone deserves to be compensated for their work, but damned if those people aren’t plying the sad and desperate for an extra few bucks.
I know lots of people want to keep ashes from the cremated remains of loved ones, both humans and pets. I’m not one of those people, but I think I understand the desire.
I don’t know how it works with humans, but for pets, they charge $45 for cremation. If you want to keep the ashes, the extra cost depends on how much your pet weighs. There’s a price list. For up to something like 11 pounds it was around $120. For 12-34 it was I think $160. The next block up to 61 pounds was around $180, and so on. That seems a hefty fee to not throw some ashes away. Do you really love your Bull Mastiff? Better save up because a dog like that needs an extra-large amount of fire.
Maria had initially decided to get some ashes — they cunningly ask you before the actual procedure. But 30 minutes after, she had changed her mind and we canceled. (I had long ago decided not to. Remember a year and a half ago when I wasn’t paying attention and put parmesan cheese in my coffee instead of non-dairy creamer?)
Decide about the ashes beforehand, when you’re not actively crying and thinking about how much you’re going to miss your pet. Don’t let your emotions decide for you.
4. Staying in the room is both better and worse than you expect
It was a three-step process. First, they gave him a sedative just to keep him calm. It worked on Arrow — he went to sleep almost immediately. The little weirdo had starting sleeping with his eyes open, because he was also a creepy dog, but I could tell when he stopped reacting to me being in his face.
Then the vet comes in with a saline solution to make sure the vein in his leg is strong enough to support an injection. Veins can be hard to find on dogs with cancer, apparently. We found one on Arrow right away.
Then she injects the euthanasia drug. It was a deceptively festive pink. She said it should take about 20 seconds to work, but I had my hand on Arrow’s rib cage and could tell that he was gone even before she finished pushing the plunger. There wasn’t much holding him here anyway. I didn’t appreciate how labored his breathing had become until it stopped.
And that was it. Quick, painless, as comfortable as possible, and with his family. The last thing he was aware of was us petting him and telling him we loved him. I would not have wanted to be anywhere else. We should be so kind to our terminally ill fellow humans.
But I will never forget the feeling of that last rattling breath under my hand. I’m glad I stayed, but it’s a hard memory to carry.
Thank you for indulging me
I promise to not do this any more. Thank you for letting me unpack this here. I know some of you are going to be facing this same decision before too long. You certainly have my sympathy, and I promise you won’t regret making the hard choice. In the end, there really isn’t a choice at all.
Also, thank you to everyone who so kindly called, sent email, texted, Tweeted, or posted on Facebook. It really did help get me through a rough day. I’m better now, but I’m still getting used to how empty this house feels. Who knew it could be so completely filled by a grumpy, stubborn 35-pound dog with a weak grasp of property rights?
Not that the place is totally devoid of whimsy. Esme is still with me. I took this photo of her earlier today — we had been in the car, and I had to stop suddenly because of a fire truck cutting through an intersection. She was asleep in the back, and the stop flung her onto her back on the floor. I was three miles from home, so I kept going, and this is what I found when I opened the back door.
Thanks again for putting up with all this. I’ll be back with something more entertaining after Dragon*Con!