When I first met you, you were tubby and fluffy and covered in filth, trotting down the driveway of the family that was giving you away for free on Craigslist. Some guy had gotten there first and was taking you home, and even though we’d known each other for about fourteen seconds, I knew you needed to be my dog. I followed the guy’s truck as he drove away with you, flagged him down into a parking lot, and offered to pay an inordinate sum of money if I could have you. Then you vomited and pooped in my car. We were off to a great start.
You were quiet and reserved when you first moved in, spending a lot of time in the armchair with your back to us and peeing on the corner of the bed so often I had to buy a new one. I knew you were having trouble adjusting; I could tell from the paper trail you brought home that you’d had a number of owners and not much security in your life. Based on some of your scars and sensitivities, I suspected somebody had been unkind to you at some point in the seven years before we met. The most I ever did was raise my voice at you, but even then you’d sit in the corner and face the wall until I apologized and plied you with treats.
In no time at all, you were part of the family. Kobe didn’t mind sharing the house, the armchair became your property, and our routines shifted to accommodate a second dog. You lost sight in one eye but hardly seemed to notice, always remaining calm and good-natured. When my life went through some tumultuous changes, you seemed to know – you’d occupy the empty side of the bed and burrow into me when I needed company.
Then you went blind in your other eye and for a while I didn’t know if things would be okay again. You retreated into your shell and it was so sad to see you seem vulnerable and uncertain. But then you adapted and learned to ping-pong gently around your surroundings to find your food, water, and family. It helped that we got rid of the coffee table.
The last few years have been steady and sweet. Each day was an unremarkable ritual of walks, meals, treats, and snuggles that was lovely in its pleasant predictability. You hated to be hugged, but loved to be petted, so much so that you’d throw your whole body into the attending arm over and over like you could never get enough.
Sometimes you’d also rub your face on the floor. That was weird but really cute.
You turned 12 last September and seemed to be slowing down a bit. I affectionately joked about you and Kobe being my little old men, but was concerned to notice you seemed to be going deaf. How would I know when it was time to let go? How could I define your quality of life and decide when it stopped being good enough?
Then last night and this morning happened, and I thought for sure you were slipping away. Things progressed so quickly – you seemed fine and normal one minute and so sick just moments later – that even now it seems surreal. My parents came to join Andrew and me on your trip to the vet this afternoon. I spent the drive over wondering if we’d be going home without you, partly terrified that we wouldn’t and partly terrified that we would. Saying goodbye seemed unimaginable, but the idea of having you continue to suffer and decline more was just as bad.
There was never a clear answer. We don’t know why you were sick, and I will spend the rest of my life wondering. The vet said we could run tests and give palliative drugs but all I kept thinking was, “To what end?” Even if we could save you from whatever illness was crushing you, you’d still be blind and mostly deaf and clearly in the twilight of your life. That didn’t seem like a good enough existence for you.
And so it was the end. We said our goodbyes and the vet gave you the medicine to help you slip away peacefully. It happened so quickly – one minute you were breathing and the next she told us you were gone. It felt like the bottom dropped out of the world, as if all of the air had been sucked out of the room through a massive hole in my heart. Andrew and my mom kept petting you but I hated touching your limp body because you weren’t there anymore.
Now we are back home, Andrew, Kobe, and me. This house, tiny and filled with stuff and bikes and tumbleweeds of fur, feels far too large without you wandering around. When I think about you being gone, there is an ache that feels suffocating and all-consuming. I’m afraid to let this day end because it’s the last one in which you were alive, and I dread waking up and starting a new one without you. I’ve even thought about digging you up because I want so badly to hold you again, but (a) this isn’t Pet Sematary and (b) you did not enjoy hugs.
What if I made the wrong choice? What if you were just sick and it wasn’t supposed to be the end? What if I didn’t give you enough time, walks, attention during your life? These what-ifs are probably a very normal and yet crippling accompaniment to the choice to end a pet’s life. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s better that I hurt because you’re gone rather than you hurt because you’re still here. All I ever wanted was to protect you from the bad things.
Thank you for being such a special, sweet part of our family. I cannot imagine my life without you, neither the past nor the future. You were wonderful and will never be forgotten.