My dog died Thursday night. It wasn’t like I expected.
Let me explain:
My second *real* job (after Dairy Queen) was working in a vet clinic. On the first day of work, a man came in with a shiny, happy black lab, who was to be put down. On the last day of work, a little boy came in with a shoebox with his dead pet rabbit.
In my time at that job, I was present at the euthanasia of probably 100 pets. I had to do other horrible things, too (have you ever given a cat an enema? Do you know that their claws can go through leather gloves?). It was the smelliest, messiest, and emotionally hardest job I ever had. Whenever I’m in a job I think is miserable (no, not my current one) I remember that one.
So I know what to expect clinically when it is time. I know, logically, that when an animal refuses food over a period of days it is ready to go. I know that as cancer spreads and ravages the body, that internal bleeding is likely, that organs will shut down. I know this is painful and I know that dogs especially will put a bright face on it for as long as they absolutely can.
I didn’t know it from the dog owner perspective until Thursday. Thursday morning I left for work and she was placidly chewing a new tennis ball (favorite past time) and had eyed her food (she hadn’t eaten for a day but I put bacon in there and she was smelling it). Thursday afternoon I came home and she didn’t get up. She looked at me, but didn’t get up. She didn’t want her ball. She didn’t eat anything. She refused raw steak. And so I called the vet, and they had me check her gums, and I knew it was bad and they confirmed it.
Here is the thing about your dog (or cat, or beloved pet of any kind) dying: you don’t get to choose. No matter how prepared you think you are, no matter how long you have known this day would come (she was diagnosed seven months ago), you are not ready when it does. You always think you have a few more days. After it happens, you feel guilt: you should have taken her to the park more. You should have gone on more walks. You should have played rope more. If only you knew it was going to be *that* day, you would have made everything leading up to it perfect.
Then you start to see them everywhere, and nowhere. You come home and the house is cold and there is no one to greet you. You go to shower and there is no large malamute laying across the bathmat. There is no hopeful person in the kitchen on the offchance you were going to cook bacon and she’d totally pick up anything you “accidentally” dropped. There is no sound of the dog door slapping against its sides as she goes in and out. There’s no pawprints on your floor, there are no dog toys mangled beyond recognition in various corners. You leave the house and there is no one to say goodbye to. You see other dogs and you think, “mine was so much better”. You look up your street and remember that you don’t get to go for walks anymore, you see the stash of “dog bags” for those walks and remind yourself you should donate those.
You avoid certain aisles at Target and Safeway. You can’t avoid them at Trader Joes, because it isn’t a whole aisle, but you do your damnedest not to look.
When you’re away from home for a long stretch, you remind yourself that you don’t have to rush home. Why? There’s no one there anymore. And you feel bad for yourself, and for them.
I don’t know how long this lasts. There’s nothing out there to show or tell you. I do realize death is inevitable and it happens to all of us.
But it’s a bitch.