This is my dog Theo, who passed away today. He was 14. He came into my life as a tiny tribble like furball of about 9 weeks, probably too young to leave his mother and definitely too young to be in a cardboard box full of dying puppies outside the West Asheville Earthfare. “Those puppies are sick,” I said to the person holding the box, “Except for that one, and if you leave him in there, he will die too.”
“They’re fine,” she said, “They’re just tired.”
“I have had dogs my entire life,” I said, getting a little loud now, “And they are not just tired, they are sick.”
And so I went home with a puppy. I thought he might die, but at least he would die warm and dry and loved.
Well. 14 years later, he has died and I am so very, very sad. I took this picture yesterday. I have known for a while now that this was coming, that despite the vet cheerily saying his bloodwork was great and he was totes fine but hey, have this infinitely renewable prescription for very heavy duty painkillers that we just won’t talk about (I am looking for a new vet) he was leaving us. He kept falling and he couldn’t get up and somehow I don’t think a pager would have helped much. This morning when he fell again and I lifted him he lost bowel control and didn’t even know it – Theo, a very dignified dog, would never have wanted that.
I called Four Paws Farewell, based on a business card I saw some years ago and some Googling and they were amazing. All I can hope for is that in 30 years when I plan to die there is some similar service for me, that will come to my house and be calm and lovely and help me out of this world in my own bed. That is what happened for Theo today.
I believe very strongly in quality of life. I do not want to live past my own sell by date – if I can’t care for myself, please OD me off this turn of the wheel. When you choose to share your life with an animal, you take on the burden of making that decision for them. It is a terrible and necessary and loving decision to make. Sure, Theo could maybe have gone on another 6 months or more, given sufficient drugs and me willing to carry him outside, ignore his dignity, clean up his involuntary messes, spoon feed him (he mostly stopped eating a while back.) I won’t do that, because it would not help him, only me. What was wrong with him was age and that cannot be healed. There are many, many loving and beautiful healthy young dogs and cats in shelters right now who need a home. If this story moves you at all and you have the means, please go and help one out.
Knowing that you’re making the right decision does not inure you to the sorrow of loss. I am fucking heartbroken. I miss my dog. So let us also rage against this fucking age thing, this death thing, this wrong ending world! Fuck the dying of the light! I do not approve of death! I do not want anyone to go away! I want us all to be immortal beautiful vampires except without the drinking blood thing! I cannot stand keeping on losing everyone and I am goddamned tired of crying.
I have pretty much been crying – ok, and drinking – ever since. I feel that now, after the last 8 years, I am an expert on grief. I am not the only one – I think that is what we all become, us middle aged people, unwilling experts on grief. I am here to tell you as one of way too many experts, that dying leaves a hole in your world that never quite heals. Time does not heal. Time just fuzzes over the edges a bit so that you can look back without as much raw pain. The pain is still going to be there, mind – it just will be fuzzier and edged with love. Loss is loss and it is hard.
It is a little less hard when you have the amazing friends and family that I do. My friend Jodi came over this morning and was here for the whole thing and so was my daughter Audrey. We all cried and ushered Theo out of this world and then we met our friend Jay at the DeSoto (where we go to grieve, probably not a great tagline for them but it works for us) and we all cried and laughed and shared stories all afternoon. We all have stories of loss and love and hearing them heals, I think, something. I guess. The Theo shaped hole in my life is very raw right now.
So go hug your dog.