Last night I said good-bye to my best friend for the last 14 years. My dog Pochi, who anyone who follows this blog will know, had gotten to the point that we couldn’t in good conscience keep him alive. His gum cancer made the inside of his mouth look like a grenade had gone off, he could barely eat with his remaining teeth, he drooled blood and gunk constantly, and the cancer had gotten into his throat. He was 14 years old, had mild doggie Alzheimer’s, and every night when he went to sleep we thought he wouldn’t wake up.
And oh my God, the smell. Short of a rotting corpse in a small room, the smell of mouth cancer is the worst thing I have ever smelled. Our entire house smelled of cancerous dying.
But poor Pochi was a good soldier, and refused to stop doing what he loved doing, which was take care of us. He went on walks, even though it pained him to do so, because he thought we needed him to. We finally had to walk the other dogs while he was sleeping to keep him from trying to come along. He was a good shepherd, and thought it was his job to make sure I made it safely from room to room, bathroom to bedroom. He wouldn’t just stay in one spot, no matter how much he was hurting, even if I was only crossing the room to get a drink.
Last night we all said our teary goodbyes, hugged him, and I took him on his last drive. My 5 year old was beside herself with grief. When we first told her what was going to happen, she didn’t understand. “Put to sleep” and “going to a better place” meant nothing to her. When she asked for clarification, and I explained that he was going to die, she started to cry. She understood that. Of course, it made me break and start to cry also.
Pochi seemed to enjoy his last drive. I put a tarp down in the car to catch all the drippings, and cranked the AC to make the smell bearable. He was scared when he realized we were at the vet, and I lied to him and said everything would be ok.
He tolerated the indignity of getting a catheter put in his leg, so they could inject the drugs more easily. The vet warned me that he might do all sorts of things, like pee or crap, but that with the first injection he would get tired, sit down, they lay all the way down. When he was out, maybe after a minute or two, they would give him the second injection.
I held Pochi and told him that I would meet him on the other side. He understood none of this. Or maybe he did. He had been staying alive through sheer force of will for so long.
As soon as the first injection was in, Pochi dropped over like a brick. It took the vet and I a little by surprise. She said he must have been very tired. I cried in front of this woman I’d never met before as she gave him the final injection that would stop his heart. I mumbled to Pochi through tears as he stared at nothing. The doctor told me he was gone, and I nodded, but kept mumbling to him. She asked me if I wanted his collar, and I said yes. She told me that I could stay with him as long as I wanted, but when I left, to open the inner door so the staff would know to come remove the body.
He looked no different, not at first. He had been so close to death for so long that he seemed to just be resting between breaths. It was so fast. One second he was standing there panting, trying not to look at the doctor as I held him, wondering when we’d go home. The next, he was gone.
The part of my soul that tied us together shriveled and died. I was having trouble leaving him. I kept thinking he would suddenly come back, jump up and look at me as if to say, “You’re right, daddy. Nothing to be scared of here. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
After a while I opened the inner door and left, nodding to the doctor who stood guard at the other door, making sure no one wandered in. People in the waiting room stopped what they were doing and stared, immediately aware of what had just happened, glad that it wasn’t their turn. No one thought less of the giant fat man crying like a little bitch.
The drive home was a blur. I cried. I wailed like some wounded beast. I don’t know where any of that came from. I didn’t cry like that when my Dad died, although anyone with a parent taken by Alzheimer’s knows that death can be a mixed bag. I had been holding my emotions in since my Dad passed, and it all swam together like a giant wave of grief and mourning. I screamed and growled and wailed as it washed over me.
That stupid fucking dog. That stupid, stupid dog. All this over a goddamn dog. But he trusted me, he walked into that room willingly because I said he’d be all right, and I held him and lied to him as they killed him.
I know I did what was best for him. I know he was suffering, and now he’s not. I know all that. But I still can’t get the image of him leaving in a flash out of my mind. It’s burned into my brain, the whole thing. Every second. I know I didn’t fail him, but instead gave him a quick way out that I couldn’t give my Dad. But what you know, and what you feel, are often very different.
He was my Pochi. My dog. My responsibility. When you get a pet, you sign a contract with the universe. You take the good with the bad.
And he was so very good.