From the Archives: The Last Days of My Dog

I recently found an old blog I wrote many years ago. Going through it, I was struck by how much my writing has changed, yet somehow stayed in a very similar vein. Every once in a while, i’m going to drop some old blog posts I wrote. Ones that I feel strongly about, or still strike a chord with me. I wrote this one in early 2012, I think just a few hours after I had to put my first real dog down.

15 years is a long time to know somebody. I can count the number of friends I’ve had for 15 years on one hand. 15 years accounts for more than half of my life. 15 years ago, I was 12 years old. I was in the 7th grade. Sammy Sosa was my favorite baseball player. I listened to Sublime constantly in spite of the fact that I really didn’t understand the lyrics. Titanic came out for the first time when I was 12. It was also how old I was when we got Pepe.

I barely remember my life before we had Pepe. We have three other dogs, Chewbacca, Fatty, and Chip the Rip, but Pepe was always the original. When we got her, she was roughly the size of a balled up fist. She could literally fit inside a coat pocket.

Pepe was a Chihuahua that my sister was given for her 7th birthday.  Pepe pretty much always just wanted to be a lap dog. It took every opportunity possible to lay on me whenever i was on the couch. I always felt better whenever I could lay down and know that Pepe was comfortable laying on top of me. It never got bigger than about 8 pounds.

Full disclosure: Pepe is the reason I don’t ever want a big dog. Having a smaller dog just feels easier to deal with. I don’t understand larger dogs. That’s because of Pepe.

As the years went on, it was obvious that, no matter how many dogs we had, Pepe was in charge of the house. Pepe got it’s own room. It didn’t have to sleep in a cage with the other dogs at night. Pepe was allowed to eat real food with the rest of the family. If Pepe wanted to come out of her room and sleep in whoever else’s room, that was kind of her choice.

The thing is though, dogs normally only live between 10-12 years. Pepe past that point up years ago. It walked with a limp. The limp had been there for years, but other than a couple gray hairs, Pepe did a remarkable job at aging. People were more or less shocked by how well she was doing whenever they would visit the house.  Pepe had long since lost interest at barking and growling at people when they came into the house.

There was always something incredibly satisfying about coming home from vacation and, upon walking into the house, having Pepe be the first thing I saw. She would freak out, skid across the floors in a desperate attempt to gain enough traction to get to me, and then try it’s damndest to climb up my leg. It was incredibly satisfying to know that, no matter what, something cared that much about seeing me.

When Pepe started to fade, it was obvious, and it was fast. It rarely came out of it’s room anymore. It lost interest in reacting to people coming and going. Rarely noticing anything that existed. The problem was, nobody in the family had the heart to take Pepe to put her down. She meant to much to all of us.

In the end, we decided that the best way to handle it would be to have Wade take the dog to the vet while we were in Hawaii. The night before we left though, my mom found my sister in Pepe’s room, holding it and crying. Nobody could come to terms with the mortality of the dog. We went to Hawaii and came back. When we got back, Pepe was still there.

That was January.

For the past three months, Pepe has languished. Progressively fading. Nobody could do it. Nobody could come to terms with the finality of the situation. Pepe had become so much a part of our family that it was literally too much for anyone to commit to being the one to take the dog in.

Eventually, I stepped forward and decided that when it came down to it, i’d be the one to take the dog to the Vet and see the end of it. For weeks, we fought over it. My dad refused to let Pepe die. He couldn’t handle it. After all the years, he had become too emotionally attached.

Finally yesterday, I came home from work early with the mental commitment that I was going to take the dog to the veterinarian. I couldn’t bare to see Pepe suffer anymore. She could no longer walk on her own. She was barely eating. Only drank a little bit of water. Her back legs were bowing so badly that she couldn’t really walk on her own power.

I came home from work and saw my dad laying on the sitting room couch, obviously distraught. I was alternately sad and relieved in that moment. I thought Pepe had died over the course of the day. I thought about my dad, having to walk in and see that. I felt awful for that. But mostly, I felt grateful that Pepe had died comfortably.

I misread the situation. Pepe was still alive. My dad and my sister had gotten into a large scale crying argument because my dad couldn’t handle going to the vet by himself and my sister couldn’t handle going to the vet at all, knowing what going there meant.

I talked to my mom last night. We decided that i’d take the dog in on Friday. It needed to be done. I didn’t go out on Thursday night. I stayed in, hoping that I could mentally prepare myself. I was hoping that I could be strong and handle this with a certain level of grace that has never been synonymous with anything I do.

The problem was, I had to pull it off without my dad or sister knowing. They wouldn’t allow it to happen. It killed me to know I was going to have the dog put down and have two people so connected to the dog not know that I was going to do it.

I didn’t sleep well last nite. It wasn’t possible. I tosssed and turned and dwelled and hoped that when I woke up the next morning, that Pepe would mysteriously be better, or would have passed on it it’s sleep. Neither happened.

I woke up with two of the other dogs sleeping in my bed. The dogs never sleep with me. But I woke up with Chewbacca laying near my legs, and Chip the Rip tucked in between my arm and chest. I didn’t want to move. I wanted to just stay where I was all day. But, I knew what I needed to do.

I did something I don’t make a habit of doing. I lied to my mom. I couldn’t do what I was going to do without telling my sister first. It was just not possible. My sister showed a surprising amount of brevity to the situation, especially in consideration to what had happened the day before. She knew it was time. She just didn’t want to be the one to do it.

I built a bed as comfortably as I could out of pillows and a laundry container. I picked Pepe up. She weighed nothing, and seemingly had nothing left in her system. At that moment, I knew what I was doing was the right thing. I couldn’t let her suffer anymore.

I took her on her final drive. It takes less than 10 minutes to get there, but I drove for a half hour. I don’t know specifically why I did it. Maybe I was just trying to have those last few minutes with a dog i’d spent more time in my life with than most humans that will ever cross through my life.

When we got there, I could feel a wave of sadness come over me. That feeling you get in your face that drags down through the rest of your body.  I kept myself breathing normally, hoping that would settle my nerves a bit. It didn’t.

The Veterinarian came in and did a quick check of the dog. It took two minutes. He said that Pepe had advanced stage Periodontal Disease. She could no longer eat on her own. She could no longer function on her own. He assured me this was the right thing. Part of me felt worse, thinking that I had waited far too long. She had been suffering for a long time.

Then the doctor pulled out the needle. First they give the dog a shot to relax it and sedate it. I was holding up well when they gave Pepe the shot. Then the Vet and his assistant left. It was just me and Pepe. Thats when I broke down. It’s that feeling you get. You know you can’t hold it in anymore. You know composure isn’t something that can be managed. Tears started to roll down my eyes. I tried to hide them. For whatever reason, I didn’t want Pepe to see me get that way.

I was able to keep myself together just enough that the doctor came in and administered the final shot. The assistant held Pepe, but Pepe was able to adjust itself just well enough that it was able to make eye contact with me. It stared at me. And thats when I could no longer handle it. Tears fell down my cheek. I couldn’t help it, and in that moment, I didn’t care.

It’s impossible to know how you will react in the situation. I had done my best to hold it together, and if I had to do that again, I’d probably have done the exact same thing I did today. I don’t think it’s a matter of mental toughness or anything else. It was a matter of loss. Losing something that mattered so much to me for such a long time.

The vet checked Pepe and told me “She is no longer with us.” Him saying it felt like the life was sucked out of me, but I already knew, too. I saw the life go out of her eyes. I saw her fade out. And I saw a chapter of my life close. There is no good way to react in this situation. I just did what I thought was right. I sat there. I didn’t want to get up. I didn’t want to believe it was over. I just didn’t want to believe.

I knew though, that life had to go on. My niece was at home. She made life important too. She matters more to me and my family than anything else. So I found my strength, put on a pair of sunglasses to hide the tears, and rose up. Then I took my fingers and slowly closed Pepe’s eyes for the final time.

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