haven’t written in this blog in four weeks” – is the lamest way to open a public journal entry. But in this moment, it is true.
I’ve been put through the ringer recently. I won’t go into every detail, but I will say I lost eight pounds in two weeks. Thanks to a conveniently timed vacation, I gained three back, though my stomach capacity clearly isn’t what it used to be. I stress-starve.
By those I’ve divulged to, I was told “[Mercury] Retrograde is real!” When friends are going through a tough time, I usually include the adage “This, too, shall pass” in my consoling, but I had a really hard time queueing that up for myself this round.
Largely, I’m over the spell. But weighing in the back of my mind is one of the saddest memories I have.
I grew up with dogs, often multiple in the household at once, almost always more than thirty pounds apiece. In my current living situation, we’re not allowed to have dogs, so I head to my mother’s house once a month or so, more or less for my “dog fix.” She has huge dogs, including Yogi (my favorite boy), Uma (a feisty girl), and up until recently, Maggie (my favorite old lady).
In my family we always communicate through our dogs. I find it awkward to say “I love you” to any one of my family members, but if there’s a dog in the room, I will happily sing, “I love you! You’re so good!” I put my heart into “my” dogs, even if I’m not the one taking care of them every day. My qualms with PDAs and overall intimacy issues are completely unimaginable when you see me interact with strange dogs on the street. We are instant friends. It’s because most of the time I feel immediate trust in them. It’s simple. They give unconditional love.
Maggie was huge. One hundred sixty pounds of loving. She snored like a dragon. If you just waved at her, she would wag her tail. She was the sweetest thing at my mother’s house. Poor emotionally damaged Yogi, mistreated and misunderstood Uma, even my own human being mother – they couldn’t compare in the cozy beams of care and affection that emanated from Maggie’s eyes.
Maggie was old. We adopted her from a big dog rescue service, and by then she was already an adult, way up there in years. As she grew ever older, and especially when the weather got warmer, she moved more and more slowly like a glacier. Steps were a challenge. But she always looked up when you called her. She was only meant to last a few months when we took her in, but she stuck around for years. Hopefully because she loved her forever home. It was when she was unable to perk up at the sound of the kibble being scooped that we knew the forever home we provided for her would be her final home.
While my mom was away, she arranged for me to put the dog down. I was house sitting, and still working full time, and getting just a taste of what it’s like to be the head of a household juggling multiple schedules between service professionals, family members, and friends. And then I had to put Maggie down. She told me over the phone on a Monday that I would have to put down Maggie on Wednesday. But not to worry, there was a veterinarian that made euthanasia house calls, and the gardeners had already been asked to dig a hole for Maggie’s huge body. I’d just have to postpone my work appointment to fit the veterinarian’s tight schedule. And Maggie’s quality of life was diminishing. It would have been completely unfair to keep her hanging on because of a scheduling conflict.
Having grown up with so many pets before, you inherently get used to losing pets. Hopefully, the dog dies by natural causes. One time it was cancer. One time it was coyotes. I was little when I first saw a family dog disappear through a veterinarian door. I was in college when our sassy Yorkie ran straight into the mouths of natural predators. Just months ago, Tashi collapsed at my mother’s feet. It’s always sad, but in every instance of a dog passing before, I’ve had no warning. The dog dies and then you are sad, but then you get over it. It’s a two-step process that goes Death, Grieving.
It’s an entirely different thing to know, for three days straight, the exact time and place of how your dog is going to die. This is introducing a whole new phase to the loss of a loved one; it’s a tortuous wait knowing that you have premeditated her death, even if it is humane. Even when we put down Lucky (1990? 1991?), I don’t remember having this much warning. And even if I did, I was in first grade. My memory simply didn’t retain that significance.
For three days straight, all I gave Maggie was cookies. She did manage to eat some canned dog food at one point, but mostly I was stealing away to the kennel to ply her with canine sweets.
Ever the lady, she never soiled herself once, and rather miraculously managed to muster all her strength to make one trip to do her business per day.
Wednesday arrived, and I was spontaneously tearing up when I picked Bill up from BART. If he hadn’t joined me in that big lonely house for this big depressing task, I don’t think I could have come out of it. (Keep in mind I had a lot going on at this time.)
That morning I was dealing remotely with a work crisis and running back to Maggie. I could only focus for spurts at a time. I didn’t cry in front of Maggie. I gave her cookies, told her how much I loved her, tried to bury my attention in rudimentary tasks, and ran back to her again. She hadn’t moved all morning. She did weird things like lick the wood of her custom-built XXL dog house. She didn’t do normal things like drink the water I offered her. I cleaned her gunky eyes, and they would gunk up again by the time I returned.
Bill and I had half an hour with her when the veterinarian arrived, right on schedule.
I spoke clearly, but tears were dropping on the clipboard when I signed my understanding of our agreement. I paid the $300 dutifully, in cash. Yogi was watching from a safe distance. Uma was letting everyone know she was watching what was going on.
I was really impressed when the petite veterinarian pulled Maggie out of the dog house. She slid her on top of a scrap piece of carpet in one strong motion, and we lay her down easy.
The veterinarian gave me a bowl of dog treats to offer Maggie and calm her down. The old bear was calm as always, because if anything she was an overtrusting pet, but of course she took Bill’s and my offers of cookies as she settled in.
Eyes gunky again, I had Bill give me a tissue so I could wipe her face one last time. I was sniffling myself at this point, but didn’t think to prep myself with my own tissues.
The veterinarian pierced Maggie’s skin, using multiple syringes, Bill tells me. I didn’t see. I couldn’t look anywhere but at Maggie’s face.
I told Bill to stop giving Maggie so many cookies, it was too much. He was handing her automatic reloads of cookies like Homer Simpson’s dream about everlasting donuts. Any dog owner knows that you shouldn’t overindulge a dog just like you shouldn’t overindulge a child, but Maggie didn’t seem to mind. The veterinarian assured me kindly that dogs’ rate of cookie consumption actually helped her gauge how well the tranquilizer was coursing through the body.
As soon as Maggie heard that, she shoved her entire muzzle into the wee Gladware bowl, and started snarfing down cookies nonstop like it was a grazing muzzle.
We knew this about her from Day 1. Her adoption paperwork specified that she was “very enthusiastic about food.”
After a couple of minutes inhaling cookies, Maggie started to center, and her huge beast-like head veered away from the bowl and hovered laboriously over her front paws. I held her face with both of my hands. It was like clutching a baggy velvety sack hiding a bowling ball. The weight of her head got heavier and heavier, and she grew ever more, more droopy.
I held her up for as long as I could. Put my forehead on hers and openly shuddered and cried.
What the veterinarian assured me was true. I knew Maggie was comfortable because she was snoring like a bear, the drones growing louder, longer, and varying with Maggie’s impressive range of vibrato. When Maggie snored, your stomach felt it, too.
Eventually her head was clearly not going to be swayed by any force but gravity, and I let her chin touch the ground.
Sobby snot was dripping from my nostrils and I just held my face to hers. “I’m so sorry,” I slurred. “I love you,” I said, finally.
There’s a guilt I felt for the first couple of days after letting Maggie go. I felt as if I tricked her with treats! She just loved to be around people, and here I welcomed strangers into our home and plied her with sweets, knowing it would end, completely, for her.
But what Bill says is also true: That the way Maggie went was the best way to go. To have a loved one holding your face letting you eat as much as you want of your favorite things, and then to just pass into a deep sleep.
She’s such a good girl.