January 8, 2021
Two and a half years ago, I read some article about canine dementia that said, referring to euthanasia, “Better a week too soon than a day too late.”
I thought, “No way. Savor every minute.”
Until the week began.
Zelda has more days left. She’s still drinking, and she ate a handful of treats this morning. She looked in my eyes and recognized me a little while ago, and she got up to come sit closer to me.
But we are out of good days. We went to the beach this morning and… she wasn’t there. She roamed, she walked, I let her off leash and she went as far as she could go along the line of beach, one step after another, determined to get to some destination that only she can see.
But her heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t curious sniffing, eager appreciation of the gallery of smells. It was trudging.
At night, she walks and walks and walks until she gets stuck somewhere and then she whimpers — a sort of breathy sound that might be distressed breathing, might be weird snoring, but no, is crying. She has to be helped from her stuck place, whether it’s under the bed, in the corner, in the closet, trapped between the toilet and the wall. Stuck. She wants to go somewhere, but she can’t find the place she’s looking for. And she wobbles when she walks until she gets her footing, and then she walks and walks and walks.
She hasn’t eaten real food for a few days now. A few bites of chicken apple sausage two days ago, a pupperoni yesterday, some Zuke’s today. But she’s still drinking water, which means she probably has at least three more days of life left in her, at least according to the internet. And it could be more. But I don’t think they will be good days, even if there are good moments.
At the beach, two dogs were running, chasing a ball. Running the way dogs ought to run, running the way Z used to run. She had a moment where she was looking at them. And a moment where she was interested in the people with the dogs. But those moments are interspersed with a struggle that reminds me of my mother’s terminal restlessness in her last weeks of life, a desperate attempt to get somewhere, do something.
She’s such a tough little dog, she’s so determined. Do I think she could last another month? Maybe. Do I think it’ll be a good month, filled with joy? Nope. So I cry and cry and cry, the tears running down my face, trying not to do it loudly, trying not to make any sounds, trying not to upset her. And I bury my face in her fur and tell her how much I love her and that it’s okay, that I know she has to go, and that I will still love her, that I will always love her.
But I wonder who will be there for her. That spirit, so persistent, so engaged, so centered on me for so long. For almost sixteen years, she has wanted to know where I am, always checking to make sure that I’m still near her, following me when I move. My shadow. I haven’t left her alone for months, except for quick runs to a grocery store. Now… I won’t be there. And I can’t fix that.
Suzanne called the vet for me. We’re waiting for a call back, but it’s 4:20, and soon it’ll be dark and cold. Not raining, but if I’m going to help her leave me, I don’t want to do it in the dark. I just don’t. I guess that’s how I feel about the whole thing in general, but — well. Someday soon it will be that day too late, and I will have made my dog suffer because I couldn’t bear the suffering myself. That’s just not okay. That can’t be how this story ends.
January 9, 2021
The vet called this morning. I said no. Then I cried some more and said yes.
In the car on the way, my nose started to bleed. Not a little. It wasn’t dripping, it was gushing. Napkin after napkin (and thank God Suzanne had them), filled with blood. It wasn’t a metaphor, but if my life was a movie it would have been a stupidly obvious symbol. I would have rolled my eyes but I was too busy holding my nose.
I had to let her go inside the vet alone — damn Covid times — and it broke my heart. I’m not sure she was aware enough to care in the way that she would have desperately cared six months ago. But I knew I was breaking a promise I’d made her a year ago and it hurt. Oh, it hurt.
But after the vet examined her and talked to me on the phone, she and the tech brought her back out. I held her on a picnic bench in the sunshine and whispered to her, telling her all the things she needed to know, while the vet searched for a vein. That I loved her with all my heart, that she was the best dog ever — in contrast to Bartleby, who, you know, was good at loving me but not very good at learning to behave like a good dog. That she was smart and beautiful and adored, and that very soon now, very, very soon, she would not hurt anymore, and she should look for my mom. And she should run. She should run so far, so fast, run with all the joy of those other dogs on the beach. And maybe go swimming, too.
At the moment when she left — between the vet finishing with the needles and returning with the stethoscope — a voice in my head said, clear as day, present as any real sound, “I’m coming back. Look for me.” Maybe it was my subconscious, trying to make this easier for me. That’s fine, if so. Go, subconscious, go. But I’m willing to believe that those were her last words to me. They do make it easier.
Only a little, though. The silence inside my tiny house is deafening.