Back when my ex and I had been married for about a year, we bought a puppy together. Ex, Dog and I were a tight-knit little family unit for the next eight years or so, at which time I left Ex and – by unfortunate necessity – left Dog as well. I didn’t have the resources to take care of a pet at that time.
I did try to see Dog on a regular basis, but eventually those visits began to fall by the wayside. I mostly blame Ex for this: he and his second wife moved way the fuck out to the suburbs – beyond the borders of my city’s public transit line – which meant I was dependent on Ex to bring Dog over in his car if I wanted dogtime. And Ex often claimed to be too busy to do this.
So the conjugal Dog visits tapered off. I went years without seeing Dog, and the last time I saw him (over a year ago) he did not appear to know who I was anymore. Which is understandable since by that point I’d been living elsewhere for half his life.
This is all context for the fact that Ex emailed me yesterday to tell me that Dog – now sixteen years old – is not doing well. His kidneys are failing, he’s lost a ton of weight, and his back legs don’t work so well (which the vet thinks may be due to a cancerous tumour in his spine, although they don’t have the diagnostic tools to find out for sure). The vet was hinting strongly that it’s probably time to consider euthanasia.
Ex was telling me all this because Dog is/was my dog, too, so I have a right to know what’s up. He said he could understand if I wanted to say goodbye but that, honestly, Dog was looking so rough that it might be better for me to stay away and remember him as he was.
I thought about this and decided I needed to say a proper goodbye. Dog may not remember me anymore, but I damn sure remember him, and I wanted some kind of closure on his life. If I let him slip away without seeing him, maybe some part of me would still kinda think he was alive somewhere, which would be…weird and delusional. Also, I still love him and didn’t want to miss my chance for one last kiss. I always hate it when I see someone I care about for the last time and don’t know it’s the last time; I always feel like if I’d known, I would have savoured the moment more.
So today I went to Ex’s place (he’s moved downtown now) to see Dog for what will almost certainly be the last time.
It was…pretty horrifying.
It could’ve been worse, I guess. For the most part, Dog lay quietly on a cushion on the floor, alternately sleeping and nearsightedly looking around. He’s pretty deaf, but I already knew that from last time (although I distinctly saw him twitch his ears when Ex’s background music hit a really long high note). His eyes are cloudy-looking and his expression is kind of…weird, like he can’t open his eyes as wide as he used to – but that was present last time, too.
What got me was the weight loss. When Dog was in his prime, he weighed around fifty pounds, maybe fifty-five. Now he’s hovering just above thirty. I literally did not know an animal could get this thin and still be alive. It hurt to look at him. His cheekbones, eye sockets, vertebrae, ribs, and hipbones protruded. He was like a dog skeleton shrinkwrapped in fur.
I said hi to Dog and gently petted him, and he smelled and licked my face. And then I lost it for a little while and lay crying on Ex’s floor with my head between Dog’s front paws while Ex hovered at a discreet distance.
Then Ex and I sat on the floor near Dog and just hung out, and we took turns giving Dog some treats (which Dog was uncharacteristically interested in; lately his appetite hadn’t been very good at all).
Then Dog started crying. Ex didn’t know what it could be. For some reason I was the one who deduced that Dog had to poop and was probably crying because he lacked the strength to get up and/or push the poop out (ex had told me already that Dog was having issues in this department – taking gooey liquid poops and then falling down in his own mess so that he and the floor needed to be cleaned up several times a day).
Ex lifted Dog to his feet and half-pushed, half-carried Dog to the front door; liquid shit began to fall out the back of Dog before they reached the doorway. Ex ended up lifting the still-leaking Dog up and quickly hauling him into the front yard. I got up and went out there to see if I could help in any way. Dog was trying to squat and poop but his legs kept giving out; Ex was in front of Dog, bent at the waist, arms wrapped around Dog’s torso trying to hold him up. Either it was uncomfortable to be held like that, or Dog just hated being interfered with during what should have been a private moment; at any rate, he was struggling to free himself and his legs were just flopping uselessly all over the place. It was a horrible thing to watch, and I didn’t feel like I could do anything, so I went back inside.
Ex eventually brought Dog back in, wiped his backside with a wet paper towel because he’d fallen in his own shit-puddle multiple times, and wiped up the small amount of shit that had gotten on the floor.
Apparently Dog has recently taken up a habit of pacing around when he’s anxious, and the whole pooping thing must have freaked him out, because he started walking in circles around the kitchen – the first time I’d seen him walk under his own power since I got there. Between his stiff gait, the weird way his back was arched up and the infernal how-are-you-even-still-alive skinniness of him, Dog looked like something out of a horror movie. I’m not exaggerating; he looked like some kind of animatronic hellbeast prop, right down to the stiff way he moved. I hate that I was thinking this way about someone I love and someone I lived with for eight years of my life and slept next to and fed and took care of, but I couldn’t help it. Dog is dying and it looks flat-out ghoulish.
Ex suggested that he and I take a little walk and grab some coffee. In the coffee shop, Ex started free-associating some more about whether or not he should put Dog to sleep soon. He said he knows Dog doesn’t have years left or anything, but maybe he had a few more months in him, and Dog didn’t seem totally sad/depressed/disinterested in life, so would it be premature to end him now? Maybe it wasn’t time yet.
This, truth be told, pissed me off. Dog is visibly wasting away. He can barely walk unassisted. According to Ex, he hardly eats and doesn’t express any interest in his toys. From what I can tell, he spends most of his time lying around too weak to do anything. He cries because it’s such a difficult ordeal to take a shit. He hasn’t had a solid poop in weeks, and soils himself several times a day. Yes, he still gives affection to people and doesn’t appear to be in actual pain, but he doesn’t have much of a life that I can see. And if Ex waits until Dog is suffering to do the euthanasia thing, that means Dog’s last moments on Earth will be horrible and painful instead of maybe neutral like now.
I get that this is a horrible decision to make, though. And I get that it’s got to be that much harder for Ex, who’s been living with Dog for all this time and who maybe doesn’t see the full extent of Dog’s illness because it’s crept up gradually. So I tried to remain mostly neutral. I did gently point out to Ex that it’s probably better to be able to choose when the end is/get closure/say a proper goodbye than it would be to wake up one day and realize Dog had passed without warning. I’m pretty sure Ex is now leaning in the direction of doing it soon.
When we got back to Ex’s place, his wife was there cooking food (I don’t know where she’d been before). She told Ex that Dog had soiled himself again while we were out. It was obvious by the stain that it had happened while he was still lying on his cushion, which pretty much broke my heart. I don’t know how Ex can think Dog still has all this life in him worth preserving. Not that I’m advocating putting animals to sleep over a little incontinence, but it’s not just that. Dog can’t relieve himself properly or walk, see, or hear well, and he doesn’t particularly eat. He looks like he’s starving to death, and probably is. He’s very likely got a tumour in his spine that’s only going to get bigger. He can’t sleep on the bed with Ex and his wife anymore because he’s not able to climb up there. I didn’t see him wag once in the hours I spent there. He went through periods of uncontrollable shivering even though it was perfectly warm in the house. He’s just so obviously done. Why can’t Ex see this?
Anyway. Ex gave me some space and I spent maybe five or ten minutes cuddling Dog and whispering affectionate things in his ear that he almost certainly couldn’t hear. Dog gave me a bunch of sloppy kisses on the mouth and I gave him a bunch of smoochy kisses on the hard, jagged bones of his cheeks and forehead. No amount of kisses or cuddles ever really felt like enough – there was never a point where I thought “Yup, I have said my goodbyes and feel okay to leave now” – so finally I just forced myself to get up, hug Ex goodbye, give his wife my regards and head home despite feeling empty and unfulfilled.
when I was younger, I accepted that different animals have different life spans. Now, though, it seems like a sick joke or a curse. Dogs and cats get used up in twenty years, tops, while humans live for around eighty…it’s just so arbitrary. And if one kind of creature can live to be eighty, why can’t all of them? Why the different expiry dates?
I just don’t get it. It isn’t fair.
He was a really good dog.