We all have days that we’d rather forget. I had one a couple of weeks ago, and I can write about it now and not worry about my eyes leaking all over the keyboard; but my mind still wanders in mild denial.Monday, 17 September is normally an ordinary day, and to most people casually observing life, one would never notice anything unusual. It’s funny– funny weird, not funny ha-ha– how events can happen and the rest of the world carries on about its business without so much as a second thought to individuals. Compassion and empathy are what we get when we get off the ride of the *world* and start paying attention to individuals.
Now, the events of that Monday may not seem like such a huge deal to most of you, but it changed me profoundly. It all starts with something seemingly innocent and innocuous: an open gate. This gate was left open by a young person who chose to use our front yard as a short cut instead of walking around the block. (Kids do it frequently, and it bugs me, but that’s for another day.) That evening, that young man and that open gate brought profound grief into my home and into my heart.
We had two dogs–“had” being the key here– Duchess and LadyBear, and they have free reign of the front yard. Duchess was a Beagle/Cocker Spaniel mix who loved to chase after smells, and an open gate was just the invitation she needed to go explore the neighborhood that fateful night. I hadn’t noticed the open gate after I saw someone go through it, but I wanted to yell “Make sure the gate is closed!” because Duchess was already out and LadyBear was jumping to go see what was going on. Maybe letting LadyBear out scared the kid, and he just forgot.
Shortly after 9 a friend stopped by with something she needed to return, and that’s when I saw the gate. My youngest wanted to dash off to go looking for Duchess, but I told her not to because Duchess always came home. She never came home under her own power that night. My husband found her up the street and around the corner; she was lying on the sidewalk. He said she lifted her head and started wagging her tail when she saw him, as if to say “Yea, my people have found me!”. He carried her home and set her down in the grass then came to tell me she’d been found. When I saw her, I already knew she’d been hit.
It wasn’t long before we were off to the emergency animal hospital. I told our son he may want to say good-bye, in case if she was paralyzed, she wouldn’t be coming home. The look on his face was a mixture of disbelief, shock and horror at the idea she may not be coming back. I was already in tears, and his face didn’t help much. I dreaded the next morning and the thought of having to tell our two girls that Duchess was gone and they didn’t have a chance to say good-bye; ‘I’ll deal with tomorrow when it’s tomorrow’, I reasoned.
The drive was too long, but Duchess gave my heart a jolt of hope: she lifted her head and stretched her legs. She wasn’t paralyzed! She would come home with us after all!!
Let me tell you a bit about Duchess. She wasn’t just any dog, she was MY dog. She jumped into bed with me and dove under the covers as soon as my husband would open the gate, and if he didn’t do it as fast as she liked, she’d sit next to it and cry with annoying anticipation. She would sit on me as soon as I sat down, and sometimes was jumping before I was halfway down. She was a bit naughty, and very stubborn and loved to eat butter, and sometimes must have thought she was part cat the way she would climb up behind people in chairs. She was also spoiled rotten– I think she knew it, too, and so did LadyBear. But that little puppy mutt came into our house five years ago and ran away with my heart. She was my favorite and everyone here knew it, and I think LadyBear knew that too.
The vet told us they would get her stabilized with oxygen, painkillers and fluids and would take x-rays later. They let us see her briefly before we went home. She looked at me with her eyes filled with love and gave one little thump of her tail to say she wasn’t going to give up. I was so filled with hope at this point, and some pet-parental fear. I didn’t want to leave my baby behind. The clock on a marquee next door to the animal hospital said 11:22 PM. I don’t remember if I said anything on the way home. We got home and our son was still up, waiting to hear what was going to happen. We said basically no news is good news and told him to head to bed, and we’d know more later, closer to morning what the prognosis would be. He looked relieved.
We didn’t have to wait until morning to hear the news; it was barely an hour actually. “We had a chance to give her a better exam”, they said, “and there are a few things going on. First, and the least of her problems, is that she has a dislocated hip” (me, in a flash-thought: that’s not so bad, just pop it into place! yea!) “All the ribs on one side are broken and pressing on her lungs and heart, that’s why she’s having difficulty breathing” (me: broken ribs, not good and how do you fix that on a dog anyhow?) “She also has a herniated abdomen” (me: what on earth does that mean?) “and her abdominal muscle has been ruptured “(me: that doesn’t explain much still) “and the only thing holding her insides in is her skin” (me: O God, NO! NO-NO-NO NOOOO!)’ [me: I want to faint because that’s what a good drama has: a fainting heroine.]
I don’t faint, but really, really wanted to be anywhere else but where I was at that moment. “We could do surgery for her abdomen, and she may need surgery again later for her hip, but that’s to worry about later. Her ribs, now that’s a different story, and it’s hard to know… “(me: surgery! yes, operate! fix her so she can come home tomorrow! wait… ribs… hard to know… focus).
Me, to them: “How much would surgery be?” (I’m writing down what they say on the white board in the kitchen so my husband and son, who’s still up, can see.)
Them: “Surgery for the abdomen would be $3,000… “(I write this down, and my husband gasps and hangs his head as he leaves the room. I know all hope is dashed to bits now.)
Me: “Oh, ummm, okaaayyy” (me: NO! that’s not the answer I want to hear!) My knees feel a little weak.
Them: “We don’t normally recommend euthanasia, but it seems to be in Duchess’ best interest…”
Me: “Can you keep her stable until morning, so we can bring our kids in to say good-bye, they’re sleeping right now?”
Them: “She’s in a lot of pain, and her injuries are severe… (me: NO! NO! NO!) Again, we prefer to use euthanasia as a last resort but… ” I can hear in her voice she’s telling me to wake up my girls, but, still, I don’t want to face that truth, and she doesn’t want to come out and say it directly that time is of the essence and if we don’t come now, she won’t be alive in the morning.
My husband volunteers to wake the girls, and I go into the bathroom and sob. I really just want to scream and wail and grieve loudly, but I don’t so I won’t scare my kids. Adults have to keep it all together, all the time. When I come out our youngest is already in tears, as I knew she would be. Our middle one was trying to put on a brave face, and not doing very well, and tears came soon for her too. Our son had a look a disbelief on his face, mixed with shock. I think he wanted to cry, but wasn’t about to do that in front of his sisters or mother, or father.
We take LadyBear with us and pile into the van to go say a good-bye none of us was prepared to do. It was a very, very quiet ride, except for LadyBear, who just loves to go for car rides.
Our last hour with our best friend and family member was too short. Her ears and paws were already starting to feel cold from her internal bleeding. Her belly was more distended than before, and I knew she wouldn’t survive surgery if they tried. She was fighting to stay with us with every breath she had, she was trying to keep her eyes open to look at us, at me. I was praying that she would just stop breathing on her own so I could hold her in her last moments, but she didn’t, and I wasn’t.
They let us take her home and I held her the whole way. What I wanted to do was cradle her close to my heart and cry till I had no tears left, but I couldn’t. I just put my hand on her head and scratched by her ears where she always loved it and she was so soft, and I tried to burn that memory into my brain, so I’d never forget, all the while knowing full well it was futile and I would eventually forget.
The marquee said it was 2:21 AM.