On my 39th birthday, I held her in my lap as the vet injected a drug killed
her in the most merciful way I could. The dental floss that she had eaten two
days before had pulled her intestines and stomach tight against one another,
giving her the humped back look that dogs in pain assume. The yellow bile she
had vomited up stained our kitchen floor, the yard outside, and the
entranceway to the emergency veterinary clinic. Scissors to cut the floss
hanging from her hadn’t helped. Pulling the floss, paper towels wrapped around
to give a grip hadn’t helped pass it through her intestines.
Emma was a yellow Labrador Retriever, American breed. She was beautiful. Not
dog beautiful, but animal beautiful. Her eyes were her entire soul. She lost
most of her tail when I closed a sliding door on it early on in life and we
failed to treat it properly. It would curl down as she wagged her entire body
in joy for a treat, a kiss, a scratch on the ear.
The last night of her life, I made her sleep on the kitchen floor. 2:30 AM to
4:30 AM dealing with her sickness made me angry and tired. Why couldn’t she
stop eating things? Books. Floss. Defrosting food. Trash. Cardboard. Anything
left out that had a scent or taste, she tried. Over and over again. Walking in
the door, we knew that ears flat back and a refusal to look us in the eyes
meant we would prowl the house, looking for the vomit, the trash, or the smell
that preceded the sight of diarrhea on the carpet. A carpet cleaner bought in
our first year of marriage became our most useful purchase.
She would sleep next to my wife, acting like a heater, all 95 pounds of her
sprawled across the bed. Pushing and shoving we would kick her off before
falling asleep, then wake up sweating with her fur pressed against us.
Her legs trembled that morning as I watched her. She didn’t eat. No interest.
Brody, our black lab, ate her food for perhaps the fifth time in his life. The
sides of her belly flared inwards as her chest seems to expand with breath.
But she wouldn’t eat. The muscles quivering in her legs rippled under her fur
and her eyes hurt.
Yellow hair across the back of our SUV, across our couch, flying through the
air as we snapped the sheets across the bed. The shedding would stop and
start, stop and start, but the hair never went away. On coats, on shirts, in
My wife said ‘take something to read’. A Kindle, something to pass the time.
To keep me occupied while they made things better. We didn’t really say
goodbye - just closed the door and walked away. Just another trip to the vet.
A stop for gas as the tank was low. Paperwork and a small room where we
She ran with me. Down streets, in parks, across ice and in rain. The three of
us would run. I would pull back, trying to keep up. Brody would trot, Emma
would lope along heavily. Panting in weather too hot to run in but loving
every second of it. Checking her territory to see what was new.
X-rays showed the loops of intestines that were on top of each other. Bubbles
of gas trapped inside. Laura Smith, a kind woman, trying to explain that
waiting it out wouldn’t happen. The ‘linear substance’ was in the stomach and
the intestines, and the undulation of the muscles was pulling it tight,
killing her as it tried to pass it out of her system. The valves of her
stomach, designed to close off access to the intestines, were acting like an
anchor on one end.
When you spend your life with dogs, you know they are more than just pets.
Unconditional love, all the time. Just your acknowledgement makes a dog happy.
A scratch, a hug, a treat - it’s all a reason for happiness. There is no other
relationship where you can give so little and receive so much. They aren’t
just pets, are they?
3 months in a tiny house had worn us down. A new job, a new city. Raising our
daughter with so little space. A pregnancy and 2x per week drives back and
forth to Ohio for school took its toll on my wi. What energy we had left over
went to Grace. There were no more belly scratches, walks, or games of fetch.
Our dogs became simply pets - something that needed a slice of the little time
we had left over after all other obligations were met. Dog food, medicines,
pet licenses, leashes, replacement books for the ones they chewed, carpet
cleaning after 8 hours inside without relief, everything else. Just another
drain on our energy and bank account.
Approximately $3500 worth of surgery could have saved Emma. Less than we spend
on food in a year, less than the cash we needed to close on our home sale,
less than the items we would buy this year and forget the next in our day to
day lives. But more than I thought we could give.
I don’t know how many times I called my wife from the vet, explaining each
time what I had learned. Yes, it was bad. Surgery was the only option. 2 weeks
recovery. They can put her to sleep if we have to. How can I say that I don’t
think we can pay for this?
Self understanding is hard. We all have our vision of ourselves that shields
us from the real reasons we act. We see everything shadowed in the image, and
it comforts us. Of course that was the right choice. No, I didn’t have to do
more. Yes, I did the right thing. What I learned is that when I had to make
the decision, I weighed my friend of 8 years against the life I wanted to
make, and the scale tipped against her. I killed my dog so that my new
daughter would be able to come home from the hospital to a new house, not a
tiny rental apartment. I took her life so we could move on with ours. I shone
the light on the belief that our dogs weren’t just dogs and saw that’s exactly
what they were if the price was too high.
The shot took her heartbeat way before it was even fully injected. She didn’t
quiver, she didn’t move. She just went. Her body twisted as I laid it on the
gurney they brought, and she wheeled away to be cremated and spread across the
gardens. Walking into the vet, I brought my dog. Walking out, I carried the
remnants of her life in my hands - a leash, a collar. The wrappings of her
Grief is still packed away behind the words and it break free each day, just a
little bit. I let her down. Emma won’t run through the back yard of the house
we’ll buy soon, or lay on the floor as I rock the our new baby to sleep. She
won’t lay on the couch next to me at night, or stand beside me as I pour food
in her bowl. The gaping hole in our house now is her space.
Our bargain was love exchanged in equal amounts and I didn’t come through. I’m
sorry, Emma. I hope you forgive me, and we can run through heaven together