Giving a good dog a good death

 

Two nights ago, we were sitting in the living room watching a movie, dogs sprawled on the floor. Charlie had been licking his paws obsessively, nothing too unusual for our orally-fixated dog — who could often be seen with a shoe or pillow or leash dangling from his mouth like a baby’s pacifier, or licking his sister’s fur, licking dishes in the dishwasher — but that night when I called his name to stop him from licking, he stood up, walked across the grey carpet to me, and there was blood dripping from his nose, streaked on his black paws. Where he had been sitting there was a pool of blood on the carpet. We tried to see where it was coming from, hard to tell because he was gagging on it. I quickly realized we needed to get him to an emergency vet, my 13-year-old put old blankets down in the back of the van, we lifted him in, and I was off.

That night, there was a lot of blood, and he stayed at the vet for observation. As we ruled out possible diagnoses one by one, all the signs pointed to a tumor. Another visit to the vet later, an x-ray revealed a basketball-sized tumor in his spleen, metastatized to his nasal cavity. We knew it was time to make the decision every pet owner dreads: how and when to give our good dog a good death.

Charlie and his sister came to us from my brother’s home when my 9-year-old was in utero. They’ve been witness to 9 years of our family story, the good, the bad, the ugly. They have annoying habits and often smell bad — particularly when their favorite snacks are the delicious nuggets of chicken poop abundant in our yard — and they require a lot of us. But these are the sensory images on slideshow through my mind today: the velvet of Charlie’s fur, the upward curl of his wagging tail, the snuffling on the ground for every crumb, the tongue licking dirty dishes as I loaded the dishwasher, the wild leaping gallop through our fields, the soulful gaze of his eyes as he laid his chin on your lap. A dog is love embodied, unconditional love, forgiving love, love that trusts with a wagging, hopeful tail.

The decision to euthanize is never easy, and rarely as clear as this decision was. We knew we didn’t want to risk Charlie bleeding out at our home, an internal rupture of his tumor, fear or pain for him. There is never a good option at this point, and it always ends the same way: holding this dear creature while he falls asleep, whispering in his floppy ear, “Good dog, good, good boy; I love you, good dog, good dog.” This is as good a death as there can be. It’s the way I want to go, hearing the words You’ve done well, I love you, good girl, good girl.

We all gathered together around Charlie before I drove him to the vet last night. We placed our hands on him as he snuffled around for the last nuggets of Chicken Delite, we thanked him: for loving us so well, for the gifts a good dog brings a family. We blessed him as his life came to a close. My daughter asked through tears, “Will we see him again?” My answer to her: I can’t imagine heaven without our beloved pets there.

Good dog, Charlie, good, good dog.

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