Hey, old people. Remember the olden days before the new-fangled CD’s came out and we had vinyl records which artists released predominantly as albums? Do you remember what we called a song that shared the same title as the album (a very meta concept)? Why not extend the concept to this “tragic dog video” blog?
A poignant little comic strip showed up on my Facebook wall. Like all things in today’s digital domain, argumentative conflict is always close at hand. If an online group of people gather, controversy is sure to arise. Internet denizens are incapable of congregating around any campfire of a subject without a skirmish of some sort breaking out. You can post a photo of a glass of water, caption it “this is a glass of water,” and a tidal wave of petty disagreements will erupt. Mark my word. It’s as if people, in the context of faceless, bodiless, online community, are addicted to the catharsis of tension and disagreement. They literally go online to argue about the most inane matters.
So this strip did in fact elicit conflict, which I consciously avoided. I chose to appreciate it for its sweet portrayal of one the saddest events pet owners will ever experience. Unlike our institutionalized treatment of human life, we recognize that our pet’s suffering and ebbing quality of life should be humanely addressed with the option of euthanasia. We put our dogs “to sleep” at that point we have deemed the animal is suffering too much agony to endure for the animal and owner. We must let them go, in spite of our selfish need to keep them around. When the time comes to let your pet pass, choosing to be by its side is a personal choice. Some of us prefer to hold the animal on its final journey, to be there as it takes the final breaths; some of us do not. There is no right or wrong and our opinions have no bearing on reality.
When we put Leah to sleep, it was definitely time. She was a Labrador mix who had replaced Pepper, a similar breed of dog who died suddenly from parvo during my senior year in high school. Leah was my “companion” during my 20’s, the most turbulent, emotionally challenging decade of my life. That period of time represented the most precarious age in my life that might have easily broken me, but I somehow pulled through intact. Leah was my pal and inadvertent support. I took her to parks, to pick my brother up from school, on my photographic expeditions, I walked her every day. I made it out the other end of my twenties and as I began to thrive into my 30’s, Leah grew old. A stroke left her unsteady and her body quickly deteriorated. Realizing at last that her state of health was impeding pleasure or comfort, my parents and I reached that unavoidable juncture. We had to release her from this grueling agony. When that dark day arrived, she made her way into the car gingerly but ready, since she knew car rides as the summons to a walk in the park or other pleasurable outing I had planned.
She didn’t know we were taking her to her final rest.
Once in the car, her tail wagged happily, and my heart began to melt.
We explained the purpose of our visit to the veterinarian, and after a quick examination, he chimed in. “Yes, it’s time.”
He began to ready the accoutrements of death and asked if I would like to “be there.” I quickly answered “yes.” There was no other way for me. To not accept the end of her life by hiding was akin to dismissing the part of her life we shared and the spark it gave me to barrel through the darkness. You can’t pick and choose the elements of this existence that make it a whole; in denying one, you deny all.
I chose to be with her as she left this mortal toil. While the veterinarian left the room, I held her tightly, the frail body that was losing its daily battle with fleeting dignity.
It was indeed time; it helped to repeat that.
The doctor returned with a syringe and my grasp of Leah tightened, as if I was fighting the urge to not let her go. The last few moments of her life are cloudy in my memory. I was struck by the rapidity with which the final injection did its “job.” In seconds, her body lots its fulsome liveliness. I felt it all slip away in moments, leaving me holding a lifeless bundle of hair, bones, cartilage and tissue, nothingness from what was something that had previously been a breathing remnant of my past.
I involuntarily burst out sobbing, something that had never happened to me.
The veterinarian awkwardly wondered, “Are…you OK?”
They are animal doctors for a reason.
Yeah, I was OK. What other choice do we have?