May 5, 2016

Billy Dog

Of all our dogs, Billy was the simplest. He was not "almost human." He was not "my best friend." 
 Billy was a dog.

Last weekend, Billy's abdominal tumor snaked into his well-being. When we fed him, he collapsed in contortions of abdominal distress. When we didn't, he told us he was starving. In the wild, he would have been killed by another animal.

In our world, the animal was me. 
 He didn't make it easy on me, the little bastard. By the time we made the decision, six months to the day when he was given three weeks left to live, he could no longer get himself up without me lifting up his butt.  Except when I asked him if he wanted to go for a ride. Then, he jumped into the car, bounded out at the vet's, and eagerly answered all the doggie messages he read on the landscaping. 
Once inside, he wriggled in insane delight at being the object of so much attention. I love this practice--they had already spread an old comforter across the floor, complete with a dog treat in three corners. A box of tissues was in the fourth corner. But my wonderful older vet had just recently retired and sold the practice to a new fellow. Kind and gentle though he was, he has not yet learned the magic words.

"You're doing the right thing."

When I expressed alarm at Billy's apparent animation, he told me that the burst of adrenaline an animal experiences at the vet's can supercharge an impaired body. He said, "that makes it hard."But he didn't say what I needed to hear.

"You're doing the right thing."

As the sedation took hold, Billy's head slipped onto my lap and damn if his tongue didn't slip an inch out of his mouth, exactly the way Clutch slept. Oh God, Billy, don't you be making that moronic face too, I smiled to myself.  I wish I could tell you I saw it as a sign Clutchie was there to welcome his old friend, but I didn't think that.  All I thought, as the up-and-down of Billy's chest slowed and then stopped, was This is Death. I thought, I still am thinking, that Death gouges out a deep black footprint onto the soul. Separate and apart from the heart's loss is the hardness of this act. A being...a big sloppy dog, but a being nevertheless...
is no more. Is No More.

I don't need reminders that this act was merciful in light of his suffering. Now, I don't even need to hear that I did the right thing. Because, let's face it, I have already done it. I--we--need to feel the weight of this when we make it happen. Its only right to feel overwhelmed in the presence of Death. Simply, as Grace so often reminds us,to stand and face it.