i had to put my dog down_ here's how it felt
i put my dog down this weekend
I wanted to share this because if you’re reading this, you’re probably going through a similar experience and don’t know what to expect. So I think this can be helpful.
When I think about Jun I really don’t think about her as a pup much. Those aren’t the memories that necessarily pull at my heart strings. The later memories are the ones that make me feel. We got really close over the last 6 years. I took her to university with me, parties with me, camping with me, vacations with me. I took her to friends houses, to the forest and cottages.
When I was at uni I lived alone atop a pizza store with my Jun in an exposed brick all-white loft. We had a routine. I would longboard over to my girlfriends’ house and she would follow, no leash. One night I’m half way there and I turn to see she’s gone. I notice a party down the street and I thought to myself “no chance”. I went to go ask the students if they’d seen a dog. The first group of students pointed me in the direction of the house and the second, pointed me right into the house. It was a really formal party and I stomped in this stranger’s house out of place with my longboard and jeans in search of her. I was pushing through crowds of people until there was a clearing. I was stood there facing a semi circle full of kneeling squealing girls with Juniper in the middle, being pet to her heart’s content. Social butterfly. Prancing around. Absolutely in heaven. Absolutely oblivious. Trying to hide how badly I wanted to laugh, I screamed over the music, “Juniper come here.” She didn’t hear me. I got closer. “Juniper come here. Now.” She looked at me and immediately, her ears flopped back, head dropped down and she trotted over to me as if to say, “sorry, sorry, sorry I got distracted.” I dragged her out. I can now note the first time I’d ever dragged my teenage daughter out of a house party.
And then there was the time when we went camping. I had borrowed a reasonably used tent from a then-boyfriend’s dad with a considerable amounts of holes. In the middle of the night I felt... wet? We were being rained on. And then warm? Jun was glued up right beside me, shaking. The both of us were. And the colder we got the closer she came. Yeah okay, it was instinctual for her but for a free and independent-natured dog this was the moment where I thought, sure this is my family dog but this is also my dog.
what i wish someone told me
I always thought that Juniper would die naturally, like it was never even a consideration that it would be otherwise. So I would dread the day when I would come home to find her gone. My mom has always said, “don’t worry. Because half the things you worry about never even come to be.” When it started to become a reality that putting her down would be an option, I started worrying about that instead. And even putting her down was a tick less horrendous than my anxiety leading up to it. I suffered more in the anticipation. Hands down the most detrimental part of this entire experience was to my mental wellbeing in the anticipation of the end. Because, as soon as it was over the anxiety leading up to what putting jun down would be like and feel like, was an entirely different experience than what I made it in my head to be.
Backtrack a sec. I have a really vivid memory of this. My grade 4 friend Megan Rybko told me that if I dragged a stuffed bear on a rope around my house for long enough, my parents would give into buying us a dog. One day in winter when talk and speculation about the possibility of getting a dog was stirring, my mom said, “I hear that loosing a dog is like loosing a family member.” I shot that idea down because I couldn’t imagine how that could possibly be. How could you feel that deeply for a thing that can’t even speak?
knowing when its time
For the past 2-ish years it was a gradual aging process that made it hard to pinpoint whether the quality of life was still there. Between Juniper’s hip dysplasia, thyroid issues, constant thirst and incontinence, everything started popping up slowly, making it hard to draw the line.
When it was my mom’s turn to take the dog for the week, (we did kind of like shared custody because no one person could meet Juniper’s increasing needs), she was the first to say “I can’t do this anymore” and suggested we put the dog down that very day. First of all. I was pissed. I had had Jun with me the day before and she was as fine as she ever was. I called my dad and said that I felt I was resisting this decision because I was doubting my mom’s logic. He said, “get that out of your head because this has nothing to with the relationship with your mother. This has to do with your relationship with life,” and that stuck with me.
All my family was ready to let her go because they saw her quality of life was less than good, and frankly they were tired. I would scrape shit from the kitchen floor for the rest of my life. I really could. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t tired. After balling up in a quiet corner of my client’s office (no choice don’t judge me lol), I made the decision that I would spend a final week with her, and take that time to work from home. Only then did I start to see how she’d declined. I had a sickening feeling that because I was the last man standing, my decision, the final one, made Juni’s life my responsibility. My dad, in desperation to alleviate the burden said, “let’s say this. Let’s say we had a vote. Your mom, [sister] Susan and I voted to let her go and you voted against, and you were outnumbered.” I was a puddle on the floor.
Over the course of 24 hours she became so sick and desperate. I called my sister who by that point was 6 hours away from the city and said, “she’s gotta go.” There was no humane way possible to have her hang on for a week as planned. My sister flew back in immediately. When I woke up the next day the first thing that came to my head, “today’s the day.” And we stayed stuck to her like glue the entire morning to ensure that we knew she was in pain and that we were there for her. The night before I had camped out on a sleeping bag on the floor beside her so that when she got up in discomfort soiling herself I would be there to say, “it’s ok Jun,” and she would settle down until the next round of discomfort.
When no one was around, I would talk in her ear saying that she’ll be out of pain soon and thanking her for teaching me forgiveness and loving kindness. I was so scared, right down to my soul, about what the car ride would feel like. I sat in the back with her on towel lined seats and she looked at me like she had been for the past few years. But I saw it differently. Instead of perceiving her as needy and loving I saw it as needy and helpless and realized I might have been holding on a year too long. We see what we want to see. But she was falling asleep sitting up and I’d never seen that before. When we gave her an entire pizza, yes an entire pizza, she didn’t touch it for a long time. So I felt that it was the right decision. We followed up with a strawberry shortcake and that she did have a nibble on. My girl.
We went for one last walk. It had been years since I had seen my parents in the same space, willingly, and I allowed myself to reminisce, seeing the dog as the cornerstone of what it felt like to belong as a child in a nuclear family. On this walk she stayed close to us. Not the way she does when just my mom, or me or Susan, or dad takes her out. But I all of a sudden remembered that was one of her tendencies when we were all a family and my heart warmed because like her, I too am a pack animal.
how it happened
We walked up the stairs to the vet. The nurse opened the door to the room and my heart squeezed seeing the blankets on the floor. All of this was new to me I didn’t know what to expect. The vet told us that she would administer two shots. The first one would be to calm her, to make her really sleepy. The second one would be the lethal injection that would work almost immediately. I was so relieved to hear that it was fast acting. This is really hard to write.
Once they administered the shot to make her sleepy I saw her more calm than I had in years. I experienced something I didn’t expect. Relief. I said it out loud. “Oh thank god. I’m so relieved.” My body felt a wave of tension leave my being. At the expense of one of the the biggest losses of my life, I was able to feel relief that Jun was no longer in pain and I think that’s what love is.
I tried to remain as calm for her as possible. I didn’t want her to feel my fear in her final moments, even though I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “NO FORGET THIS WHOLE THING,” and pick her up and run away. I kept saying, “good girl,” and encouraged her to lay her head down to finally rest. She lay it on my lap. I went to her backside and lay on her. I came around to her front and made eye contact. I pet her just the ways in which I knew she loved. As soon as she got sleepy enough, I felt she was gone. So when the vet came in to administer the second injection it felt final but it had already been feeling final for the past ten minutes. The vet put a stethoscope to her chest and said “she’s gone.” It felt really really really loud. Really loud. And that’s when I realized how final it was for the rest of my family. I pet her, held her and whispered to her. My mom wouldn’t leave me until I left the room. I was seeing stars with how difficult it was for me to leave her there. And when I finally did, I was half way out the clinic before coming back into the room and hugging her one more time. I felt like I was abandoning her but reasoned that she was already gone.
Being present for this was something that had been playing on my mind for several years. YEARS. And I would turn it over and over, wondering with anxiety whether I’d be able to be there for it. Coming out of it I feel like I am the strongest person I know. I walked the love of my goddamn life into a situation that happened quite literally, in my nightmares simply because I was proud of her and I loved her and she needed me and the rest of the family there. Or at least I think she needed us there. Who knows how strong the drugs are. Bad joke. Too soon.
Before parting with my dad he looked at me after we hugged and said, “sorry for your loss.” I was taken aback. That’s usually something you say to someone if you yourself aren’t experiencing the loss. And believe me, I knew he was. But it made me feel like I was understood and that it’s okay to be as torn up as I was over an event only the strongest of dog lovers could understand. So naturally, as I went for my car, I turned around and cried. And who springs up from the middle of nowhere to my scoop me right into a giant hug? My step-momma Charmaine. It was the best non-choice that I never had.
The vet chased us out of the clinic. Did we want her leash? Collar? Tuft of hair? None of the above. She was shocked I think, because she saw how much we love her. I don’t need a thing to remind me. And even when they offered us an urn or a paw print in her memory, frankly it ticked me off. It felt manipulative to take financial advantage of the so-clearly vulnerable. And besides, we’re all going to the same place anyway. Back into Mother Earth so she can breathe us into the plants, people, air and soil. The very fibres of life, that weaves through all of us, love.