For Every Dog An Angel
I had a horrible dream last night. It was the stuff horror movies are made of — I was climbing up an embankment on the corner of a busy intersection, trying to get to the sidewalk above my head. The ground beneath me turned soft and shifted a little. I looked and discovered the embankment was not earth, but a pile of dead dogs, discarded and rotting. I panicked and clamored back down the hill, when from the pile a small, dying dog lifted its head and looked at me for help. I stared into its eyes for a moment before turning away to save myself. The dog was grievously injured. I was scared. I didn’t help it.
The nightmare was graphic and horrid and I felt disturbed when I woke.
Do you ever have dreams that alter your mood for the day? This dream was like that. It scared me and made me feel useless and even harmful, the way a person who doesn’t help dying dogs should feel.
I needed to shake this feeling, but I resigned myself that I’d probably feel haunted for the rest of the day. I finished my morning coffee and walked outside to check the mail.
A box was buried inside piles of junk mail and it was addressed to me. I didn’t order anything from Amazon. Hmm.
I opened the box and found this book, For Every Dog An Angel, with a loving note from my dear friend, H. Tears sprang to my eyes as I read the opening pages. Emma. There she was in the text and the soft, muted illustrations. Emma spoke through the heart of my loving friend, reminding me that she is my Forever Dog and she is always with me. Thank you, H for extending your love and kindness to me. Thank you for your perfectly timed gift and for lifting the feeling of fear and loss that blanketed me this morning. Thank you for reminding me that my sweet pup is always with me, shining her light.
I usually don’t share my personal journals on my blog, but I decided to share this one. I wrote this the first night without Emma. I couldn’t sleep. I frantically typed the story of my last moments with Emma, not even pausing to correct my grammar or spelling. I didn’t want to forget. I wanted to honor her the way I know best. So, I share this with you.
Thank you to my loving friends and family who’ve walked beside me during this time of grief. Thank you for holding me up and reminding me to Let Her Shine.
I love you all.
Today was the first day without Emma. I feel haunted, sad, heavy. It seemed that every few minutes I was looking for her, not out of sadness but out of habit. I never realized how deeply engrained she was in my life until she was gone.
On Wednesday, we decided to make the call to Dr. Gallo to have her euthanized at home. We woke up and found her lying in her urine and feces that morning. Something about how she was just lying there, covered in poop that looked so pathetic and so different than in times past. I was recovering from a migraine (my second of the week) but I took her to the tub in the laundry room and gently washed her. It was a cold morning and there was no way to wash her outside. She stood patiently, like always. I bathed her from head to tail. She grew tired and leaned heavily against the side of the tub. She even rested her chin on the edge of the tub. When it was time to wash her paws, I had to bear her body weight when I lifted one of her paws. She was so tired.
I towel dried her and finished cleaning up the bedding and other issues of the morning. She shook and trotted off, rubbing against the sides of the couch like always. A bit later I found her in her round bed in the family room, shaking violently. I picked her up and brought her into my bed. I placed her on the heating pad and covered her with blankets. I crawled into bed with her and lay beside her and tried to calm her shivers.
After some time, she began to shift. She was getting warm. I picked her up and laid her on my chest and held her like I have always held her. Her shaking continued, with a few seconds in between. I realized then that she was no longer shaking from the cold but from pain. I called to Patrick and asked him to bring her a pain pill. He did – the good kind (Rimadyl) and she ate it. About twenty minutes later, her shaking subsided and she fell asleep.
I didn’t want her to hurt. Patrick called the number for Dr. Gallo and left him a disjointed, awkward message. How do you say you’re calling to have your dog put down? But that’s the business Dr. Gallo is in and Patrick said what needed to be said without actually saying the words.
I cried. I cried and cried and Patrick cried with me. We held Emma and snuggled her and took turns laying her on our bodies. Even Emma grew tired of our attention and crawled to the foot of the bed.
I stayed in bed with Emma for the day. I piled my hair up on my head and sat with her curled up in my lap, Indian style, as I typed out a blog post about making the decision to euthanize my beloved pet.
Eventually, it was time to get the kids from school.
I picked them up and Sam began complaining about his homework – a research paper he had to write that he’d procrastinated on. It was hard to be patient and listen to his whining when I had such a heavy heart. But I reminded myself that they didn’t know what we decided, and I listened quietly.
When we got home, I called a family meeting on the couch in the family room. I held Emma in my lap and I told the boys that she is old and tired and sick and that she was going to go to doggie heaven. I explained that the doctor was going to come and give her a shot that would stop her heart and she wouldn’t feel pain anymore. Sam hugged me and then hugged Emma and then left for his room. He returned with his framed picture of Emma standing in the water. Max stood and looked at me with his big eyes filled with tears. His chin quivered and before long, he was crying. I told him it was okay to pet Emma and hold her. Sam stepped in to hold Emma and asked me to take his picture. It was after 2pm and we still hadn’t heard from the vet yet.
Emma returned to her round bed and I found Max lying on the floor with his head close to hers, stroking her paw. I sat down next to Max and talked to him about Emma crossing the rainbow bridge. I told him that she would be happy and healthy once again and get to play with all her other dog and cat friends. He cried as I told him this – big saucer eyes and a boo-boo lip. He was trying to hold it in. I told him it’s okay to be sad, that I felt sad too. I asked if he wanted to talk about it and he said no. He said he didn’t want to talk about it and that he just wanted some alone time with Emma. I left him alone by her side and a few minutes later he shot up and asked, “Mom? Do we have an ornament for Emma?”
I told him I didn’t think we did but that we’d get one. He settled back down and then asked me a few minutes after that, “Mom, how long is the rainbow bridge?”
He is so sweet and introspective.
Later that afternoon, Patrick’s Mom arrived. She was in town for a meeting and she came to see the boys perform in the Starry Night special at church. But considering all of the emotions I was feeling and the pending death of my beloved pet, I told Patrick and Rob that I couldn’t attend the performance. Plus, Sam had a lot of work to do. And the vet had called and told us he could come to our house the next day, in the morning or no later than 2pm. I had limited hours with my sweet girl and I didn’t want to miss them.
Rob picked up the boys and I brought Emma out to see him. He held her in his arms for nearly 20 minutes (maybe even longer) and he cried with me. He brought her turkey from the deli and she gobbled it up, the same way she gobbled up the turkey Sam and Max had given her earlier. Before the boys got in the car to leave, they hugged Emma one more time and Sam took pictures of me and Rob and Emma. Max seemed to feel awkward and said, “We have to GO now!” It makes me wonder about how he holds in his emotions.
I wasn’t good company that night. We ordered in sushi and Emma lay at my feet as I ate, like she always does. I remember thinking that this is the last night she’ll ever do that.
Patrick fed her turkey and gravy and rice for dinner. She ate like a champ, which I was happy to see. It did make our decision harder; made us doubt if we were doing the right thing.
I went to bed early and held Emma. I texted Patrick to come to bed too and together we held our sweet girl and cried. Eventually, I wore myself out. My head was pounding, my eyes were swollen and we were tired. I talked Patrick to sleep and even though he was so tired he stayed awake to listen to me.
The next morning I woke up early and thought, “What if the vet calls and gets here at 9am and I’ve spent my last hours of having Emma asleep in my bed?” We got up and had our coffee and I cried and waited and waited and cried.
Emma didn’t poop overnight. She was still clean and dry and I suspect the pain pill I gave her before bed helped. I gave her a full pill instead of the half she normally gets. She wasn’t shaking either.
I carried her everywhere that day. Into my office, into the bathroom, into our bedroom. I let her out often but she still peed on the floor once. She lay on my green tufted chair in my office and I took her picture. My office was chilly and she began shaking again. I was searching for pictures of her through the hundreds on my computer and I saw her shaking. I took her inside and put her in my bed on the heating pad. I left her in there for a few and promised to check on her soon.
When I got back, she was drinking water from Isaac’s bowl. Patrick was on a call so she must’ve jumped off my bed! I checked her out for injuries, but she seemed fine.
All day people posted to Face Book loving message of comfort and support. I read every message several times throughout the day. Kim called that afternoon and I jumped when the phone rang. I was expecting Dr. Gallo, but dropped my shoulders in relief when I saw it was Kim. We talked for 20 minutes or so when the call from the vet came on my cell phone. Dr. Gallo was on his way and he’d arrive in about 30 minutes.
Patrick and I sat in the living room, holding Emma and fearing what was to come. We took some more pictures and tried to get Emma and Isaac to pose together. I shot some video on my phone and gave them treats.
The doorbell rang and Isaac and Emma barked and ran to the door.
Dr. Gallo came in and kneeled on the tile floor ready to examine Emma. We talked to him for a while, searching for confirmation that our decision was right and just. He gave us options; he told us he would come back in a few months if it was too painful for us. He explained that she wasn’t getting better and that a dog that can’t eat or do its business outside isn’t a happy dog. He said we’d really just be dragging it out and gently helped us nod for him to start.
We talked to him about Isaac and our problem with him. My allergies, Max’s allergies and Isaac’s age. Dr. Gallo assured us that Isaac would adjust wonderfully at his new home. Then he examined Emma.
He listened to her heart and palpated her belly. He said he could feel her heart murmur with his hand and that there was a delay in her femoral pulse after her heartbeat. That meant her heart was weak. He also explained that kidney failure and heart failure work against one another: the kidneys want water and water taxes the heart. It’s a lose-lose situation.
We put Emma in her bed and Dr. Gallo came over with the sedative. He said the only thing she’d feel is the pinch from the shot and that she’d be heavily sedated in a few minutes.
I sobbed. I held her face and cried in her fur. He gave her the shot and my cries grew more urgent and panicked. I love you, Emma, I said over and over. I love you so much.
After the shot, I picked her up and held her in my arms. Patrick and I cried and I pet her and kissed her and gave her all my love.
All day Wednesday and Thursday I tried to get Emma to give me kisses. “Give me kisses!” That’s the command. She would always come over and kiss my face when I said that to her. But those two days she wouldn’t do it. As we waited for Dr. Gallo to come, in those short 30 minutes, I held her and said over and over, “Emma, give me kisses!” But she kept turning her head. She just wouldn’t do it. It made me feel so sad.
But after the shot took effect, a minute or so after she received it, she relaxed. She looked at me with somewhat glazed eyes like she could actually SEE me for the first time in a long time and she kissed my face. She gave me kisses and I cried and accepted fully each and every one.
She kissed my face until her tongue became thick and heavy and she couldn’t draw it back into her mouth. Her eyes became more glazed over and her tongue lolled to the side. She was warm and sleepy in my arms. Dr. Gallo returned from the bathroom (a strategic break, no doubt) and came over with the Euthanol. It was attached to a small tube and a needle that would be inserted into her vein.
I put Emma back down on the bed and Dr. Gallo put a tourniquet on her back leg and searched for a good vein. I held her head in my hands and talked to her and cried. I sobbed and wailed. I had never felt such deep sadness.
Dr. Gallo couldn’t find a viable vein in her hind leg. Her blood pressure was low and she was possibly dehydrated. He had to turn her over and try in her front leg.
She was limp and sedated. We turned her over and her hind quarters were to me. I placed my hand on her side, and I could feel her heart beating fast. Dr. Gallo finally found a vein, screwed the syringe of Euthanol to the end and stopped. He said a prayer over Emma.
I held Patrick’s hand and held my hand on Emma’s side, feeling her heartbeat. The prayer ended and Dr. Gallo gently pushed the plunger. Within seconds I could feel Emma’s heartbeat stop. Before all the medicine was in, she was gone. He added a bit more medicine, but he checked her heart with his stethoscope and told us she went with such little medicine; it was proof that her heart was weak.
I bent over and buried my face in her fur. She was still warm. She was still Emma. My god, my Emma was dead.
I picked up her limp body and her head fell to the side. I supported her like an infant and curled her into my chest. Dr. Gallo said, “Oh Sweetie, be careful. If you compress her tummy she’ll void.” Right as he was saying that I felt warm liquid on my side. I pulled Emma away and supported her bottom while her urine leaked out of her. I laid her back in her bed and positioned her like she was sleeping. I said over and over, “I’m so sorry, Emma. I’m so sorry. I love you so much. I love you Emma.”
She looked so peaceful. I’ve read about it in books or seen it on TV – the part about people looking so peaceful when they die, and it’s true. Emma wasn’t in pain anymore and she looked like she was peacefully sleeping.
I stared at her and cried while Patrick took care of the paperwork. My eyes played tricks on me because I swore I saw her breathing. I stared hard at her shoulders and thought I saw the gentle lift of her breath, but after a few seconds realized there was no breath. She was gone.
Her eye was open a little and I pushed the inner corner gently like I’d seen Dr. Gallo do when she passed on. I stroked her fur and her head and kept telling her how much I love her.
Dr. Gallo took Emma away that day. He wrapped her up in her big, soft, round bed. He took her to a pet crematory where she’ll be cremated and her ashes returned to us. We parted ways at the front door, but I followed him to his car anyway. I was sobbing and when he put her in the back of his car, I said, “I need to say goodbye one more time.” I reached in and kissed her on the snout, above her nose, my favorite spot. I kissed her twice and then I let her go.
I am so deeply sad. I am heavy with grief. I feel like a part of me died yesterday. I miss her so much and I burst into tears at random times throughout the day. I don’t have an appetite.
I found a little curl of her fur on the carpet today. I picked it up and felt the softness of it in between my fingers. My god I miss that little dog so much. Words can’t adequately describe how much I miss her.
I wanted to write this down because this night I felt like I was starting to forget. I never want to forget anything about Emma. I want to remember each moment, each day of our 17 years together. That dog blessed me in ways I’ll never know. She raised me and I will always love her beyond measure and without end.
When I posted my blog on Wednesday, I asked Patrick if it is an asshole thing to do; for me to post a blog while I should be grieving my dying dog. He assured me it was not.
After Emma passed, I realized that I am a writer. Writing is what I do. I HAD to write about Emma. It is how I honor her. And as a writer, I long to share my words because sharing the words I write about Emma honors her even more.
So maybe after all these years of struggling to embrace writing: the fear, the glory, the catharsis, the pain and the pleasure, my sweet Emma taught me who I am. She taught me in her gentle, loving and loyal way to accept writing and accept me and accept kisses not necessarily when you ask for them, but when they’re given.
I love you, Emma. You will always be a part of me.