A caveat, dear reader, before we begin. The rational part of my brain reminds me that there are far worse things which can happen to a human being than the loss of a beloved pet.
Perspective, my mind instructs. Move on, it urges.
My heart, on the other hand, backs and fills with a torrent of emotions as it thumps around a sudden, hollow place which, up until the wee hours of a recent Tuesday morning, was filled by the love of a scrappy, scruffy terrier named Cricket.
Indeed, I can tell you that Cricket was a sporty little cuss who, I was convinced, would one day look at me with her black-button eyes and simply say something like, “Let’s go for a walk in the woods so I can stick my head in that dark hole where there is something interesting and entertaining to be discovered.” Or, “Let’s station ourselves on the front porch so I can be sure everyone passing by knows I am queen of the neighborhood. And by the way, if we have time, there’s that drain pipe up the street that I need to run through because I am positive something far less brave than me needs to be flushed out.”
Cricket, a 15-pound medley of Boston terrier and Schnauzer, came to me as a pup. She looked like a squirrel minus most of a tail. Her triangle ears never considered the relative gracefulness that might be achieved by folding over. Her mustache and eyebrows were the embodiment of a bad hair day. Simply out of control.
Early on, my mother deemed Cricket a dog with “a long way to go” after she jumped on a glass coffee table and sat, satisfied with herself, beside a vase of fresh flowers.
So be it. Cricket went a long way for a lifetime of only nine years.
Put her on a boat and she would sit on top of a seat, facing the headwinds like the figurehead on a pirate ship. Put her on an inner tube and she would find her balance, willing to float around the pond with you all afternoon. Put her in the truck and she claimed her place riding shotgun on the console between the two front seats. Put her in a bicycle basket and she looked like Toto.
Smart? My noble retriever never had a chance when matching wits with hers. Case in point, the three of us were in my studio one afternoon. Boo had a plastic pig toy set between his front paws. Cricket wanted it but Boo was not giving it up. So Cricket, I am convinced, thought about how to solve the problem. She trotted downstairs, found another squeakie toy, brought it upstairs, dropped it in front of Boo, who reached for it and when he did, BAM!, Cricket grabbed the pig.
But then came a Monday afternoon and night. Wires got crossed in this dear little dog’s brain; she began spinning in tight circles, backing into furniture, racing forward and back. She would not be consoled; she would not be held. And she could not stop her gyrations. If there is a word way beyond frantic, she was that.
The midnight trip to the emergency vet clinic was empty of other cars, empty of anything but the most awful feelings. A box of Kleenex was just the beginning. The vet, a kind man, shared his concerns with me in the eerie glow of 2 a.m. in a tiny room decorated with posters about flea prevention. Something about MRIs, surgeries, bad prognoses, “propping her up” but not healing her. It was my decision, he said. She appeared ready, but was I?
How can you ever be ready to end the life of an animal you adore?
You can’t. Simple as that.
But you can be with her as this grim thing happens. You gulp and hold your pup as the first of two injections seeps into her body and settles her. You lean over, whisper in her ear that you will see her again someday. That you love her. Always. That you will not forget her. Never. That you thank her for all that she has given you. Love, laughter, loyalty. That you will miss her warm back against yours in the big bed. That you will miss her sitting beside you in the truck. That you will miss her paw reaching out for your hand, asking for a scratch. You tell her you are so terribly and achingly sorry about all this. Then you wait a minute more, for the second injection to do its work. To stop her feisty heart. To quiet her sweet soul. The kind vet warns that she may take a sudden breath. She does not. He searches for a heartbeat with his stethoscope. There is none, he reports. She is at peace, he says. Do I want a tuft of her scruffy hair? Something to remember her by?
No, I say, shaken to the core of what it means to have just lost a most marvelous companion.
No, I think, I need to get out of here. I have just taken a life in my hand and I have ended it. I have played God and it wasn’t fun. In fact, it was horrific. I must go.
The night is still dark. The streets still empty. The bed, a fitful place where I finally fall asleep and dream of a little dog sitting at the bottom of the bed, looking at me.
I am reminded of a song. I don’t know who sings it. “When you’re dreaming with a broken heart, the waking up is the hardest part.”
All too much to bear? This business of losing a beloved pet? Of course not, my brain insists. Buck up, it instructs.
But my heart – it argues otherwise.
Salley McAden McInerney is a local writer whose novel, Journey Proud, is based upon growing up in Columbia in the 1960s. She may be reached by emailing email@example.com.