Every dog has his day, they say — and every day comes to an end. A dozen years is a decent run for a dog, especially a hard-luck mutt like Brutus. After surviving snakebite, being hit by a car, run over by a car, and falling out of a car window into a pile of bricks, he started slowing down and showing his age by the time he turned 13.
Along the way, I found that an old friend had become a vet specializing in house calls. Brutus took to Dr. Mike instantly, and as the dog got older and more decrepit, we saw more and more of Dr. Mike. Dr. Mike patiently saw to Brutus’s needs — and tended me as well, softening the blow to come.
We all knew Brutus was sinking. Most of the time, he just laid around, and moving around often involved groaning, creaking sounds and an occasional yip of startled pain as he moved his old body.
“He’s old, Alan,” Dr. Mike explained one time when I asked what was wrong. “He’s just old.”
Another time, he asked “How long do you want this to go on?” I explained how I was waiting on some sort of signal from Brutus — that look that said the time had come for him to go.
“He’ll never give you that look, Alan,” Dr. Mike patiently explained one time. “See, when he looks at you — his human, his person…his EVERYTHING — he always feels better and all he wants to do is to be with you.” I took a deep breath and Dr. Mike looked over at Sara and said, “I’ll be waiting for the call.”
I kept putting it off, though. Some days that summer, Brutus almost acted like a puppy again. A very tired, old, slow puppy, to be sure, but his grin returned sometimes and a playful spring would show up in his tired gait between limps.
But fall rolled in and then winter started coming on. As it got colder, Brutus slowed down more and more. It kept getting colder day by day. Trying to convince him to go outside to “do his business” became increasingly difficult, with the expected results: more messes for me to clean up inside.
As December came on, I told myself we’d wait for one final day of warm sunshine for him to enjoy before I made the call. But with the forecast showing temperatures approaching freezing and staying there for a week, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer.
That last night, it got even colder. And rainy. When I went to take him outside for a last pee that evening, he looked at me like I was crazy. I walked outside myself to convince him he needed to go and he reluctantly stepped just outside the sliding glass doors. I walked to the edge of the patio and called to him till he slowly came over to the edge of the grass.
“So go ahead,” I said impatiently as he looked up at me. He squatted his rump down — having given up raising a leg several months ago — and started to pee. Then he fell over. And continued to pee. All over himself. While staring at me, as if to say, “This is what it has come to — do you really want this to go on?”
I made the call that night.
The next morning, Brutus ate like a king: the best canned food, a rarity for him, and some extra treats to nibble on. There would be no more going outside and he laid by that back door and enjoyed his goodies.
“Dr. Death calling…” Mike said sardonically, as he came in the door of our quiet house. We headed downstairs where Brutus lay on his side and thumped his tail slowly at our approach.
Dr. Mike explained the procedure: there would be a first shot to relax his body. “Has he eaten today?” I nodded. “That will come back up — not really vomit, just kinda releasing whatever’s in there. Then the second shot will stop his heart.”
I cradled Brutus in my arms by that back glass door so he could see outside without having to feel the cold. Sara — never really a dog person but totally accepting of my old friend from the very first — started to sob. Brutus, ever the empath, looked at her with concern and a touch of worry.
Dr. Mike gave him the first shot. Brutus relaxed in my arms, breathing deeply, and then upchucked all of his marvelous morning treats. I had to smile at that, fighting back tears. Dr. Mike gave the second shot and then he was still. I held him tightly a minute and then Dr. Mike put the stethoscope to his chest to check.
“Um,” he said, “He’s not gone yet.” Turning to load the syringe with another dose, he smirked a bit and said, “Brutus, you old fighter.” Syringe in hand, he re-checked the heartbeat again and stopped. “Okay,” he said, setting the needle down. “Now he is gone.”
“Had to wait till you weren’t looking to slip away,” I joked.
We call it “putting them down.” We call it “putting them to sleep.” We call it “relieving their pain” or “ending their misery.” But in short, I killed my dog. It was an act of love but it hurt like hell.
I think pets come into our lives to help us learn and grow and love. And one of the most important lessons our pets teach us seems to be how to deal with the death of a loved one. We take care of our pets for years, knowing full well we will likely outlive them. Yet, when that time finally comes, we seem so completely unprepared.
Looking back, Brutus wasn’t really my dog, he just kinda happened to me. He came to me when I was footloose and fancy free and not ready to be tied down. He saw me through some tumultuous changes, some good years and some bad times as well. During the worst of times, he was even more than my best friend, always knowing somehow when my spirits were ebbing dangerously low and coming over to simply sit near me, drape his head on my leg and look at me with those deep brown eyes that absorbed my pain and restored my soul and gave me hope in dire times.
No, he never really was my dog — he was so much more. We belonged to each other. He was my near-constant companion, my faithful follower, my silent therapist, my best friend. Yeah, he was all of that and more.
He was my dog.