I was in the 6th grade when my mother thought it might be fun to browse the local pet shop. Even though we were really on a rather mundane quest to acquire a new harness for our escape-artist of an Irish Terrier, and even though I had really wanted a pony, as an 11 year-old-girl, I was easily satisfied with the more realistic prospect of a new puppy. I was game for the adventure.
I can’t say we picked Jessie. As soon as she saw us enter the puppy-pen area, she climbed up her cage, hovering dangerously over the edge of the crate, and woofed at us. She was a muddy-looking, scrawny Carin Terrier that suffered from the ugly duckling syndrome and a general refusal to stay caged up. I was originally eying the fluffy lasso-apso, but when my mother said “what about that one,” my attention was immediately diverted. We took her into the “puppy play room.” She pounced on the rope and brought it to me for a tugging game. She chased the ball, brought it back, and dropped it in my hand. She understood games were better with playmates. We already had a dog, a female who was a territorial Irish fighter, and we were afraid how she’d handle a puppy. So the little Carin went grudgingly back in the cage. But that wouldn’t do. She climbed right back out and ran to us. We had no choice. My father’s firm refusal to get another pet had to be ignored — Jessie wasn’t going to let us leave without her.
It’s not fair. We make the decision to add a pet to the family, and from the day we name them become the dictators of their fate. They become a part of the family and then one day, they have to go, and we have to play God.
Jessie was a consummate playmate — she’d play Frisbee with you until she collapsed. She was the ring-leader of our three terriers, dragging the other two into trouble or putting them firmly in their place. She was our morning alarm clock and weather forecaster (whenever a thunderstorm was approaching she hid under the couch). She greeted us when we came home and followed us to bed in the evening. For the last 13 years, the scruffy, bright-eyed, emotive eared, joyful Carin has been the Recklings’ best friend. For 13 years, the majority of my life, Jessie was the most loyal little fighter. But on Thursday, we took her to the vet — she hadn’t been herself the last few weeks — and by Sunday, we let her go. Her immune system had gone haywire and there was no getting it under control.
I made the decision to stay with Jessie as they euthanized her. “Euthanize” — they make it sound so peaceful, so innocuous, so humane. My father held her, and I scratched her favorite spot. She had refused to let us leave the pet store without her, and I refused to let her leave this world with out us beside her. As her breath stopped, the room fell silent. It was as if cotton had been stuffed in my ears — for the first time in 3 hours, I couldn’t hear the cars whizzing by outside. And then her heart stopped, and with it mine. A numbness set is that I just haven’t been able to shake. When it was absolutely all over, my father left the room. I wouldn’t leave until they came to take her. I stood there, holding her, apologizing, weeping into her matted fur. Her eyes were still so bright. I felt I’d betrayed her. As Maugham’s character Larry Darnell said, “the dead look so terribly dead when they’re dead.”
When it’s not their pet, people are always willing to tell you that when they’re this sick you have to put the animal down, that it’s cruel to let her suffer, that it’s the right thing to do. Jessie never got to tell us that she was ready to die, she never got to say whether or not she wanted another transfusion, or that she was willing, if it worked, to go on with a life on meds. We had to decide that for her.
“You don’t want her to suffer do you?” Good God, I hate the people the say that.
You’ll never make me wholeheartedly believe that I, or we, because really it was a we, made the right decision. I’m not even sure you’ll make me even halfheartedly believe it. To put her down may have been the most reasonable decision, but I can’t ever say it was the right decision.
After they whisked her away, I thanked the staff at the emergency vet clinic for being so kind — they had donated their own dogs’ blood for the transfusions that had kept Jessie alive over the last two days. I wiped my tears, rinsed my face and put on my “strong” demeanor before joining my mother in the parking lot. I wrapped my arms around her and reassured her that we had done all that we could. The vet agreed that “helping Jessie along” was the best thing to do.
The sky had been gray and threatening all day, but only then did the raindrops start to fall. They mingled with tears as they hit the pavement. Such salty puddles.