Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Scary Thing #5

Back to 10 Scary Things I Have Done Since My Husband Died. Remember, each new thing is scarier than the last. 

5. Put down his dog. 

I’ve known that phrase forever, since I was a kid in Schenectady. Or, we put the dog to sleep; one didn’t use the more polite euthanized. You may say I killed the dog, but the vet who had known Cooper since he was a puppy said, “People wait until their animal is in pain. You don’t have to do that,” and that was my guiding principal. 

He never trusted our driving.
When we got Cooper, a purebred basenji, he was four months old; riding home, he peed on me. We understood each other, Cooper and I, but he bonded with Dan. The first time a friend came to inspect Cooper, the dog sat between Dan’s feet; years later, when we finally gave up and let the dogs sleep on the bed, Cooper took an outside position next to Dan, the first line of defense between us and the bedroom door. Dan was our alpha wolf and Cooper his canine lieutenant. Bambi and I just tried to keep up. A year after Bambi died, at 15, the indomitable Lulu joined us. Cooper, then 14, spent the last two years of his life looking beleaguered; a photo records Lulu sitting on his head.

Cooper was 16 when Dan died in August, and the winter afterward he was either asleep or bumping into things. Coming in from errands on a Saturday and finding Cooper comfortable on the couch, I would think Dan must have stopped by and put him there

At a demo in D.C.
In January I made an appointment with Dr. T., hoping he would give me some clear direction. Cooper wore his cobalt blue storm coat with the Thinsulate lining and looked quite the gentleman. In the chilly waiting room, he sat in my lap—and Cooper never sat in my lap—and let people admire him. Not pet him, but praise him. 

Dr. T. declared Cooper physically all right. The $150 a month I spent on medications and supplements was keeping him functioning. The med that he’d been taking for what Dr. T. kindly called “cognitive dysfunction” was no longer effective; Dr. T. was pleased that it had worked for six months. 

I took Cooper home, hoping he might reach 17 in June, and have some time on the deck in the sun. 

In March, I realized June was too far off, that I was pushing him onward, keeping his physical systems running, but nothing else, perpetrating mild torture on both of us. Did he miss Dan? More the sense of something “off,” in his alpha wolf, who then disappeared, leaving him with two females he couldn’t care for. 
Table dog, with Bambi and Debby

I called Dr. T’s office. Maybe he was away on a long trip. “I think it’s time for Cooper,” I said, “and I’d like Dr. T. to do it.” 

The receptionist was kind but firm. “He can do it Monday,” she said.

“OK,” I said, thinking, I can always cancel, I can not show up, they can’t drag us out of the house. 

Feeling like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, I fed Cooper his favorite dinner, chicken and rice, during his last weekend, and gave him half a Dentabone every evening. In bed at night, he curled next to my heart. 

On Monday I went through with it. Remember, I had already driven Dan to Albany Medical Center ten months before. I was beginning to realize, that winter, that in some bizarre way we had been fortunate, Dan and I; if he had to die, at least he went quickly, without months in a nursing home that he would have hated. Loss is sad, but sometimes death is not the worst thing.

In Dr. T’s examining room, Cooper sat in my lap, snuggling into me, his nose under my arm. 

“Time for Dan to take care of Cooper again?” said Dr. T., and I nodded, unable to speak, tears on my cheeks. Cooper went without protest, seconds after the shot. Dr. T. left us and I sat holding Cooper. Bambi, the dog love of my life, who I had rescued from an unhappy home, had died here after surgery, in a place she hated, alone except for a kindly vet who stayed with her overnight. Cooper died in my arms.

I sent an e-mail to friends reporting that Cooper and Dan could again take their walks together. 

“He can see again, and think what he can see!” replied B. “The celestial boulevard has never seen anything like those two,” wrote P. I was comforted.

I managed that winter by imagining lives beyond my own. People of limited means would find Dan’s beautiful sweaters in the thrift shop and give them as holiday gifts to other people of limited means. Dan had “only gone out ahead of us . . . “ It was a beautiful day, wherever he was, and we would find him there. 

Now imagine holding a dog, trying to hang onto him when he sees something you can’t, and he wants nothing but to run to it. 

You let him go. 

He charges away. 


  1. Incredibly beautiful piece. The story of the loss of a soulmate followed by the loss of that one's beloved dog (and you being the one to release that pet into the great unknown)...and sensing that you are sending them both out ahead of those of us still on planet Earth...well, there is a halo around my day now. Heading out for a walk to reflect on it and sigh (instead of crying into my coffee).

  2. have been wondering when the next would come...and once again, I am not disappointed. This is so moving and well done. And so sad.

  3. Deeply touching. Wise, too. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Beautiful, Debby. And so sad. It takes courage to put the animal's needs ahead of your own.

  5. You did it again. Simple, honest, direct, beautiful and deeply touching. And for all its simplicity, deeply layered.
    Thank you.

  6. Tears here too. This is so poignant it makes my heart squeeze. Thank you for writing.