12 years ago, on July 18th 2001, my little dachshund Lily came into the world. She was my puppy from the beginning, my heart-dog, and we both knew it. She got me through so many things, so many anxieties as we both grew up, loving each other. She would ride with me in the car when I was younger and had a lot of car-fears and she went to numerous Christmas gatherings with me. She even joined me in a couple years of 4-H obedience club.
We’ve grown apart these past few years, but I still love her–I always have and I always will…but sometimes, even though it hurts, we have to say goodbye. Lil is in pain and she’s tired and you can see it in her eyes and I don’t want her to suffer any longer.
As of 5pm today, we said our final goodbyes… The light in her eyes turned brighter when I asked if she wanted to go for a ride in the car. She was excited, went right out to the car to wait, and I think she knew, somehow. She looked happy. At peace. I’ve cried so much today, but I know she’s in a better place. She’s buried next to her momma, Chloe, who was my Dad’s dog.
I wanted to share with you a story I wrote a few years ago–everything in it is fictional, but I’d hoped to capture the emotion behind the story, as I’ve been through the same pain, the same sorrow.
The Sweetest Goodbye
by Kodilynn Calhoun
You bite me. No warning, no growl; just a lunge and four perfect puncture holes in my face, oozing with blood. I don’t know why you did it; I’d ask you if I could. I know you didn’t mean to. “Dog’s going crazy,” they say, but I know they’re wrong. I tell them this, but they merely laugh. “Crazy mutt.” But I can forgive you. You’re my baby. I love you.
You bite him, the little blond boy across the street. He runs home wailing and I hustle you into the house with dread in my stomach like a knotted rope toy. His mother’s at the door, calling you words like ‘unstable’ and ‘unsafe’. I try and protect you from her; you merely watch from your spot beside me. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a hint of insanity in those imploring eyes. No. I push the thought away. She’s threatening to sue. I feel a trickle of fear, but I can’t tell you what exactly I’m scared of. She’s threatening animal services if I don’t ‘take care’ of you. It hurts to hear those words.
When she leaves, I look at you. You’re still my baby, but let’s face it; you’re no longer a pup. Your hips are creaky, you get stiff when you lay for too long, your face is grizzled and your eyes are cloudy with cataracts. What if you can’t help biting? Maybe you didn’t know it was me? Maybe you couldn’t see the neighbor boy either. I take your face in my hands, look deep into those beautiful eyes, the eyes I fell for when you were just tiny.
I remember the day I brought you home; a bundle of black-and-white fur and Hershey’s-bar eyes. You were so small in my arms when I held you to my chest, my baby. You’re not so small anymore. You used to tear around the house with the gusto of a child. Now you move in slow-motion. Remember the cashmere pillows on either end of the couch, the ones you destroyed? Now you lay your head on their patches when you sleep. You sleep a lot.
With numb fingers, I dial the number, stroking your ears absentmindedly as I talk to the receptionist. I set up an appointment. I write the time on the calendar. My heart is leaden in my chest, frozen cold and aching. I feed you dinner. You pick at it, uninterested. Once night falls, I climb into bed and pull the covers up around me. I pat the mattress and you slowly, gingerly climb up beside me. I wrap an arm around you, listen to your breathing, knowing that tomorrow night, you won’t be here beside me. “I love you,” I whisper into the dark, feeling tears well in my eyes. “Tomorrow you won’t hurt anymore, I promise.” Your tail wags, thump-thump against the comforter. It hurts to fall asleep.
At dawn, you spring off the bed with renewed vigor, tail wagging as I stumble after you, down the stairs, which you practically float down. Just like you did when you were younger. You wait patiently for me to get your breakfast and we eat together, though you finish yours before my blackened toast ever pops out of the toaster. We go on our morning walk and you move with bounce in your step.
I made the wrong decision… You’re happy and healthy, and I’ve condemned you to death. I could skip the appointment. I could just not take you. I could stop walking you during daytime, so the neighbors think I’ve ‘taken care’ of you. I could keep you a secret… I love you. But as bright as your outlook is, your eyes are tired.
I grab my purse off the hook and lock the door. Each step I take feels like I’m falling further and further into oblivion. We get into my SUV; you at one end of the blue leash and me at the other. You’re excited about the car ride. The vet’s office looms like a tragic gothic mansion. I keep looking at you, gauging your reaction. You just smile your doggish smile and wag that tail. I reach for you, pull you into a hug. I swipe at my face, my tears, and you help, your tongue soft and warm and familiar. We walk up the slope, into the lobby. The stench of antiseptic and sickness fills my nose. You never falter. You’re brave…
Waiting for your name to be called is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
Now we’re headed to the back room. My heart’s pounding erratically in my chest. I look at the ceiling: Please, God. Please don’t make me do this. And looking down at you: I love you. I’m sorry. I take a shaky breath and lift you up into the metal exam table. You jump slightly at the coldness, suddenly wary as the buzz of an electric razor takes a strip of hair from your leg. We exchange few words, the vet and I. I cling to you, bury my face in your fur. I feel the slightest tremble from you and I want to rip you off the table and run away, run back home, to safety.
The tremble was the beginnings of a growl. Your teeth snap dangerously close to the vet’s hand. “He can’t see you.” I grasp for a reason for this behavior. The doctor merely smiles, nods, and readies a needle. I see liquid squirt from the tip, a deadly cocktail. I stroke down the fur on your face, look into those milky-brown eyes. “I love you, Sam,” I say, my heart thudding in my throat, making my words seem strangled. You lick my face, wagging your tail despite the situation.
As the needle goes in, I may as well be killing you with my own hands. I force the tears back, breathing deep. I hold you close to me, feel your heat against my chest, run my fingers through the thick ruff of fur at your neck. You glance up suddenly and stare deep into my eyes and I could almost swear you just smiled at me, at peace. Then you sag, your head heavy in my hands, your warm breath stilling. The vet slips out of the room and I cling to you as the tears fall, steady, scalding tracks down my cheeks. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I say. I cry until I can cry no more; I must stand there for hours.
The vet carries your body out to my SUV. I shut the hatchback and drive home. I pull over twice to cry; guess I had tears left after all. Digging a grave in the November ground is hard. I finally manage to toss aside the shovel and haul you out of the car and into the hole. I lay you down gently, head on your paws. I close your eyes, so it looks like you’re just sleeping, but why would you fall asleep in a hole? I have to laugh at the absurdity of it.
“I love you, Sam. You were a good dog.” The words seem meaningless, but I speak them out loud. I slowly shovel dirt on top of your body and go inside. At dinnertime, I go to fill up your bowl out of habit; I freeze in mid-scoop, then put your bowls under the sink where I don’t have to look at them. I gather up your toys and put them in a box. I put the dog food in the garage. I’ve lost my appetite and curl up in bed before the sun ever sets. My head spins, mind whirling around what happened today, but I just want peace. Silence.
I pick up the tattered library paperback sitting on my bedside table. The dog on the cover looks nothing like you, but it still makes my chest ache. I settle back against my pillows and read until my eyes blur. I flip off the light and curl my body like I used to, up against yours, my arm instinctively wrapping around you, but only grasping air. I cry like I’ve lost my best friend. I have.
Then I hear it: the familiar hiss of air as you let loose a sigh, and the thump-thump of your tail whacking the covers, just like you did every night as you drifted off to sleep. In the dark, among my tears, I smile. I can’t help it. Even if it was only imagined.
I drift off and in my dreams, I dream of you. I dream that we’re in the woods behind the house just before twilight. You’re sleek and slender, in the prime of your life. You tear across the ground with the gusto of a pup, black-and-white-banner tail wagging behind you. You stop, catch my eye, drop into a bow. Your eyes are perfect clarity, bright and shining and happy. Happy… You’re happy.
“Sam,” I call, the word falling off my tongue and tasting of cinnamon and sugar. You smile at me, push your nose into my outstretched palm. “I love you,” I say and you know, I know you know. With one final, piercing bark, you leap into action, darting between trees like a nymph of the forest, like you belong. One minute you’re here, and the next, you’re part of the mist that’s swirling across the ground. You disappear from view and I know this was your final goodbye. You are happy. You are free. You no longer hurt.
I smile, albeit a little wistfully, and turn away. “Thank you, Sam.” The words turn into mist and float away, so I know you got them, wherever you are. Thank you. I love you.
I love you, Lil. Rest in peace, baby…