Friday, January 16, 2009

This Is Not the Post I Thought I'd Be Writing Tonight...

I watched a wiener dog die tonight. It was oddly emotional.

This was my parents wiener dog. I had never particularly liked it -- they bought her after they got rid of /my/ dog, a fine (but stupid) Labrador Retriever they simply got tired of dealing with. Looking back now, I can't blame them (too much), but I did love my dog and a wiener is hardly a suitable replacement for a boy.

I hated the dog. The wiener dog returned the favour. She never liked anyone else besides my father. She'd run out across their front yard and attack anything that tried walking down the sidewalk, all the time yapping fit to beat the band, so it was a cert the neightbours hated her, too.

But after I left home, it wasn't too much of a concern of mine. I'd see once or twice a year, when she'd spent her time glaring at me from her corner of the couch. A few years ago, I thought she'd had it for sure when I came home and she was riddled with tumors across her belly. She had breast cancer, apparently, but my parents couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it. But she didn't die. She didn't even act sick. The tumors just grew and grew. And she got older and older.

She turned 15 (I think) sometime last Fall. Like most old dogs, all she really wanted to do was lie in the sun and nap. She'd waddle out the front door to go to the bathroom once or twice a day, and she'd yap all the while, but she was virtually blind from cataracts and mostly deaf. If she wandered out so far as the street, someone would have to go and lead her back in.

Last week, she most have fallen down from her place on the couch, because when I stopped by one afternoon she was balled up in front of the couch, shivering and whimpering like she was in pain. When she took a step or two, her back was held at a funny angle. This, I knew, from basset education, was bad. When I tried to suggest they take her to the vet to get examined, they said she was fine, and the next day she was almost back to normal, even if she still held her back oddly.

It was about this time she lost control of her bladder. Undeterred, my parents still refused to take her to the vet.

This afternoon, when I stopped by to check on her, I found her on the couch. Her cushion was covered -- covered -- in pus. It was leaking from somewhere in her back end. I didn't check where. Too gross. I stayed with her till my parents got home from work.

"You have to take her to the vet," I said. "You have to put her down." They still refused. "If you don't," I told them in typically reasonable terms, "I'm going to take her outside and whack her over the head with a shovel. It's cruel to keep her in this state."

I think they took me at my word, because soon she was wrapped up in her blanket. It was after 5.30, so they had to cajole the vet into staying open late and we had to rush over. (When they saw her condition, they didn't complain.) My father wouldn't drive, so I had to drive both him and the dog to the vet. The vet was astounded when she saw the little wiener dog. She didn't question it was the right time. My father wouldn't stay for the final act, as it were, but I didn't think even this objectionable little thing -- who always resembled nothing so much as an overgrown rat -- should die alone. I stayed with her.

The vet gave her a shot to calm her down. She sighed and rolled over to one side. Then the vet gave her another shot that stopped her heart. And she died. I like to think she looked grateful or relieved or something, but if she felt anything, I suspect she was pissed off that the only person she'd ever even acted like she liked wasn't there. I'm not sure I'd want me about when I was dying, either.

And of course I cried, just a bit. And laughed at the same time. I mean, I hated the thing. Always had. It was funny I was so pointlessly emotional. "It's hard" the vet said as she handed me a kleenex. I felt I had to explain to her it wasn't my dog. I didn't know why I was crying.

It took me a while to realise that was the first thing I'd ever see die. My parents are alive; the only grandparent I can ever remember is still alive. I've had two -- maybe three -- uncles die, but never anyone close enough that I was /there/ for the death. Even the pets I've had have died away from me, either at vet's office when I was too young to be there or while I was away somewhere else.

And as I examined my reaction later on, it occured to me that our reactions about death are seldom about death. They're about us. They reflect our concerns about our own deaths. I didn't stay to watch that dog die because I thought she needed to be surrounded by love as she passed to the next world. I don't believe in a next world. I practically don't believe in love.

I stayed with the dog because /I/ don't want to die alone and it's at least a thought in my head I just might.

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