The Five Stages of Dog Grief
by Beverley Wood
In all of my dog-owning years (almost 53 years of them), I have never had to make the heart-wrenching decision to put one down. Until now.
I’ve almost always had a dog (Sun in Sagittarius) but they’ve either died in an accident, died while a vet somewhere was trying to save them, or in my very early years — they disappeared to “the farm”. But the decision was never mine. This time, it wasn’t like the others.
I came home from grade one to find out my parents had sent my four-year-old spaniel, Sparky, to “the farm” where she could “run and play”. What farm? (I’m six, remember.) Later, my younger cousin told me the truth – Sparky had been hit by a car and was dead. Many decades later, a therapist asked me to write down my earliest childhood memories. You bet — number one. I can still see the linoleum and the rotary dial telephone on the hall table. My hair is in pigtails and Sparky’s not there. They sent her away.
Number two: I’m 11-years-old and playing catch with some friends on the street. I throw the ball, miss my target and my four-year-old miniature poodle, Pierre, chases it. A navy blue station wagon (Chevy, I think) blurs past. I scream. Black fur drifts through the air. The driver gets out of the car and I notice his kids in the passenger seat. It’s how I’ve forgiven him for what he does next. He puts my dog in my arms, red raw exposed hunks of skin where fur should be, body broken in the middle, and drives off. I run the four blocks home with both of our hearts spilling onto the street. My friend buries him in the backyard while I watch from my bedroom window. It’s my fault.
Number three was Clyde, a Christmas Chihuahua. I was 12 and had been begging for a German Shepherd but succumbed in minutes. He sat in the crook of my left arm for the next 12 years. No stranger to the vet’s office (he’d had at least two miracles), he died there on a New Year’s Eve. When I got the call the next day, I told them to dispose of his body and systematically collected everything that belonged to him. I drove around with his stuff for hours before throwing it into the Don River from the Gerrard Street bridge. I stood on the sidewalk watched the river for a long time and it was very cold. There were no cars on the road. I was at a party while he died.
It took me almost three years to get another dog. And this time, it was a bull terrier (no one is going to laugh at my dog again). Piggy-Caesar and I spent the next 12 years goin’ down the road with our hair blowing in the wind just like a Bruce song. That dog would have followed me to hell and back (and sort of did). He spent his golden years at the ranch in Texas chasing bunnies (even caught one) and died very suddenly. Also in the vet’s office. Also without me. I fooled myself by going home to make calls to specialists (before the days of cell phones). I did get his ashes in a lovely brass urn. I should have been there with him.
A few months later, my husband and I got a bull terrier pup. That was 14 years ago and we called him Cato.
Cato had his miracles. He’d eat anything he found on the ground – leaves, bottle caps, jeans (don’t ask). Once he almost died from a peach pit lodged in his intestines. His big miracle was two winters ago in Galveston, Texas – his liver and kidneys failed and ultrasounds revealed masses that almost certainly were advanced cancer. Most vets would have advised euthanasia at 12 years old. Our vet said that if he were her dog, she would open him up just to make sure – and if the cancer had spread, he could be euthanized while still sedated.
Waiting to hear was excruciating. But the call came: Cato was clean inside. After a week of aggressive antibiotic IVs, the old man came home and had 20 good months to follow – a gift we could never begin to put a value on. We have a video of him on the beach at Galveston this past winter. Galloping. A year after he should have been dead. What’s that worth?
Death did not cheat Cato, if anything, it was the other way around. Death was very kind to Cato. He went downhill very quickly and a very caring and wise vet came to our house on Vancouver Island so that it would be easier on all of us. I cried. My husband cried. Cato’s friend, the Galveston vet, cried.
Making the call yesterday was very painful and difficult but very true. True to our old friend, true to ourselves, true to life (and death). My husband said it best as we tried to decide: we owe a debt to Cato.
His ashes will be back in a week. We will take them to Galveston. I will miss him so. But no italics. All paid up this time.