It is with great sorrow that I must write that we have now lost not one but two dogs, and not just two, but our last two. This last loss of fragile, old Bella comes just weeks after we put Shark to sleep, and marks the end of an era that has spanned seven dogs and 30 years.
The outpouring of support my husband and I have received — from close friends and acquaintances, Facebook allies and readers of this column, art customers and even the vet and staff who cared for Shark and Bella and put them to sleep — has been salve to my soul. It’s as if they felt our pain almost as acutely as did we, and for that reason I don’t want to abuse the privilege of sympathy by showing up yet again with another desperately sad tale. The fact is, Bella, like Shark, was in terrible health. She had trouble breathing, was severely arthritic and could no longer hold herself up to eat or go potty.
I knew the end was coming. And still, it shocks me to write that my dogs are gone because writing it makes it more real than living it somehow. Writing confirms what the crafty brain can otherwise fiddle with and deny.
Perhaps worst of all, the shock of loss folds over on itself, in repetitive, seemingly endless waves. I felt it the moment the vet said Bella was gone, and again when I got into the car without her. I felt it again when I walked into the house and, although her bowl was still there, and her bed, and her sofa blankets and the medications — good grief, the mountain of medications — no one greeted me.
It was perhaps then that the shock of loss merged with the twin realities of grief and guilt, dashing off a memo to my brain declaring that I’d been heartless. Sure, you took in dogs and loved them and cared for them and, in some cases, sacrificed your own happiness for theirs (said the memo) — but then you heartlessly ended their life.
The intellectual mind gets it, of course. It understands that compassion is as compassion does. That ending a life that has devolved into, in Shark’s case, chronic wasting diarrhea and, in Bella’s case, breathing problems and an aimless, anxious wandering exacerbated by loneliness and arthritic pain, is a gift. But monkey mind, that state of restless distress which visits deep in the night and claims responsibility for the terrorist attacks on your heart, tells you differently.
Monkey mind suggests you didn’t love enough. Monkey mind goes so far as to suggest that, had you loved enough, you could have engineered something beyond biological possibility, something that defied the laws of nature itself: a miracle. Monkey mind suggests that, had you loved your dogs enough, you’d have made their bodies impervious to pain and illness and aging. You’d have made them immortal.
And I, somehow, believe it. Because when I return home from work and there is no collection of spindly legs spilling off the sofa and skidding past the dining room table and crashing into me in the kitchen, it feels as if there is no longer a reason to exist.
My husband is there, of course and, although I love him, I have never existed for him. I have always only existed for the endless parade of big and small, sweet and not-so-sweet, smart and dimwitted, obedient and ill-mannered dogs who for 30 years populated my sofa and my bed and my almost every waking thought.
So, although I know better, it is with tremendous sorrow and apology that I admit I could not make immortal what was never meant to be. I could only love deeply what was put in front of me and then taken away. Sleep well Bella, and Shark, and Brie, and Annie, and Boomer, and Jesse, and Keithan. It was a tremendous 30 years.
Contact Dana Shavin at firstname.lastname@example.org.