I held my dog in my arms and said goodbye for the last time. The vet injected two fluids into his IV catheter; one to put him to sleep, another so he wouldn’t wake up. At the end, he was so sick and in so much pain there wasn’t any other way. Or so I tell myself over and over again, and my wife tells me over and over again, because I’m full of such doubts.
I cradled his emaciated body, wrapped in a blanket because he wouldn’t stop shivering, and cried.
Moose died on a Saturday night. I’d driven him to the vet hospital, hoping for some miracle, yet knowing chances were slim. He hadn’t eaten for two days (that meant two days without insulin—he had been diagnosed as diabetic four months ago) and he was vomiting. He’d been having episodes of diarrhea, and me and my wife had noticed blood in his stool.
I drove home from the vet hospital without him, staring at the towel I’d put down for him in the front seat. Wishing he was there to comfort me about having to put him down. My wife called me in the parking lot before I left, and the words struggled to form (they always do with shit like this). Then, somehow, they tumbled out: “we had to let him go.”
I’ve arrived at one major conclusion so far, and not for the first time. Grief can go suck it.
I’d had Moose for ten years. He’d been with me when I met the girl I’d fall in love with. He was there when I asked that girl to marry me. He was there to guard that girl’s belly when she was pregnant with our child. He moved cities with us, and greeted our daughter after she came into the world. He continued to protect her until his last days.
Moose was not the focal point of our life. We loved him, but we suffered family tragedies on both sides, raised a baby, and worked demanding hours. We asked ourselves the hard question when he developed pancreatitis, and was diagnosed with diabetes. Ultimately, at great financial irresponsibility, we decided to give life with a diabetic dog a go.
Insulin injections twice a day at strict time intervals. Special (expensive) dog food. The cost of insulin and syringes. A dramatic increase in visits to the vet. Moose’s last four months almost weren’t possible at all. We knew, if something else happened to him too soon, we wouldn’t be able to afford it.
And he got sick again. This time, he required hospitalization, possibly surgery. The projected expense was staggering. The absence of a guarantee he’d make it, or not end up back in the hospital a month from now, drained what little hope we had left. That was it. We no longer had the means to support him. We had to let him go.
His absence is fresh, tender. Very painful. I don’t hear him drinking from his bowl in the night, or shaking himself off, his collar jingling as he settles. I don’t have to put the broom on the nice couch so he won’t sleep on it. Every time I look in the backyard, I don’t see him sniffing around. He’s not in the garage, not coming outside with us when we go get the mail. He’s nowhere he should be.
His loss is not the hardest grief of my life. But I realized that doesn’t matter, because in this moment I feel it and the feeling is so real it cuts through reality like a chainsaw, deeper and deeper until the world has split in two: me, at the vet’s office, waiting to hear he’ll be okay, and me, four days later, wondering where the hell our dog is.
Moose was part of our family, and that isn’t diminished by him being a dog. He had a role to play, and was a constant in our lives until he wasn’t anymore. I believe relationships with people are complex, and their complexity—their capability for pain, growth and depth of understanding, makes them rich in a way animal relationships never yield. Animals give us unconditional, simple, pure love. And yet, they never challenge us, or force us to adapt. They never form different opinions, disagree, or accidentally hurt our feelings. They’re safe, for us at least, because in them we never have to be vulnerable, and that lack of vulnerability impedes growth.
But, when we take animals into our life, when we adopt them fully into our heart, and we lose them, that definition of relationship ceases to matter as much. Our pets are members of the family, and then they are gone. Pain is pain, and to measure it in degrees insults those who experience it. Moose was our dog. He is dead. We grieve his loss.
My daughter asks where Moose is, and me and my wife tell her he’s in heaven. Now, our daughter points to the sky and says, “moose in heaven!” Then she waves above her head, smiles like she’s in on some beautiful secret, and says “HI MOOSE!”
I’m in awe of my daughter. In her, I see how I must eventually learn to accept Moose’s passing—as something simple, something joyous. Because, like love, he isn’t gone, was never gone. He’s all around us now, like everyone else we love that leaves a little early, waiting for us to come home.