In the last few months of his life, Petey’s mind started slipping. He had many accidents in the house. It wasn’t like before when he marked his territory; now, he couldn’t hold it in. He would stand up, and urine would just fall out of him. He also seemed confused about where to go. Sometimes, he’d walk outside, then come right back in to pee on the floor. He also pooped in the kitchen a few times and, once or twice, even ate his own poop, something he hadn’t done since his puppy days.
I put him to bed in the kitchen so that we could clean up his puddles more easily in the morning, but that didn’t work for long. He’d bark in the middle of the night, like he’d become scared of the dark. Veronica, who was still nursing, already woke me up several times throughout the night. Desperate for rest, I brought him into the kids’ room, where I shared a twin bed with my daughter. Since Henry slept with Rob in our bedroom, I lined the other twin bed’s mattress in plastic and laid more mattress protectors and towels on the carpet below. We all slept more peacefully after this, even though I had to frequently wash the linens, which Petey had often soaked by the morning.
Throughout the day, I closed off the stairs with a baby gate to limit where Petey wandered. He’d lie against me on the couch when I wrote on my laptop. Other times, he’d sprawl out in patches of sunshine in the kitchen. I even caught him cuddling with Ben a couple of times–something the two of them had never done before. Things continued to deteriorate, though. He demanded to go outside constantly. I work from home, and every time I’d start a new task, he’d sit by the back door, which meant I had seconds to get up and let him out. To get anything done, I eventually had to close him off in the kitchen with the front slider open, letting him wander in and out as needed without either of the kids following him. But he barked a lot, and now that his hearing was going, I had to yell extra loud to quiet him.
This all came to a head on the evening of Friday, March 8, 2013. I’d just taken Veronica upstairs and was nursing her to sleep. Rob and Henry had stayed downstairs with the dogs, and it sounded like they were playing. Just as Veronica drifted off, Petey barked. I thought at first that they’d just gotten too hyper and that Petey was barking out of play. Veronica, still latched on to me, started sucking vigorously again, as if conscious. I tensed up. I wanted to shout, “Shut up!” but I knew that would definitely wake her up. I had to just hope the noise would subside quickly. But it didn’t stop. Rob yelled Petey’s name, but the barks only escalated. “Honey!” Rob called. “I think he’s finally lost it.”
Finally, Veronica unlatched, asleep. I came downstairs to a very scared Petey. As I knelt next to him, he jumped backwards, his eye big, and he continued to bark. I clapped my hands and screamed his name. I offered him his favorite treats. But nothing worked. “I think he’s dying,” Rob said. Deep down, I felt the same, but I didn’t want to say it. I charged into the kitchen, grabbed the phone, and called the Emergency Vet number that had been sitting on my fridge since we’d moved here. I explained the symptoms to the woman on the phone, and naturally, she told me I should bring him in.
By the time I got off the phone, Rob had taken Petey upstairs to our bedroom, the most interior room in the house, and closed the door. He knew that, at least there, Petey’s barking wouldn’t disturb the neighbors. I quickly researched Petey’s symptoms online. Knowing what emergency vets charged and still in debt from Petey’s most recent surgery, I tried to figure out if a trip to the ER was really necessary. Could they truly solve the problem tonight, or would they only offer the same solutions that our regular vet could when his office opened at 9:00 the next morning? I found that other dog owners had written about similar situations. In one forum, a vet had responded to a woman whose dog had been behaving the exact same way Petey had. Things sounded grim. It was most likely a brain tumor, I gathered. And especially at Petey’s age, 15 ½, none of the treatment options seemed realistic. I went over my findings with Rob, and we agreed not to put Petey through a bunch of new tests or draw out his suffering any longer. It was time to say goodbye.
During this discussion, Petey stopped barking. He had worn himself out and fallen asleep on our bed. Rob took Henry and Ben back downstairs, and I stayed with Petey. I covered him with my bathrobe and let him lean against my lap. I listened to him snore, praying that he would sleep peacefully until the morning.
Veronica stirred again soon after that, so I returned to the kids’ room and fell asleep while nursing her. I awoke a few hours later to Petey’s voiceless cry. In the yellow glow from the nightlight, I could see him lying in the doorway. He still knew, despite his blindness, where to find me and how to get my attention. I walked over to him, picked him up, and carried him back to Veronica’s bed. He slept at my feet for the rest of the night.
When I woke up Saturday morning, I actually thought for a little bit that things would be okay. Petey and Veronica were still sleeping when I came downstairs. I did my stretches and planned the morning in my head. I had just joined Weight Watchers two weeks before, and my meeting started at 8:30 a.m. I thought I would go weigh in and then take Petey to see my vet right after. Looking back now, I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I just wanted to delude myself.
Once everyone got up and we served the kids and dogs their breakfast, Petey started barking again, just like the night before. My vet’s office would open soon, so I ran upstairs and got myself dressed. Petey followed me, barking the whole time. When we got back to the living room, he jumped on the loveseat and peed all over it. I picked him up. Rob told the kids to say something nice to Petey, but they didn’t understand. They continued to play on the Wii Fit Balance Board. Rob patted Petey on the head and kissed me. I walked outside with Petey and, on the way to the car, started sobbing. The day I’d feared and dreaded increasingly for the past seven years had finally come.
I walked into my vet’s office with Petey in my arms. “I don’t have an appointment,” I said and, in broken sentences, tried to explain to the vet’s wife what had happened. She escorted me to a room, where the doctor met me. He checked Petey’s heart and listened to his breathing, then paid attention as I narrated the previous night’s events. He said what I knew he’d say. It was definitely a neurological disorder. To diagnose the exact problem, though, we’d have to see a specialist at UC Davis. Given Petey’s age, we should consider whether or not it was worth the trouble and the expense. But we could try. The vet could give me some medication to tranquilize Petey until we made up our minds.
I sighed. “He’s had a long and happy life,” I said, then explained what Rob and I had already decided. “Do you want to be with him when we put him to sleep?” the vet asked. I nodded, then burst into tears. He said he had other office calls this morning, but he’d check up front to see what we could do. He returned shortly and said they had time. He would give Petey a shot now to sedate him, then come back in about 20 minutes to euthanize him. “You’re doing the right thing,” he said. Having developed a wholehearted trust for my vet over the past nine years, I needed to hear that.
Immediately after the doctor gave him the first shot, Petey fell asleep. I sat on the floor and held him against my chest, rocking back and forth. I quickly called Rob to tell him the plan, and then I whispered to Petey. I told him I loved him. I thanked him for sharing his life with me and for filling mine with so much happiness. I asked him to visit me in my dreams and to give my grandmother, who had died nearly four years earlier, a kiss for me.
An assistant came in while I waited. A somber look on her face, she rubbed my arm and asked what I’d like to do with Petey’s remains. I told her I wanted to cremate him. She returned with the doctor a little while later.
The vet explained each step to me. He had to get the medicine directly into a vein, so he would have to lay Petey on the table with the assistant’s help. Petey’s brain and heart would die within 12 seconds, but his muscles might continue to contract, or he might even vocalize. As the vet wrapped a tourniquet around Petey’s leg, he told me to talk to him. I’m not good at speaking my feelings, especially in front of others, so I just repeated, “Mommy loves you, Petey.” Then the vet put the needle to Petey’s vein. As he pressed on the plunger, I wailed. I didn’t make any more efforts to keep quiet. The assistant, holding Petey steady, touched my arm. I watched Petey take one more breath, then exhale for the last time. His dainty little paws repeatedly closed and opened. The vet put the stethoscope to Petey’s chest. “He’s gone,” he said.
Expressing his condolences, the vet hugged me. I thanked him through my tears for everything he’d done. As I pulled away from him, I felt this strange sensation in my chest–a lightness. It was somehow comforting. The vet and his assistant left me alone with Petey a little while longer. I ran my hand over his coat and kissed his head. But he wasn’t there. He had gone so peacefully and easily. I spoke quietly to the air and asked Petey to always be with me.
The doctor came back in a little while later and offered a few more comforting words before wrapping up Petey’s body in a towel. I thanked him again and left.
Outside, the sun reflected off the white sidewalks and buildings. Squinting, I drove home through the town’s main streets so that the traffic lights could make my decisions for me. I pressed the radio’s buttons, but the only music I heard sounded angry and bitter. I turned it off. Inside our neighborhood, the trees lining the streets bloomed with pink blossoms. Some teenage boys played basketball in the courts, and a few other residents walked by with their dogs. Beyond our street, the green hills rose into the bright blue sky. Soak it up, Petey, I thought. You are free.