I noticed that there were two missed calls on my phone from my dad. A bit alarmed, I called him back immediately curious and apprehensive. “There is some bad news I need to share with you,” he said. His voice sounded pained. Someone was dying, I just knew it. “Chloe is at the vet right now, she went outside and when I called for her to come back in, she was unable to walk. She is paralyzed from the waist down,” as these words left my dad’s mouth and entered into my ears, I felt numb. What? How could that be?
Chloe is a mini-dachshund, a breed prone to this sort of injury. Four years ago, Chloe’s buddy, Ruby, another family dachshund died from this injury. I knew at this phone call that there would be little that anyone could do for her…ultimately, she would be put down. This idea of putting an animal down breaks my heart. Chloe was nothing but love and affection personified. She has no idea that her little body is irreparable and that while she rests in the vet’s office that her humans are contemplating the options including the one that ends her life.
Thanksgiving break 2005, I came home from college and roped my nanny into going to the mall with me “just to look” at the puppies. The mall was packed with people looking for something to do in the cold winter months and so they settled on walking around the mall and window shopping. We slipped into the puppy shop and made our way to the windowed pens. That’s when we saw Chloe. She was SO tiny and nestled in sleep with another puppy of some sort as her pen-mate. We oohed and aahed at her tiny features and asked if we could hold her. Holding her was a big mistake. How does one hold a little sweet puppy and then return it to its cage, seriously? We signed the paperwork, bought a cage, some food, and toys and took little Miss Chloe home with us. When my dad came home from work that night, I vividly remember wrapping Chloe up in a blanket and bringing her to the front door to greet him. He was only momentarily shocked by the new addition. As a true pet lover, he smiled, took hold of the blanket and welcomed her to the family.
Chloe was a loyal dog. At 12 pounds (she was a little plump for her size), she cautiously guarded her family. My parents moved from our childhood home in the summer of 2007. This was the same year that a group of my college roommates and I decided to sublet an apartment in Boston together. It was our first! Needing a place for Chloe while they moved locations, Chloe came to Boston and lived with us from June through September. One afternoon, while walking the city streets together this suburban dog who was skittish around the big city noises, “protected” me from a male pursuer. We walked past this particular man on the street and he let out a cat call, when we turned around to head back home, we ended up walking past him again. This time, he made a move towards me. Perhaps to grab my wrist, but who knows. Chloe sprung up on her back legs (a major feat of strength for a pup that is a long hot dog shape), and barked viciously at the man. While I knew he presented no real danger, I was shocked by her display of loyalty and fearlessness. The man chuckled and said, “Ah, look at this one foot killer” and walked on.
Once my parents moved to their new house, I only saw Chloe on vacations. As she got a little older, she had the fishiest breath and loved to stick her little stinky tongue out at you while she rolled over onto her back for a belly rub. She crawled into my lap and curled up as I sat crossed-legged on the floor. She was the best cuddle-bug ever. So easygoing and just desperate for affection, she stayed beside me for our visit together. At night, she put herself to bed in her cage. At exactly 8PM each evening, she would waddle herself over to her cage, burrow under her favorite fleece blanket and go to sleep. She was such a sweet dog.
Now, sitting here in Boston, knowing that today she will be put down breaks my heart. I cannot hold back the tears when I think of it. Death is of course part of life and my friends have been so kind in checking in with me. They say comforting things like, “She was a good dog,” and “She won’t be in pain anymore.” I know they are right. These cliches are always “right” in a sense. But, it still doesn’t soothe the situation. We bring these little critters into our lives, make space for them in our hearts and homes, and know that we will inevitably outlive them. We invite this heartache because we know that before we have to say goodbye to them, they will bring love, happiness, and lots of licks and pets into our lives. But, it still hurts…it hurts a lot actually…
Crying over the phone last night with my friend Kellyanne, she told me a story. She said that a vet once went to a family home to put down a very old Irish wolfhound. It was clear that is was time, and the family sat around their dog and cried while the vet prepared his materials. The vet noticed that the smallest member of the family, a little boy, was not crying. He asked the little boy, “Do you know what is about to happen?” The little boy said, “Yes, you are about to put my dog down and he will stop living.” At this, the vet asked, “Exactly, and are you okay?” The boy replied, “Yes. We are put here on earth to learn how to love unconditionally. It takes us humans a long time to figure this out so we die when we are very old. But, dogs they already know how to do this, so they are not on Earth for very long.” Chloe knew how to love unconditionally and I will miss her little self forever.