By Morgan Baker
Pull your collapsed old dog, as gently as possible, from the warm back porch where he crumbled into a pile of black fur. Put him in the TV room, where four years earlier, your second dog gave birth to ten puppies. Slide a dog bed he never used under him so he’s comfortable.
Call the new vet you’ve started to know and like. She took over the practice from your old vet where the ten puppies had been vaccinated and microchipped before they moved to forever homes. That vet saw you through a cat, marriage, two kids and then one dog, two dogs and puppies. He won’t meet your fourth or fifth dogs who arrive when you’re an empty-nester.
The new vet is kind and says she and her tech, who had helped with the puppies, will be over soon.
Put your second dog (now six) with white fur, and her four-year-old brown pup you kept from the litter, into your husband’s office so they won’t bother the 15-year-old dog.
Sit with your two teenage daughters and husband. Pet dog, and watch your older daughter sob. He was her dog.
Tell your dog how much you love him for being your daughter’s best friend when others weren’t. He came through, sleeping with her and cuddling. He wasn’t perfect: he bit too many people, and chased school buses up the street. Friends and family suggested you give him away—to a farm, or better yet, just put him down. You didn’t. Your daughter was more important. He stayed.
Walk outside to the summer day and breathe the warm air in deeply. This is harder than you imagined.
Let the vet and tech in house. She says he’s suffering. It’s time. Are you ready? She looks from one to the other. No, you say, but he is. She says the first shot will put him to sleep.
You watch the dog you brought home as a puppy when your daughters were 4 and 7. He closes his eyes and rests. Tears stream down your face. This is killing you. This is the end of an era. Your daughters will go to college and leave home. Your older daughter will move across the country, marry. You will watch, wonder and marvel at your daughters’ fortitude as they make their own independent lives. You will always miss them.
The vet tells you the second shot will stop his heart. How can you bear this? Stop, you want to say. You want to keep your family together. The vet sinks the shot into the back of the balding dog. He is gone. Your daughters pet him. Your husband cuts a piece of the dog’s black hair off. You put it in a plastic bag. You don’t know this, but in six weeks you will put some brown hair in another baggie and five years later, you will add white hair to your collection.
The vet says you should bring your other dogs in to smell their friend so they know he is gone. They won’t look for him later. The puppy will die of a virulent cancer in the vet’s back yard on a sunny fall day on a blanket surrounded by family.
The vet tech, who has known all your dogs and puppies, wraps the old dog in a blanket and prepares to carry him to the back of the vet’s SUV. Your husband says he wants to carry him.
He whispers to the dog, let’s go for one more walk. You watch your husband put the dog gently in the trunk. You turn and walk back into a quieter home.
Morgan Baker writes about family, including dogs, mental health, and identity. Her forthcoming memoir Emptying the Nest: Getting Better at Goodbye will be out May 2.
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