I decided to bike to work today, because when you’re upset about something it’s great to try new things and risk being killed in a traffic accident. It wasn’t that bad. I had sidewalks to retreat to when necessary, and it only took about half an hour. It was cold, so I wore my coat. Pedaling up and down hills and avoiding cars in the cold gave my mind something to focus on other than the thought that woke me up in tears this morning.
Last night when I called to tell Dad Happy Birthday, he said, “I guess you know about Gaila.”
I didn’t, not specifically. But she’s my dog. To not know would indicate a lack of personal responsibility. “About the thing on her lip?” I guessed.
“Yeah. It’s just gotten so big, and she’s slow and uncomfortable, and we hear her whimpering every now and then, so I guess we’re gonna put her down soon. Put her out of her misery.”
I had no response to this, other than a belated, “Oh.”
He went on like that for a minute, explaining the reasons. I asked if the thing couldn’t just be taken out, and Dad said, “No, not without removing half her face.” Dad sounded like he was about to cry.
I managed to say, “Well, if you’re going to put her down, let me know when so I can come.”
“Okay,” Dad said, sounding a little surprised. “Mom said you probably wouldn’t want to.”
“She’s my dog,” I said. “I want to be with her.”
“Okay,” Dad repeated, and went on to suggest that maybe it’d be better if I decide when I’m able to come, and we put her down then. “Best to do it on a Friday,” he suggested, as though we were arranging a luncheon. “I don’t know if vets are open on Saturdays. And then you’ll have the weekend and you can get home before Monday.”
“Okay,” I said.
Even after we had things decided, he kept talking about why it was best to put her down. He was trying to convince himself, and me. I believe him. There isn’t a person alive who hates the suffering of animals more than my father.
He kept repeating the phrase “put her out of her misery”, and he brought up other dogs–a stray near Pat and Wolf’s that had been run over by a backhoe, its rear leg hanging by a scrap of flesh, screaming in pain as Wolf shot it and unfortunately missed the first time; Misho, and how he was put down at 14, when he was unable to move or take care of himself or even get outside to relieve himself. I think Dad was crying at this point, or at least he was unable to hold it in as well.
“But it’s my birthday,” he said suddenly, sniffling. “We shouldn’t be talking about all this depressing stuff. I’m sixty years old!”
“Are you really?” I said. I think my voice reflected admiration; that’s what I was going for, at least, but what I was thinking was, Dad is old, and someday he’s going to die, too.
We didn’t manage to get off the subject of Gaila, in the end, so I wrapped up the conversation as quickly as I could, and we hung up. Sean came home. I told him that I was going, and that Mom didn’t think I would want to go. He said, “I wouldn’t think you’d want to go, either. It’s less painful not to.”
Mom called a little later.
“I was just wondering what you and Dad talked about, because he said you were coming up here, and I would love to see you, but I wanted to make sure that was really what you wanted to do.”
“She’s my dog,” I said, stubbornly. “I’m going to be there with her.”
“I was going to tell you,” Mom said. “I just didn’t know how long we wanted to wait before we did it.”
I’m not angry that neither my mother nor my husband thought I would want to be with my dog in her final moments. I am hurt and confused.
I wasn’t there for her when she ran into that piece of rebar. I didn’t pick her up and take her to the vet. I was there at the first vet, who refused to even do a simple X-ray. The second vet was out of town and I didn’t go, and it was Mom and AJ who decided her leg should be amputated. All I did was arrive after the procedure and watch her hop pathetically, painfully towards me and the van.
Even before that I gave up on her. I stopped trying to train her, I stopped keeping her in my room. And then I left her behind when I moved away.
But she never gave up on me. She always knew that she was my dog.
And so I’m going to be there. I’m going to sit with her, let her lie in my lap. I’m going to stroke her and tell her that everything is fine, and that she should just relax and go to sleep. I’m going to stay with her and feel her heart slow to a stop, hear her last sigh of breath.
She’s my dog.