When I first noticed my dog was dying, really, this time, she seemed asleep, but she wasn’t. She looked up at me with a yearning to rise up and greet me like she used to: tail wagging, eyes twinkling, and sometimes her whole body would shake with a sensation of happiness I may never know myself. Her body had fallen into the crevice between her blanket-covered bed and what could only be described as a poster board.
Countless times I had seen her in the same position, expecting to find her dead in her sleep, but always I would find her chest rising and falling to a steady rhythm. Her head would rise followed by her entire body, excited to greet me. Then, she would attempt to follow me wherever I went.
This day was different. I picked up my dog, my little sister, to bring her outside, where she was always happy as long as someone was there with her. Like most creatures, she hated being left alone.
When I released her, I noticed she couldn’t stand. Her legs buckled underneath her and a greenish yellow gooze, most likely bile, had landed all over my purple shirt and the doormat to my parents’ house. I promptly removed the shirt and told her, “Wait. I’ll be right back” as she lay helpless.
I looked to see where the strange liquid came from only to find that maggots had made their way into my dog’s tumored anus. I found a new shirt, called my mother on the phone, and begged her to come. I couldn’t deal with this on my own. “Should we go to the vet? Should we put her down?” I begged, my face covered in fresh tears. These questions went unanswered, but the vet’s office was closed anyway. I sat on the walkway with my little dog for the next thirty minutes.
For those thirty minutes, I did nothing but stare at the ground, at the ants carrying bits of food to their hives and at the spider who had caught a caterpillar in its web and was spinning the worm into a cocoon, where it would never emerge as a butterfly. Death and sadness were always around me, so it seemed. I chose to follow Augusten Burrough’s advice to love the dying and be there for the dying as much as you can. I wouldn’t let Mellie be alone.
When my mother came home, she found me on a chair awkwardly positioned at the front door of the house I grew up in, staring at my old friend with tear-stained cheeks. She took initiative to bring the dog upstairs, swaddling her in a towel and blankets. Together, we removed as many maggots as we could. We found four. I have never been fond of maggots and I struggled not to vomit during the process as you, reader, probably feel right now.
Eventually, my father arrived and I set up a bed for her upstairs in the living room so we could be with her. We expected her to pass that night and took turns petting her, telling her we loved her.
The next day, I woke up to a banging sound coming from the stairs along with a jingling noise. I ran over to find my dog had gotten up and attempted to walk down the stairs by herself. She was alone, the door was open, and I was furious. Her food and water bowls were gone as though she were already gone. I made up new ones and put the water next to her mouth to drink. She could not see or hear – only touch.
Frustrated, I ate breakfast and brought her to a small pond near our house. I wrapped her in blankets and carried her to a picnic table where I wrote this piece. Her eyes are covered in what seems to be permanent mucus and continues to breathe, slowly.
It took three days for Melodie Elise to die and to me, she died the day she stopped being able to walk. She was our first family dog and neither of my parents had the heart to euthanize her. As she got older, she developed more and more problems. She started out with seizures, for which we administered medication twice a day. She then developed tumors, prolapse, she lost her hearing, she lost her sight. Eventually, she lost the ability to walk. She was too old to have surgery for the prolapse issue, but she was too happy to put down, so we tried different things, cleaning the area and buying kid’s underwear for her.
Once she died, I discussed the issue of putting a dog down with the people I worked with and opinions ranged wildly except for one: It’s really hard. When she started having seizures, we thought she would be dead within a year, but she pushed on for another five. When each thing happened, she still had the energy of a puppy. She still went on hikes with me and our German Shepherd. She loved cuddling. She hung out with us. She went to the lake. It was like all of her issues didn’t matter to her because she kept on living to the fullest.
When she could no longer wait to go to the bathroom, it was really hard to take care of her, but it was even harder not to. If she were a human, there would be no question. She should continue living.
You never truly want someone to die, but I really wanted her to stop suffering. That dog held on to life very tightly. I would come home after work The Day She Couldn’t Stand Up and ask my mom, “Is she dead?” My mother shook her head no. The next day, it was the same thing, until finally, she died overnight.
My mother woke us up early in the morning to tell us she had finally given up and I was so thankful. I was happy that death had taken away her suffering. I was happy I could let go of her constant suffering, my constant worrying, the sweet release of her beautiful life into something else: a memory. A memory was beautiful and not horribly disgusting. It did not remind me of the bad times. I could only remember the good times of her smiling on the lake, kayaking, jumping in the pool, running in the snow, and loving everyone she met. She was gone, forever, and it was okay.
In a way, death is like magic. It’s sometimes not as easy to let go, but with death, you have to. There are other types of deaths: break-ups, moving, changing, losing people by other means, but real, physical death is unmatched. It reminds you that life is a gift and you need to cherish every second you have with another life. You need to hug, love, and tell them how you really feel. Don’t hold back. Now is all you have, and that’s okay.