This is a personal post, and not much revised. I don’t usually do these, but it was a difficult and important moment in my life and I feel like sharing. It’s also not writing-related—I will have happier news to share on that front, I think soon. For now, here’s this. If you read it, thanks for listening.
Sunday the vet came at two, as scheduled. Jeff and I were both there, waiting with Romeo, petting him. He was mostly asleep, as he had been all morning—first asleep on the pavement by the garage, until the sun reached there and I made him move; then asleep in the shade, as I sat next to him and wept and tried to read Tennyson’s In Memoriam AHH, and talked to him, telling him that I loved him, that I would always love him, that I would miss him forever, though I knew he could not hear or understand; then the backyard became too hot and I moved him inside, to his bed in the living room.
He tried to get up when she arrived, struggled up on straightened forelegs, and then lay back down when his hind legs would not propel him farther. His hind legs had been causing trouble for a while: first arthritis stopped his knees from bending, and then for whatever reasons lately they seemed even weaker, when he stood they would collapse slowly beneath him so his hips dipped down, or the paws would slide to one side. His forepaws, too, seemed clumsy and painful, most likely from arthritis. Walking became difficult, steps an obstacle. Hardwood floors were slippery and he could not hold his paws in place, he slipped when he walked. Jeff put rugs down all around the house so he could manage better. But the legs kept getting worse, and now he could not get up on his own at all, not off the hardwood floors nor off the rug nor off the lawn. When I came home Saturday night he was stuck on the floor, yelping in pain, and Sunday morning, in the yard, he could not get up even to defecate. And that was when I made the appointment.
The vet, Ashley, seemed kind. A young woman in purple scrubs. Her words of condolence were rote but not insincere. She petted Romeo and talked to us, explaining what she would do and what was likely to happen. I signed a form affirming that this was what I requested. “Is this right?” I asked Jeff, and he said yes.
It was right, I know that, logically I know that. Romeo was in pain; he was deaf and I think partly blind, too; he could not play or run the way he used to, he could not really go for walks, though I kept taking him for short walks up until the last week; he could not sleep well, not inside the house, for some reason he was always agitated at night but if I let him out he would sleep in the grass; he could no longer jump on our bed, even with the ottoman to help him climb, and in any case our bed was no longer comfortable for him. Even eating was a struggle, because his legs gave out when he stood on them, and he had to turn, regain his footing, reapproach, take another few bites, then collapse again and repeat. He could not do much of anything that he enjoyed anymore. He was suffering. As Jeff and I agreed, we would not have him suffer. So I know it was right.
We gave him last kisses and received his last kisses. I scratched behind his ears and pressed my forehead to his while Ashley gave him the first injection, a painkiller and a sedative, she said. Before, when I imagined that moment, what hurt most, what I imagined was a voice saying mama, in a tone of desperate betrayal and pain. But in reality I felt nothing like that—of course no voice, but also no betrayal. He did not know what was happening and as far as I could tell he felt no pain, or nothing worse than the pain he was living with every day. He just looked at us, perhaps a bit confused at the deluge of attention, and we watched and stroked his fur as he fell asleep. Ashley tucked an absorbent pad underneath his hind quarters, in case (as is common, she said) he peed. He settled his head between his paws; his tongue stuck out and I pushed it back into his mouth; I could see the third eyelid beginning to cover his eyes. Ashley touched his paw and at first he snatched it back, as usual, but soon he ceased to react.
For the second injection, which would stop his heart, she had to shave his foreleg in order to place the needle in a vein. He was unconscious and did not react to being shaved, or to the needle. He was sprawled, his body relaxed. We kissed his head again, each of us. And she administered the injection, a large plunger that she slowly pressed down. As she had predicted he made a few quick, huffing breaths. And he died. I think I knew the instant he was dead, I could feel it, though he looked no different—I put my hand on his side to feel his breath but there was none, I placed my fingers in front of his nose but there was none there either. Ashley took out a stethoscope and listened for his heartbeat. “He’s gone,” she said.
Jeff and I hugged while she made his pawprint, then while she went to her car to fetch the container to carry Romeo’s body away. It was a large, plastic bin, with a plaid fleece blanket inside, folded at the top to form a pillow. We petted him a last time—a head that could feel nothing but was still so soft and golden. His forehead seemed to move in response to my touch, but it was only my hand’s pressure on the relaxed skin that moved it. Jeff smelled his head. Then Jeff helped Ashley to move him into the carrier, and, after one last touch and smell, covered him with the blanket—first his body, then his head. They carried him out to her SUV and loaded him in the back while I watched. I saw Jeff look under the blanket again, and for a moment I wanted to, but I did not, I told them it was okay to take him away.
Ashley said goodbye. We went back inside our empty house, where Romeo was gone.
It’s about 24 hours later, and he is still gone, and he will be gone forever.
I am telling myself his love remains.