Recently, a friend had to put her dog down. (Such an odd phrase, but what else do you say? Had to kill her dog?) A cute little Cairn Terrier. As soon as my wife told me the news I went to our dog, Frankie, and hugged her. And thought of the day when we might have to put her down. I cried. And thought back to when we first got Frankie, a small black and white English cocker spaniel. As soon as we got her, I started thinking about her not being around. I guess I was just so instantaneously smitten with her. That’s one problem with dogs; you’re more than likely going to outlive them.
Our friend lives in New York city and the vet came to her apartment to put her dog down. Which seems very humane. I pictured Keeper sitting on the living room sofa, the vet giving him a pill and then the injection.
In that same time period, we got a “Drs Foster and Smith” mail order catalog. There was an article embedded about euthanizing your pet. I read that. Imagining Frankie on a table in the vet’s office. The needle in a leg…first the calming drugs and then the one that stops the heart. My wife said that our friend labored over the decision to put her dog down. He was in obvious discomfort all the time. But as soon as she called the vet, the dog seemed to perk up. As if he knew that soon his pain would be over.
I get weepy just thinking about it. Not long thereafter I was lying in bed, rubbing Frankie’s tummy. She lay there on her back, rear legs splayed, front lets bent at the elbows, as if in supplication. Her body relaxed. Her eyes closed. She looked happy. And in that moment I realized that that would be how we would put her down. At home, on the bed, we’d give her a pill to relax her and then I’d rub her tummy until she closed her eyes and then they would just never open again.
Why do I leap ahead 9,10 years to the death of this little dog that I love? Why does that end come to mind? Do I have to begin now to prepare myself? There are other friends whose dogs have died. They seem not to want to talk about it. Easier to talk about a parent passing away than it is a dog. Or is that just me?
Obviously bringing a dog into our lives created a lot of issues for me, particularly around death. But then I thought, maybe other people think this way as well. And why not find out? That’s when I started taking some video courses at my local Brookline Access TV station.
I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’m looking at the project as an exploration. As one guy said, “Getting a dog means guaranteed heartbreak.” So why do we get dogs? Maybe most people don’t think about the end of the pet’s life as soon as they get it. But then again, people have multiple dogs in their lifetimes. They deal with the heartbreak. Then again, some people don’t. Maybe they don’t want to go through that loss more than once.
These are all things I’ll be exploring as I begin interviewing dog owners, people who have recently lost dogs, dog trainers, veterinarians, and other animal professionals.