This Was My Baby

September 9th, 2008

I think I finally “get” the Pet Cemetary movie.

On August 27, 2008 I had to make the decision to put my baby to sleep. You all have heard the stories of people, friends, family members or neighbors who have felt compelled to lay upon you their tragedy in which ultimately their pet has met their demise and the owner had been left grief-stricken and you are found to be nodding, shaking your head and awing at the appropriate times, perhaps even genuinely compassionate to their pain. Then it happens to you.

About two months prior my baby of 15 years was found to have a growth on her right side. Its appearance had us concerned so off to the vet we went and soon after much blood work, heart murmur review and consultations and several checks, surgery was scheduled. She went in and came through the surgery just fine and appeared to even not mind the functional, but ridiculous looking, Elizabethan collar she had to wear. Then, two days later, the call came. The growth had been analyzed and was found to be malignant. Cancer. “But hopefully, we got it all”, she said. Yeah, …… Hopefully. Nikita, my Maltese baby, who I picked out of a cage full of French terriers at the tender age of 8 weeks, merely big enough to fit in the palm of your hand and now only 8 lbs, recovered nicely and even regained much of her spunk and charm.

Then another call came.  A text actually, from my wife, telling me as I was at work that she had discovered a palm size growth under her right shoulder that had literally appeared overnight. She couldn’t hold any food down and was drinking water like crazy which seemed to me to  indicate that finally, her system was shutting down and the dreaded time had come. I broke down. Right there in my truck, after reading that message I knew what had to be done. And I hated myself for falling in love. My heart began to ache. And I couldn’t stop it. I suppose I delayed because I hoped against hope that it was a mistake. But what mistake could there be?

I got home from work and she met me at the top of the stairs. Boy did she look tired. She waged her tail gingerly a few times, slowly limped away and laid down on the cool floor. She never did any of that. She had her favorite blanket in the living room where she always laid but made no attempt to get to it. And I knew. You as pet owners know the ridiculous things we do. I crawled across the floor on my hands and knees trying to approach her slowly but couldn’t get near. She was hurting too bad. Vision impaired by cataracts, hearing mostly gone and cancer now ravishing her tiny body I had to face what I dreaded being done. I’d call the vet and make the appointment.

The next morning I did call and choked my way through an explanation of what I needed done and why and they told me to bring her in that evening between 6 and 9. How convenient. They could fit us in. I wasn’t mad at them and I’m sure they get that often. But, of course, this was different than all the others.  This was my baby.

The work day drug on and on.  I lingered at things I should have had done in a few minutes and seemed to forget some routine things and found myself having to go back to redo things and I didn’t even mind. Anything to delay going home. But my baby was suffering and I needed to get home. So I did. My daughters, wife and I gathered her up, got in the van and we began our teary ride to the vet. We didn’t want this!  This was right but not acceptable in our minds as a reasonable outcome. How selfish! We kept saying that this was the best and only choice we had but as the weight of hopeless reality set in, those reassurances seemed to mock us and we were only left with a hollow emptiness as the emotional chains weighed us down and each of us were left in anguish under the weight of their massive links. As each of you know, no one can carry those chains for you. They may want to and I hope that when you’re weighed down there is someone there, but inevitably, you alone are left to hoist the weight and move forward. We arrived at the vets office at 7 p.m.

I got to the front door holding my baby who was so settled in my arms and who had no idea what was about to occur. I couldn’t go in. I stood outside those glass doors looking in at all the happy people with their beloved pets and here I stood with tears streaming down my face holding mine who was about to die. I wished she would have died over night. I wished she would have died during the car ride. I wished she would have died on her own anytime, because I didn’t want to be the one who had to say “OK, take her life.”

I could stand there no more. I wiped the tears temporarily away and walked in with my wife and daughters by my side. “What can we do for you?”, the lady behind the counter asked. Really?, I thought. But I said nothing. I couldn’t say anything. I’m way too emotional when it comes to animals. Especially my own. This woman must have thought me to be a dolt standing there speechless.  “I need to have my baby put to sleep”, I choked. “Oh. Your name?”  Is there no end to the questions? I thought,  I told the poor woman who really was doing her best to be sympathetic and then she asked one more question that sent my head spinning. “Could you put her on the scale for me?” What?  She’s 8 lbs. She’s been 8 lbs all of her adult life. Its all there in the chart. I know the Dr needs the info for dosages, but come on! Are you really concerned about giving her too much?! 8.2 lbs. the scale displayed as my baby sat quivering on it.

Thankfully, although the waiting room was packed, they ushered the Weeping Family Robinson’s into an exam room where we were soon met by the death master who feebly offered his condolences and did a quick exam, I suppose to confirm that she was, in fact, alive. They produced a set of clippers and set to work shaving her right front leg and found the vein.

This was all happening too fast. I wanted him to tell me that she wasn’t really sick. I wanted him to tell me that they had some new medication that would make her all better. But those words never came. I think I cried the whole time  I looked into her sweet little eyes and I still saw the puppy I had picked up 15 years ago and I knew she needed to go. It was time. She was sick and tired, fighting but unable to win, suffering with no relief in sight. It was hopeless and we were all hurting.

The death master drew his chosen lixer and with no ceremony, found her vein inserted the needle, pressed the plunger and my baby went limp in my hands. I thought I had cried before. But now, I wept. My wife wept and grief washed over us and our world darkened. At 7:30 p.m., August 27, 2008, my baby was gone.

We wrapped her in a soft pink blanket, exited through the side door and left that place en-route to the  farm where we would later bury her next to another Maltese we had, Boomer, who was my wife’s baby. Her pain is over and our grief at losing her has just begun.

Endings and Beginnings; I guess that’s the motto of hope after all.

I hope to remember all the joy she brought us. I hope to remember how faithful a companion she had been. I hope to remember what a great blessing the Lord bestowed upon us by allowing us to have her for all those years. And I hope you never have to go through the same agonizing ordeal that we did. But for those of you who have, isn’t it true when it was said “its better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”. I guess they were right.

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One Response

  1. hector Says:

    i feel 4 your lost. i cant say that it has ever happen 2 me but you are my and what hurts you hurts me.

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