To The Person Putting Their Dog Down Today

I wish I could have hugged you

I saw you as I pulled in to the veterinary specialist office today, along with several others, all waiting in the parking lot for a staff member to come out and take people’s pets into the clinic. Like the others, you were wearing a mask, but unlike everyone else sitting in their cars or standing idly looking at a phone, you paced the parking lot nervously, and kept stopping to bend down and embrace your elderly dog. I knew immediately what you were going through. People only show up to this particular animal clinic for surgeries, emergencies, and goodbyes.

When I parked, I called the office, informing them that my dog was ready to be taken in. We first started coming to this office a few months ago, when I was sure it was going to be time to say goodbye to my best friend. But we found out that two very expensive surgeries could extend her life, both in quantity and quality, so we made them happen. Today, she was just getting x-rays to make sure the most recent surgery was successful. Today, I would be picking her up later, and bringing her home to play with my children. Today, I feel so guilty that I am relieved that I am not you.

As I pulled away, I saw a doctor taking the leash from you as you trembled and cried. I thought about the candle they light in the office whenever a pet is being euthanized. A sign reads, “when this candle is lit, please be respectful. Someone is saying goodbye to their friend.” But you would not even be permitted to hold your dog’s paw as you said goodbye. Your buddy would be scared, looking for you, as their life drained away.

The same thing is happening to all the humans sick with this awful virus right now — they have to die without their loved ones, and those who loved them have to grieve alone. And I’m not saying losing a dog is worse than losing a human, but right now, when there is so much chaos and despair, those of us fortunate enough to live with a dog are clinging to the unconditional love they relentlessly provide. Human lives are enriched and even prolonged by having canine companions. And the grief we feel whenever we lose anyone we love — human or not — puts us at increased risk for a plethora of health problems of our own. To experience this kind of loss right now, during this pandemic, can only be described as torture.

Torture is what I saw in your face, as they walked your best friend away from you. Your mask could not conceal your grief. You stood there for what seemed like hours, watching, until your friend was out of view. My heart shattered for you. I wanted to stop to talk to you, to ask you about how awesome your friend was, to offer condolences. Most of all, I just wanted to offer you a hug. In this fucked up dystopian nightmare we are in, however, I couldn’t do any of that. So, I drove away and watched you from my rearview mirror, and sobbed with you.

No one should have to grieve alone, and I hope you had someone to return home to and hug. If not, here is a virtual hug. It’s not much, but then again, I’m not allowed to do more. Just know that you were not grieving in that parking lot alone. This too shall pass. May your best friend rest gently now.

Constant collisions between the personal and political. Professor. Adoptee. Advocate. Activist. I write about dogs a lot.

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