We parked across the street from the vet’s office and Mike carried Sassy, wearing a diaper, inside. We were brought into the exam room immediately. I saw that a fuzzy black blanket had been laid out for us on the floor and I felt grateful that she wouldn’t have to lie on the cold, stainless steel exam table.
That morning I had washed my hair in the shower, something I only do once or twice a week, preferring to wear it in a bun most of the time. I put on one of my favorite sweaters. You don’t have funerals for pets and so I wanted to look as presentable as possible on the day we say goodbye to our sweet dog.
When Dr. L. came in, she seemed taken aback at how poorly Sassy was doing. We had been there just 10 days earlier and she was much more alert and very much like herself, but on this day, she was trembling as she sat in Mike’s lap.
Dr. L had diagnosed her with kidney failure when the test results came in after our last visit. We opted not to treat her kidney disease — at nearly 16, she was dealing with other issues, like dementia and glaucoma, and we saw no point in prolonging her suffering. It seemed selfish. Dr. L. said we should bring her back in when she skipped her first meal, or when she started vomiting.
It was hard to say when she skipped her first meal because it was a slow taper. She stopped eating her dog food a few weeks earlier, so we gave her chicken. When she stopped eating that, we bought her some ground beef. When she stopped eating that, we bought her chicken again. She would only eat the chicken if we hand-fed it to her. Then she just stopped opening her mouth.
This means she also stopped taking her dementia meds as well as the Pepcid that Dr. L. had recommended to help with the kidney disease symptoms. We had been hiding the pills in her food.
Meanwhile, she was drinking water like crazy and soaking up to five diapers per day, despite the fact that we were letting her outside throughout the day and night.
She was always a pretty active dog, and given her dementia, she spent a good chunk of every day just pacing back and forth. But at the end, she curled up on the floor and slept most of the time. Our girl wasn’t feeling well at all.
I made an appointment for Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 2:30 p.m.
Dr. L. let us spend a bit of time with Sassy before it all started, but our pup seemed anxious. They took Sassy away to shave some fur off her leg and get an IV line started.
This took longer than I expected. We heard the sound of a dog yelping somewhere in the vet hospital, but we couldn’t tell if it was her or not. When she was brought back to us, the vet tech said they had a hard time finding a vein.
We got to spend a few minutes alone with her then and we took some pictures, but she was so keyed up and anxious that Mike went to find them so we could get started.
As I held her in my lap, Dr. L. gave her a strong sedative in her IV line and she fell asleep right away. They told me to lay her on the blanket, so I placed her on her side. Then Dr. L. gave her another injection, checked her with a stethoscope and told us her heart had stopped beating. She was gone.
And so was I.
They left us alone with her and the floodgates opened. I felt something breaking inside me. Starting at that moment, my world would be divided into parts: Life with Sassy and life without her.
I thought maybe she was still alive — I hoped that was true — and I tried to wake her up.
But she didn’t respond. Later, I almost called the vet hospital to make sure she really was gone, and if she wasn’t, that we could come and get her right away and try to see if the kidney meds would help her get better. I kept asking Mike if he thought she was really and truly dead for good.
But I knew these were irrational thoughts. I didn’t call.
Since then, I’ve been struggling. I’ve had several significant losses in the past 10 years, like the deaths of my parents and other pets. Sassy was by my side every day from May 8, 2004 until Feb. 10, 2016. This is by far the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.
What really killed me was picking up Sassy’s remains. I did that the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 16. My beautiful girl’s body is now enclosed in a pretty wooden box with a name plaque on it. It’s hard to wrap my mind around it. How can this be?
Eleven years, nine months and two days. My relationship with Sassy was the longest and most significant of my adult life, and being without her is heartbreaking.
Actually, my heart hurts, physically hurts. Since I lost her, I’ve felt achy and heavy, like my limbs are made of wet sand. I’ve been crying in public.
I wish I could believe that she’s living on in some alternate dimension and we’ll be reunited again, but I can’t.
I’m viewing the world with new eyes. Before, she factored into everything I did. She needed to be walked at least twice a day. I couldn’t leave her alone for more than a few hours. I put her needs and comfort before my own, and so did Mike. We did so without hesitation because we loved her.
Now that she’s gone, the routines we had for years are now gone, too. It’s been a difficult adjustment. I still find myself looking for her then remembering she’s not here anymore.
The morning after she died, I sat down at my laptop and tried to work, but I couldn’t focus. I realized why. For the last 11 years, I’ve walked Sassy before work every day, so I did what I know. I put her leash and collar in my coat pocket and walked our usual route around the block.
Walks were her favorite thing ever, before she got so sick. She’d get so excited for our trips around the block. I had work, human relationships, volunteering, trips, beer, restaurants, parties, books. She had me and our walks.
Lately I’ve been trying to appreciate what I do have rather than dwelling so much on what I lost. Like Mike, the cats, my family and friends.
Sassy was a handful and it was hard to have people over. We can have guests now without worrying about how she’ll behave. We can take a spontaneous weekend trip without making pet hotel reservations. We can get new area rugs — in fact, we ordered new ones last week. We can get outdoor furniture and a grill for our fenced-in cement triangle of a back yard and actually spend time out there. Before, it smelled like Sassy pee all the time.
It will be years before I’d consider adopting another dog. Right now I can’t even fathom it. Why do people put themselves through such pain, letting themselves fall in love and get attached to a pet, knowing for sure that you’ll lose them? I know it’s the route of choice for some, but we all grieve differently. The way I feel right now, when our three cats pass away, I don’t want any new cats, no new dogs, nothing. It seems like absolute foolishness. I’m ashamed to feel this way given that I’ve been involved in the animal rescue community in Philly for eight years, but I can’t put myself through this again.
I’d give anything for one last fun day doing something outside with Sassy. I regret the times I went on trips and had fun without her and left her at the pet hotel.
When Mike and I went to Maine in the summer of 2014, the pet hotel called me because she seemed depressed and wasn’t eating because she missed me, so they wanted to know if they could put Cheez Wiz on her food to entice her to eat. I said of course and felt my heart ache. I missed her too.
I still miss her. I will always miss her.
A huge piece of my heart died with her.
She gave me a good life.