Here's What It's Like to Hold Your Pet During Its Final Moments
I knew it was coming. My dad called me Friday night after he and my mom took our family pup, Buddy, to the vet. My mom was in tears, and my dad did his best to complete her mumbled sentences. “We’re putting Buddy down next Thursday. The vet offered to do it tonight, but we wanted to make sure you had an opportunity to say goodbye.” Several minutes of silence and tears followed that statement. I had a lot of thinking to do.
I knew that I wanted to say goodbye to Buddy, but I didn’t know if I wanted to be in the room when he passed. The last several weeks have easily been the most challenging of 2017, and the addition of Buddy’s impending death made them that much harder. I only got three hours of sleep the night my parents told me the news.
In contrast to my gloomy mood, I won a ticket to Wanderlust Festival in Philadelphia. Wanderlust is comprised of a 5K, 90 minutes of yoga, and meditation. After three hours of sleep, I intended to walk the 5K around the Navy Yard. I have never been much of a runner, but that morning, my legs had other ideas. I ran my first 5K, the whole way through. I needed that release. By the end of the weekend, and after two solid nights of rest and significant research on the euthanasia process, I knew that I wanted to be there for Buddy.
I departed Philly Wednesday night and met my parents for a glass of wine at one of our local wine bars. One glass turned into two as we chatted over Buddy's 18 years of life. When we arrived home, I looked into my furry friend's face. His eyes were clouded, his nose wasn't wet, and he couldn't walk without his hind legs shaking. My poor, Buddy.
I went to bed Wednesday night with a heavy heart, and woke up Thursday morning with an even more uncertain one. We took Buddy on his final stroll around the park behind our house, a park he wandered through and protected for 18 years, one last time. It was bittersweet for me. When I was younger and still lived at home, I used to take him on some of those walks. He'd chase squirrels, and sniff the world around him, and bark at anything and everything that moved. Thursday morning, we placed him in a puppy stroller, borrowed from my mom's generous friend, and gave him one final view of his favorite walk.
7:45 rolled around as soon as the stroller cleared the corner of our yard, which meant that it was time to leave for our 8AM appointment. We grabbed Buddy’s green blanket, a stuffed animal that looked just like him, and placed him in my lap. He was shaking, and his poor teeth were chattering. This was the most emotion I had seen from Bud in a while. He made a bit of an effort to hold me, but I knew he just wanted to get down. I whispered to him in my puppy voice that everything would be okay, and he'd always be my Buddy. I didn't want to let him go.
We were guided to Room 6, and awaited the vet, who loved Buddy just as much, if not more, than we did. I could feel Buddy's heartrate increase as he was still snuggled tightly in my arms. The doctor explained the process, and tears started to fall from each of us. She took Buddy away to place an IV catheter in him, and soon returned. "It's purple," I muttered, "my favorite color," and somehow managed to find a smile. I asked her to clip some of Buddy's fur, just because.
She asked if we were ready, and we all nodded in agreement, wiping our tears. "There's my Buddy-son," the vet whispered as Buddy took one last nip at her. As soon as the vet let go, so did Buddy, so did I. I felt his shivers cease, his chattering teeth no longer echoed. I felt his muscles go limp, I no longer felt his beating heart. The doctor asked me to move my hands as she placed the stethoscope over his heart. "He's no longer with us," she whispered through tears. I cried, "I love you, Buddy," more times than I'd like to admit. Even after his spirit left. My childhood dog of 18 years took his final breaths in my arms, and I felt so lucky to be that person.
I didn’t know if I was strong enough to watch something I love die. I have never faced death. I didn't come home with the intention of being the one holding him in his last moments, but looking back on his life, it makes sense that I was. Buddy used to hate thunderstorms. He was so terrified. He never liked being cuddled, or snuggling in bed, but when he heard thunder in the distance, he begged for me to hold him. It was always me he ran to in times of fear. And even though he could no longer run to me in his last few years of life, I knew he was meant to be in my arms yesterday.
Buddy's death brought up a lot of buried feelings about my first puppy, Lily. She passed away on the operating room table while we were on vacation. Doctors investigated removing a brain tumor between her eyes, but said that she would have no sense of sight, smell, or hearing, and suggested putting her down. My parents agreed. I never officially had a chance to say my goodbyes to Lily, which is another reason why it was so important for me to be with Buddy. Today, a stargazer lily stands in her honor, and it remains my favorite flower.
I’ve been thinking of ways to memorialize Buddy. I was on my way back to Philly last night, and I saw a field of dead sunflowers. The day was coming to a close, and the sun was shining on them in such a way that there was no other word to describe their death other than 'beautiful.' I wanted to turn around and stop to take a picture, but I knew that it was one of those moments that needed to be felt rather than captured. How could death be so beautiful? That’s the thing about October, “autumn is so beautiful, yet everything is dying.” Sunflowers symbolize adoration, loyalty, and longevity, and I couldn’t think of a better symbol to represent Buddy’s 18 years with us. I plan to plant a row of sunflowers along my parents' fence line in Buddy's honor. The same fence that Buddy used to run in his youth. The one that Buddy will still run in spirit. I love you, Buddy. Thanks for letting me be your human sister.