Apologies for the lack of updates during the weekend. I know I was supposed to post the latest in my adventures at Virus, Inc. (both for the benefit of the blog and because, as with my Brazilian Adventures, I’m being required to document everything for school), and I literally had my schedule all planned out…when something happened.
Smokey, my Labrador mix, circa 2009 (She was seven years old.)
At 5:43pm, on Saturday, November 23, 2013, I had Smokey, my eleven-year-old Labrador mix humanely euthanized at Animal House, a veterinary clinic near my home. She had been fighting a losing battle with a severe heartworm infection, which had managed to advance to its last stages before she could be treated. I’d had her confined a few days before, on Wednesday, and at the time, she was healthy and happy enough for me to bring her in within the day and start her on home care. The medicine appeared to be working, in fact, but then suddenly, on Saturday afternoon, she took a turn for the worse and I decided to have her put down.
I’ve been trying to refer to it as ‘mercy killing‘ instead, as much as possible. There’s no point sugarcoating what I’ve done.
Smokey was my pet since 2002, when, after one too many episodes of Battersea Dogs Home, I begged my mother for a puppy. I was nine, and had (still somewhat have) severe allergies to dog and cat hair. I didn’t care: I was determined to have a dog of my own, and when her then-boss told her that his Labrador bitch had delivered a litter (fathered by a sire of unknown origin–I believe it might have been a poodle, since Smokey had curly hair), my mother caved and asked for one of the puppies.
I’d read that dogs lived between ten to fifteen years. In my nine-year-old eyes, that sounded like forever. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like that long a time at all.
Being nine, I was an itinerant owner at best, occasionally walking her and giving her baths, but for most of Smokey’s life, she was cared for by a succession of househelp–a fact I regret until now. I took her to the vet to have her shots when she was still a puppy, but as she grew older the need seemed less urgent, until her medical care was reduced to a yearly rabies booster, which our village gave for free.
Spending most of her time in a doghouse–though I walked her when I found time and I told my help to walk her, or at least let her run around, every day; if they followed my instructions is another matter–Smokey grew chubby, and I fondly began to refer to her as “my little piglet.” For a rather obese dog, though, she was always active, up until a few days near the end: her tail constantly wagging, tiny legs balancing her pudgy weight as she waddled or ran around, a picture of stereotypical Labrador hyperactivity. Some of my more “traumatic” (and hilarious) memories are of walking (read: being dragged behind) her through my village, occasionally screaming or crying when she got loose of her leash and started barreling full tilt down the street, into (to my mind) the path of an oncoming car or a vicious dog. She never did get hurt or lost though, and she always came back when my crying got too loud and melodramatic.
Me and Smokey, with our then-matching curls. A naturally happy dog, Smokey always had the signature Labrador smile.
High school and university life (and requirements) meant that I got to spend less and less time with Smokey, until the most I saw of her was when her tiny face peeping between the doghouse bars at me when I left in the morning; she would wag her tail and sometimes barkwhen I called out to her. Sometimes, she’d be let loose in our garage-slash-yard, and I get to see her running around, looking for the most part like her usual happy self, even as she got older and older. I thought everything was fine. I guess like a lot of first-time or really young pet owners, I didn’t understand just how serious a commitment having a pet would be.
I learned all of that too late, when last Tuesday, one of my househelp told me, voice deadpan, that Smokey’s stomach was bloated and she was, in the vernacular, matamlay (lethargic). I freaked out and ran to the back, to her doghouse, to find that my chubby puppy (well, hardly a puppy anymore, but a senior citizen of a dog) had wasted away so that I could feel her ribs and spine through her skin. When she spotted me, she came waddling out of her doghouse, even though my maid said it had been impossible to get her to leave it earlier that day. She wagged her tail and looked up at me, bumping against my legs. Even after years of relative neglect, she still recognized me.
I asked the help for her symptoms: lethargy, bloated belly, normal-to-strong appetite, diarrhea. I thought it was just your garden-variety worms, and brought her to the vet the next day, expecting to have a simple deworming procedure done. It was only then that I’d found out how bad it all had become: Smokey had anemia, ascites, collapsed veins, and a below normal temperature. The ultimate verdict? Heartworm infection.
At first, since she still had a strong appetite and normal bodily functions, the doctor assured me that she could be taken home and treated, even though I’d be paying for maintenance care until–hopefully–she died at her breed’s (well, half of her breed anyway) maximum age of fifteen. I didn’t mind. I had four years, which I felt I owed her for putting up with me, her less-than-ideal owner. She went home, and I went to work, making sure to check on her in and out of meetings and classes, getting daily updates before I went to bed. We would find out the final verdict in two weeks, the doctor said.
Smokey never made it to two weeks.
On Saturday afternoon, as I was coming from a Reverb jam session in Marikina, I got a call telling me that Smokey had taken a turn for the worse–her medication wasn’t working, and the ascites had gotten so bad she couldn’t stand up anymore. I rushed home. My dog was a limp and quiet shadow, and midway through the agonizingly long ride to the veterinarian she began to shiver and appeared to have trouble breathing.
At the vet’s, she lay motionless and silent on the table, even as I cried and pleaded with the veterinarian to tell me what else they could do. More of the same was all they could give me: deflate her belly, confinement, IV infusion of the drugs she’d already been taking, drugs that were obviously not working. The doctor assured me we could still fight…but when I pressed her she admitted that Smokey appeared to be in the end stages of the disease.
Manong, who had been helping me with Smokey’s home care, shook his head. “Di na ata kaya.”
Crying, barely able to sound coherent and rational, I told the doctor I’d made a decision, one that had already been sure I was going to make when I got the call earlier that afternoon: I was not going to have Smokey keep fighting just because I wanted four more years to make up for over a decade of neglect. I decided to have my dog mercy killed. I showed Smokey the papers as I signed them, telling her she was going to be okay. When they pushed the IV in for the sedative, she didn’t even whimper like she used to.
I asked to be the one to push the plunger down, delivering the first dose of the poison. The doctor told me it would take five minutes for Smokey to die. She took fifteen seconds. When the doctor leaned in with her stethoscope, so we could hear her heart slow…there wasn’t a beat at all.
My super-happy, super-hyper Smokey was dead. I carried her home in the box we’d brought her to the vet in, sitting with her in the boot on the way home as I had heading to the clinic. Once home, Manong and I buried her. Lying in the hole, she looked almost as if she was sleeping.
I hate that the clearest memory I’ll have of Smokey–the most detail I’ll ever be able to give–are the details of her death. By dog standards, eleven years is a long life, and I should have been around more to witness it. For all of my failings, though, I’m grateful for what we had: the messes she made as a puppy, my failed attempts at training her (I bit her on the ear because the movie Snow Dogs said it would help; all I got was a mouthful of dog hair.), runs up and down hills in our village, summer days getting hosed down–fragments in the story of a girl and her Smokey. But what I’ll remember most, I’m sure, is that despite the fact that I was barely around, despite the fact she had been mostly “raised” by househelp, when I came to her doghouse on Tuesday night, four days before the end, she waddled up to me, tail wagging, and greeted me with that trademark Labrador smile. After everything, she still loved me.
You don’t get to experience a lot of unconditional love in this world. I don’t think humans–flawed, fallen creatures that we are–are capable of it. God, of course, has an abundant supply, but aside from him, real, no-strings-attached love is rare. I’m privileged to have gotten it, not from a person, but from a pet. I used not to believe that dogs (and cats and rabbits and all beloved family pets) went to Heaven–that old argument about animals not having souls–but now you’d be hard-pressed to tell me otherwise*. I’d like to believe, bordering perhaps on a need, that my old girl is fat and happy and running free in Paradise, waiting for me. That she’s finally gotten the joy she deserved*.
Thank you for eleven years, Smokey. I know you’re happy in your forever home.
May 22, 2006-November 23, 2013
*articles that my friends sent me when I was grieving. Well, okay, technically I still am. But these posts made it easier. I especially like this anecdote at the end of the About.com one:
…I like the story about the elderly widow whose beloved little dog died after fifteen faithful years. Distraught, she went to her pastor.
“Parson,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks, “the vicar said animals have no souls. My darling little dog Fluffy has died. Does that mean I won’t see her again in heaven?”
“Madam,” said the old priest, “God, in his great love and wisdom has created heaven to be a place of perfect happiness. I am sure that if you need your little dog to complete your happiness, you will find her there.”
I’m sure Smokey is perfectly happy too.