When I got home from work today I wasn’t thinking about her at all, not one bit, until I saw the gate behind the back door open; and then I thought of her because I remembered how difficult it was to get cheatgrass out of her coat when she got into the back pasture. But she wasn’t in the back pasture. She’s over by the tree in a hole underneath the blue pressurized well tank. At that point, I had to think about her.
When I allowed myself to think about yesterday, what I thought of the most was the way her limp neck fell over my wrist before I put her in the dirt hole that would become her bed. I moved my hand under her neck for support, out of courtesy and compassion but as I did it, I also knew I didn’t need to support her neck because she couldn’t feel anymore.
When I allowed myself to think about yesterday, I knew that I would go back to the last time I saw her. We shoveled blankets of dirt on her body, I stayed away from her head; I heard crying from above me. Analise had climbed the tree and watched the burial from on high. Maybe I thought Ella wouldn’t be dead if we didn’t cover her face but then my ten-year old son, Andres, threw a pile of dirt on her face and she was gone.
On Monday night, we talked with our neighbors about how it should be done. A bullet to the head is quick. It saves you money and quickly ends the suffering. For a while, that night at least, I was convinced. Sure, a bullet, that’s quick. But how would I know she’d never feel a thing? How would I know she wouldn’t feel her nerves still firing like arms flailing from a body hoping not to drown in deep waters?
“Dear,” my wife said at 5:15 the next morning when I got out of bed for work. “I don’t want to do the bullet. We’ll put her down at the vet.”
My wife and son dug the hole somewhere during the day; his homeschooling schedule interrupted by a new task: Bible reading, math, piano, dig the hole for Ella. I don’t know when they did it. I was at work and sent my wife an email telling her to have Andres dig the hole. I wonder whether they talked as they did it or in silence like men on a chain gang. I imagine stoic tears, their shovels cutting earth, the piles of dirt nearby later to become backfill. What a mother and son think about when digging a hole for a dog they love is beyond me. But we knew this day was coming.
Perhaps that is why I felt compelled to clear the brush around the big tree behind the garage this past weekend. I must have thought it would be idyllic for Ella to be buried there or maybe I was convinced and dictated to move by the memories of books and movies where dogs have been put down.
Poor thing. Her breathing was labored and too often she’d forget to eat or drink water. Dog cancer, lymphoma. She got skinny real fast. She’d do nothing but lay around the house and stopped greeting us at the door when we’d get home from any trip. Poor thing. In the end, my wife said, “She’s just death.” Poor thing.
Ella. Somehow the kids morphed her name into Gor which was short for girl or sometimes they’d call her The Gorlay as in the girlie. In the end, I was with her when they put her down. Poor thing. They asked me if she liked peanut butter. Yes, of course. I held a plastic knife with peanut butter and watched the Gor lick it happily with the little strength she had left, an odd and somewhat unnecessary distraction for what was to come. But I got it. Enter the vet and her assistant. They shaved a patch off of her right, front leg. Two needles rested on the table. Because she was dehydrated, it was hard to find a vein at first. They told her it would be okay but I got it. Finally they found a vein and I watched her go limp. Poor thing. And then the next needle to stop the heart. I got up to see her face. The vet said they go with their eyes open.
I knew this day was coming. I carried dead Ella, sobbing with a stone face, and walked out of the office. Carried her to her bed in the back of my wife’s car and made sure she was as comfortable as a dead dog could be. Lucia cried a bit and I had to remind her that putting her down was the best thing for Ella. And then the drive home, her first drive dead. No more rides to McCall with us or to track practice or to the store. No more rolling up the front carpet when we leave for church or blocking the stairs in case she can’t hold it anymore and goes on the carpet upstairs. No more what a cute dog, what is she, she’s a cocker spaniel.
Part of me is embarrassed by this all. I had dogs growing up but I never watched them die. Let’s just say my father took care of them when they became a burden. I think that I should be handling this much better, the death of a dog shouldn’t be this bad. But I think it’s natural. Men better than I have had to put down horses and cows, animals that worked for them and gave of themselves; except I doubt a blog post was part of their grieving process, if they have one. Ella was our small, old cocker spaniel. She was deaf and blind in one eye. She lasted a long time. Provided warmth for Andres and the girls many nights, a sweet dog. Poor thing. And now that she’s gone and we’re moving on, I know for certain, with a heavy and guilty heart, that the next dog we own, I’ll pet more often.