Putting My Dog Down Just Might Kill Us Both
December 8, 2020
I got Oona when I was sixteen. Half my lifetime ago, this little earthbound angel invited herself into my home and my heart. She became my co-pilot, my shadow, my confidant. A pint-sized best friend at a time when I needed one the most.
Oona singlehandedly rewrote the book on “little dogs” for me, showing me my prejudice against them wasn’t entirely fair. She wasn’t yappy. She wasn’t lacking any of the loyalty or “dogness” of the Labs and Pits and Lab-Pit mixes I’d grown up with like I thought she might. Her personality always overshadowed her size, her cup runneth over with swagger since day one. She was whip smart and mischievous and hilarious. A spitfire. A true queen.
My boyfriend’s family dog had had two puppies and he offered one of them to me. Not long before I brought Oona home, against my mother’s oblique advice to the contrary — you’re almost an adult and you’ll be going away to college soon… I know you’ll make the right decision — my parents’ marriage had started to rapidly unravel. Seemingly overnight, my dad and our dog Toby were living in some mysterious apartment across town. Nobody explained what was happening, all I knew was that my dad had pulled the ripcord and my mom was completely destroyed. She didn’t have the strength or the wherewithal to put her foot down about a little two-pound puppy.
It wasn’t long before Oona had won her over though. She had that effect on people.
Speaking of her in the past tense as she still lives, lying beside me now, is a horrible, heartbreaking mind-fuck. I know she exists somewhere between here and the other side now. I no longer know if I am clinging to her or keeping her comfortable until she is ready to go. I thought I would know what to do. I thought I would know if she was suffering.
I was sure yesterday was the day. A cloudless Monday morning found her four days without retaining food and now refusing water. She was vomiting and having diarrhea faster than we could clean it up. Any and every calorie she’d consumed, her body violently refused. Although I’d been preparing myself for weeks, it still caught me entirely off-guard how quickly she went downhill. It felt like in the span of three days she went from having possible months ahead of her to rapidly starving to death.
I’ve lost track of the number of disciples she converted throughout her life, ever-present echoing variations of “I don’t usually go for small dogs but…” reinforced what I already knew to be true. This little bitch was special.
I have this fear of having to relay the news to all of the people who have known and loved her over the years. I keep cycling through all of the ways I could phrase it and they all feel and sound wrong. Oona passed away. I had to put her down. She’s no longer with us. She died. All of them break my heart in a different way and I’m terrified that every time I have to tell someone the news it will fracture and reshatter my already mutilated heart.
Seeing her things everywhere. Not seeing her things everywhere. Not knowing which is a more painful reminder that she’s gone.
I knew it would be heartbreaking. I didn’t realize it would be this heartbreaking. I didn’t realize in how many ways.
There’s the pain of losing a beloved pet, a best friend. There’s their absence itself. There’s the proceeding process of watching them decline and feeling so powerless. The gut-wrenching guilt over having to make literal life and death decisions for another’s soul. I didn’t realize those were all so different, how separate and distinct the different types of pain would be. How I would be able to momentarily staunch the pain hemorrhaging in one area only to have an entirely new and separate swell appear elsewhere.
I didn’t realize how responsible I would feel during all of this. How much I would blame and doubt and rip myself apart for, even after all this time, not knowing what my dog needs. For, after all we’ve been through, not being able to figure it out and fix it this time. I didn’t realize what a piece of shit I’d feel like doing the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
This dog saved my life. She gave me a reason to get out of bed on my darkest days. Something to smile about. An endless supply of unconditional love somehow stowed in a tiny, nine-pound package.
I don’t know how to carry on without her.
I don’t want to.
January 13, 2021
It’s been over a month and it still doesn’t feel real. It still feels just as weird and sad and wrong to look down and not have that little incessantly wagging tail and smiling face looking back at me. Oona was the only constant in my life since my parents split up. She brought me, and all those who loved her, so much joy. She converted countless people who didn’t think they liked small dogs, starting with me. She was the best friend I could have asked for during some really sad and scary times. She kept me together.
All I keep repeating to myself is the very obvious refrain “I just miss her so much”. Of course I miss having her around, her absence is completely heartbreaking, but it also feels like something is actually missing. Like a part — and not a small or insignificant one — is lost and gone, never to be recovered but always with me. My little phantom limb forever.
My brain is still buffering. I still hear her collar jingling at night, her stiletto nails clicking across the floor as she follows me from room to room. I still see her dash around corners in my periphery. I still think she’s sleeping under every blanket. My mind plays memories on loop and delivers dreams where she’s still here. There’s a nine-pound hole in my heart. I just miss her so much.
Oona, thank you for being there when it felt like everything was falling apart. Thank you for making a lonely kid feel like she was never really alone. Thank you for making sure I always felt loved and needed. Thank you for making me laugh every single day. Thank you for infusing me with your royal magic for almost sixteen years.
It blows my mind that as soon as I told you how much I love you and that it was okay to let go, you did. It breaks my heart to think you were holding on for me, but it doesn’t surprise me. Even in death, you were always really the one taking care of me.
I just miss you so much.
July 10, 2023
Years later, Oona still visits me in almost every dream. I still cry whenever I talk about her, I still have that hole in my heart. But now I’m also able to laugh when I recount her antics, the memories of the countless good times now overshadow the heartache. It makes me smile every time her little brother does something that reminds me of her, some small quirk she must have taught him during their time together. I feel like she’s never very far away and I am so grateful for that.
Ultimately, I didn’t have to make the decision to put her down. We had arranged for a vet to come to the apartment so she could be in her home, comfortable and surrounded by her family, but Oona decided on that very day that she would see herself out.
She was curled up in my lap on the couch as I hugged and kissed and loved on her. I told her it was okay to let go and, moments later, she did. It completely broke my heart, I felt like I had let her suffering go on longer than I should have, but now I think it was so much more fitting. She had always lived life on her own terms, why would her death be any different?
Long live the queen.