I picked up her cremated remains today, with the expectation that I’d be sad, but not devastated. In fact, the plan was that I pick her up, because I was holding it together way better than my husband was holding it together over her death.
She was my dog, and I was her human. I wrote a post about my wiener dogs once; she was so steadfast. In the end, she got so old I was doing things to keep her alive/sanitary/healthy that pretty much only other people with pets-over-the-age-of-20-years-old could fathom. I was doing all of this while four months pregnant, six months pregnant, and then eight months pregnant. In the end, I couldn’t do it anymore, and I had to make a terrible choice. I killed my dog.
When people tell me, “She’s no longer in pain anymore,” a gigantic cloud of guilt looms over me. She wasn’t in pain. She was happy. She was ollllld. I don’t know how many more months she’d make it. She was arthritic. Her teeth were falling out. The first time a tooth fell out, I called her Mike Tyson, because well, she’d bitten a chunk out of Ziggy the Wiener Dog’s ear a year earlier, and we’d called him Evander Holyfield. The second time a tooth fell out, it was not so funny.
Some mornings, it took her nearly half an hour to fully wake up and pull herself out of her crate. And because I was impatient, I usually lifted her out of her crate myself and pet her to facilitate awakening.
And in all frankness, towards the end, every morning before I lifted her out, I had to double check her crate to make sure she hadn’t soiled herself in the night. She soiled herself a lot in the last few months. She lost bowel control. There are no dog diapers for fecal incontinence. But I loved her. She loved me. She was so loyal to me, how could I not clean up after her willingly? (And on a regular basis, also “express” her)?
If she were human, I know she’d do the same for me. She was tenacious and so fiercely loyal. She was neurotic as hell. When I first rescued her in 1999, I almost returned her, because she was so crazy. But my husband said I couldn’t return her. So I didn’t.
Over the next thirteen years, she became my best animal friend. She would wait for me at the door for my return. She would lick my toes while I wrote my novel. She would lick my friends’ toes when they visited me.
She loved to do things like dig and hunt. I once allowed her to hunt the gopher in my vegetable garden. That was when I learned that dogs (or at least Scarlet didn’t) don’t close their eyes when they dig underground. Her eyes were so bloodshot when I pulled her out, gopher-less.
She was very bossy. She was the alpha dog. Which meant she did things like sit ON Ziggy the Wiener Dog to get a better view of things, when she found it necessary.
In her younger days, she liked her toys, even though in her last few years, she lost complete interest in any of her stuffed animals. Which means we have a closet full of dog toys, because Ziggy never cares for anything that isn’t food or my husband.
In the end, on the very last day, we did all her favorite things, to the extent that her 20 year old body would allow. She had potato chips for breakfast. She had a few bites of Big Mac for lunch. On your last day, you can have whatever you want to eat. She took in a five minute walk at the Berkeley Marina, where she used to roam in her younger days. She had some beef jerky. She went on a car ride, fresh air smacking her in the face.
I let her have as much toilet paper as she wanted. Because some of you know that for some reason, she loves eating toilet paper. I’ve spent 10% of my life keeping the toilet paper away from this dog. It’s weird, but she was a weird dog.
She took a long nap when we got back home in the afternoon. She napped and napped, as usual, only waking up in hunger. And then she’d nap again. Then the mobile vet came late in the evening. We prodded her gently awake. I put a used towel on my lap and took her in my arms. And there she rested, in complete trust. The vet gave her a handful of liver snacks.
The first shot went in. It stung, but then she relaxed. The vet gave her more liver snacks, and all was forgiven. She relaxed further. This is a dog who is always a little tensed up, who when I lift her, tenses her whole body up as if she is saying, “Mama, I am helping you by lifting myself up off the ground!”
She was in a deep sleep within seconds. “She’s asleep,” I said.
My husband was next to me, watching, and I could see the grief on his face. I don’t know whose perspective was more difficult–mine or his. Participant, or spectator. In that deep sleep, her body felt as light as I’d ever felt her to be.
And then there was a second shot. The “kill shot,” is what I call it. And then–then I could feel her go. Her breathing became jagged. Deep and uneven. “That’s normal,” said the vet. I knew. I’d done my research. She wasn’t in pain. She was just–going. And then her breathing became shallow. And then–she became so very still and so very very light. Her weight felt like it had been halved. She was gone. And I said so.
My husband had by this time lost it more than I–and so I handed Scarlet to him. She was still warm. I tried to close her eyes so she’d look a lot more like she was asleep rather than dead. I tried to squish her tongue back in, but that didn’t bother me so much; in her old age, she’d started sleeping with her tongue sticking out. Come to think of it, she sometimes slept with her eyes cracked open and rolled back. As if she were preparing us for this moment, as if her body were inching closer to this moment on its own.
We spent a few more minutes. And yes, there was poop. I am forever grateful to a good friend of mine who’d recently let his cat go. He said, “There will be poop.” So we were prepared. The vet wrapped her up, picked up the checks I’d pre-prepared and set out on the coffee table. I’m grateful to this vet for helping facilitate this last moment in Scarlet’s life.
And today–I picked up her remains. I’d been joking about having to get a coffee can to hold the remains. I sometimes make inappropriate jokes to deal with death. They brought her out in a small cedar box with a clasp. It was the size of my hand. I could not believe how something so huge could be so very tiny. I was surprised and relieved that she already had a little house. I could smell the cedar.
I made it to the car, and almost out of the parking lot, before I had to park and just cry my eyes out. I parked under a sign that said I wasn’t allowed to park there. I didn’t care. I cried and cried and cried, because one of my best friends, and one of my biggest fans in life, was now in a box in my hand.
And if you are now too too sad–here is a video of her in her much much younger and livelier days. I hope it will cheer you up, because it cheers me up.