The death of a family pet as difficult as losing a family member

His body shuddered, and my mom looks at the doctor, “Is he in pain?” “No, he’s overdosing. We gave him a sedative, so he feels nothing.”

 My mom’s brown eyes were full of pain and shock. She’s waiting for the verdict, too scared to look down at him. Finally the doctor removes the stethoscope, bows her head down and says, “It appears his heart has stopped beating. I’m sorry for your loss.” 

Our family dog lies on the table, motionless.

This is it, the end.

My brother rubs my mom’s back, supportively. To the right of the cramped room, my dad is “Toby was a mean one, but we all loved him.” – Dayla Brown.

Photo by Dayla Brownstanding and looking at the wall. We spend a couple more moments with our beloved pet, letting reality sink in.

The animal on the table is nothing of the dog we once remember. His body is ragged, we can see his bones. Life has left his eyes, and his tongue hangs out.

No, the dog we remember was fat, full of life, and if you ever saw his tongue, it was usually before he nearly bit off your hand.

Toby was a mean one, but we all loved him.

The next day I wake up, in a daze. The five stages of grief have begun.

I know that we have put a dog down, just not my dog. I go downstairs, half expecting to see his mat in the corner, but I see nothing but floor. The night before, my mom had packed up all of his things, leaving nothing but a pile of chewed-up old toys. I don’t hear the clanging of his collar, or see him trotting with his tail tucked between his legs.

There is an emptiness, an elephant in the room.

It’s funny, no one ever talks about how to deal with losing a pet.

Over the period of the day, reality rushes over me. My long-time best friend, the one I used to cry on and complain to is gone.

My mom is in the next room, yelling at my dad. I slip out of the house, determined to get away. I spend the rest of the day trying to escape the emotions that are threatening to drown me. Like my mom, I begin to feel angry. As I sit on my friend’s couch, I’m fighting not to lash out, but it’s nearly impossible. I want to scream and let it all out. Before spiraling into a death trap, I go home and fall asleep.

I know there is an end to this grief, but I can’t see that far ahead.

Escaping the pain

I’m rushing out of the house when I wake up. I don’t want to be there anymore. I get into my car and drive to school. As I pull up, I look at the clock. Half an hour late. Part of me urges myself to get to class, but the other part of me wins. I buckle back up, and drive. Before I know it, I’m on a road that leads to Banff. The mountains draw closer, as well as my emotions.

I’m not sure where I’m going, but I need to get away. Coniferous trees line the road and clouds hang low on the mountains. A weight hits my chest as I wrestle with myself. I don’t know where I’m going, but I do know that I can’t allow myself to feel this way.

I need out.

One thing people never realize is that no matter where you go, you take yourself with you.

My escape is futile and I cry out to God.

I’m not sure if it’s okay to be this upset over a pet. But then again, maybe it is. I’m not too sure, so I continue to wrestle. I finally decide that I’m going to let myself feel the way I do, so I let the tears flood.

I’m traveling down this road, and I’m not sure where it goes. I know he’s gone, and if I could take it back I would. But we are here now so I have to let go. Or find a way to convince myself that I have. Toby was a mean one, but we loved him.

I take the next exit and find myself in Canmore. I realize I need gas, and the day is getting late. I pull into the gas station only to find that the door to my gas tank is sealed shut. Under a quarter of a tank left. The small skinny boy, who is trying to fill my tank relentlessly tries to jimmy the door with a loonie. It’s a losing battle. “That’s great,” I think, “I’m stuck in Canmore, with no way out.

Across the street I see a car parts shop. I thank the boy, and drive over to ask for help. I explain my situation. A man comes outside and tries to open the door, and laughs. “You’re trying to get back home?” “Yes,” I say. He gives me a “good luck” look, and brings his friend out. The two mechanics manually open the door, and tell me that my car is having problems. They wish me luck on my voyage home, and tell me to get back to the dealership where I first got my car. The two men explain that my car is on anti-theft mode, and is acting like I’m trying to steal it.

My hopes of driving into the distance of the sunset are crushed, and I face the reality that I have to get back to Calgary, back to my home. The place with the elephant in the room. But I know that I have to go back.

Lost and reflecting

Lost in thought I’m on the road once again. I’m not quite sure where I am. The road narrows and I don’t recognize any of my surroundings.

I decide to travel in the general direction of Calgary, even though I haven’t seen a directional sign in 45 minutes. Nothing matters anymore. The road is covered in potholes, and the houses around me are boarded up. There are couches on the lawns. I pass a vehicle parked on the side of the road and feel relief that if my car breaks down, I’m not alone. Then I realize the car has been looted. This is not a place that I want to stop. So I pray.

Sometime down the road I begin to reflect. My heart is kind of like this area: broken down and looted. While there are a lot of beautiful things about it, there is a sense of broken disorder, no wonder I don’t want to be here for long.

The road finally opens up to the highway and I’m on my way home. I’m tired, and I’m ready to go home. More so, I need to go home. I know that I’m hurting, but I know that it’s okay.

The struggle will end

Acceptance sinks in I pull up to my house, take a deep breath, put it in park, and turn off my car. I unbuckle my seatbelt, turn off my lights, and sit there.
Within five minutes, the heat escapes and I’m sitting in the cool of the night.

I pack up my stuff and walk into the house. My mom is still yelling at my dad. But it’s okay. I’m tired, so I go to bed. The day is over. I don’t quite know where I am, but I know I will heal. I know that life is about changing what you can and accepting what you can’t. It’s about learning and laughing.

It’s a journey where you will meet people and where you will lose people. And as for family pets, it’s okay to mourn when time comes to let them go. So you’re traveling down this road and you’re not sure where it goes. You know that there is an end, but you haven’t looked that far ahead.

dbrown@cjournal.ca