Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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I Don't Know If I Can Do This

It's an awful thing, deciding when to put down a dog. The phrase alone annoys me. Put down. I don't like it. Help him cross over? Yuck. Is there a better way to say it without sounding like a mobster or a new age-y douchebag? I've racked my brain and nothing comes to mind.

I've mentioned that Mom's dog Spliffer is 17-ish human years old. That makes him well over one hundred in dog years, right? Although he's blind and deaf, he's in okay shape... I guess. He's got a pretty big tumor on his backside. It's been there for a long time. At least a year, maybe longer? We don't know if it's benign or what... I'm guessing benign, but we just let it go because we figured it was his time to go. Hell, we figured it was his time to go several years ago. When I lived in Brooklyn I kept expecting The Phone Call from Mom. It never came, obviously, because the old boy is still hanging around.

We were going to do it last Saturday, Mom and I. Had to psych ourselves up for it all week. Until we realized Saturday was Valentines Day and that just seemed wrong. Then, after taking Spliffy along for a walk I kind of convinced myself it wasn't the right time and the old boy has a couple good months left in him. But today Mom asked if I'd go with her tomorrow. I'm not ready! That's what I told her. I need time to prepare! But maybe it's better to do it quick, when I don't have a whole work week to ponder how I can possibly say goodbye to this beloved member of our family. And not just in my heart and mind. How do I physically stand there next to a dog that trusts me implicitly while the vet does his thing? And then. Waiting for him to die, petting him, telling him how much I love him? Then what? How do I just walk away?

I don't know if I can do this.

Mom's just gonna bawl. Really, I don't think she can take it. But she has to be there. She's his mama. We all moved out and went on with life so for years and years it's just been her and Spliffer. He's her "chicken". "C'mere chicken", she'll say. Back when he could hear, she'd sing songs and Spliffer would join right in, throwing his head back and howling along with his mama.

Spliffer was part of a litter of pups our neighbor's dog gave birth to in 1993, I'm guessing it was. I was a sophomore in high school and can still remember crying because Mom wouldn't let Spliffer upstairs until he was potty trained. That didn't stop me from curling up with him atop a smelly pile of dirty clothes scattered across the floor in the laundry room, keeping the tiny puppy company during the nights.

Soon after, Spliffy got real sick. One day I found his tiny head drooping into his water bowl. Too weak to move, let alone drink water or eat. I, along with my freshly minted driver's license and my little brother, loaded him up in the car and drove through a blizzard to the nearest vet who immediately diagnosed him with Parvo. They kept him at the clinic, pumping fluids and medicines into his little body, while explaining that puppies this young with Parvo don't often survive.

Several days and several hundreds of dollars later I spent my entire paycheck from dishing out snacks at the local skating rink to spring our baby Spliffer from the clinic. I was proud that I'd saved him, so proud I kept the receipt stashed away in a box of mementos, accidentally discovering it just a few weeks ago when packing for the move.

Spliffer has been with our family through everything. I can remember sobbing in my room, post abortion, clinging to Spliffy like a life raft. I'm sure he knows all our secrets, cuddling up to each of us during our respective tough times in life, thoughtfully listening to our laments, licking our tears. But he's old now, his once vibrant personality is slowly being eaten away by his blindness and deafness, his deteriorating eyesight and hearing turning shadows into intruders, vibrations into threats.

Still, ever since we moved back to Mom's place, he has slept at the foot of our bed every single night. He faithfully follows me wherever I go, often tripping me as he has no idea when he's underfoot. He just wants to be close. It cheers me some, to know I get to spend his last days in close proximity with my beloved dog instead of far away, not aware of his passing.

It's fitting, sadly beautiful even, that we began our journey in the same home and we will end it together in the same home.

Reader Comments (25)

I totally understand, sweetie. I had to put my beloved kitty cat to sleep last fall and it was just gut-wrenchingly horrible. I still can't talk about it. I wish I could hug all of you but I can't so I'll just send some postiive vibes your way. xoxo

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

my family lost our 12.5 year old beagle, phoebe, 2 weeks ago ... and reading this brought tears to my eyes. we knew she was getting old ... she had bumps on her and had lost a lot of weight, and with it her puppy-like personality. we talked about how we thought she would soon leave us ... but i was so unprepared when she did. she was my therapist and knew all my secrets ... and she knew when i was sad and would be sure to try to make me feel better by presenting her ears for me to rub. she was a beloved part of our family ... just like spliffer is a beloved part of yours. sending good thoughts and strength.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermichelle

I'm with you, that is devestating. I have a cat who I've had since I was 10 years old, I'm now 26. She is getting old--still noisey, active, playful & gorgeous, but sleeping more and overall, growing older. Just the other night I was laying with her in bed thinking about how much we've been through together, how much she's been there well she knows me and the sheer dirt she has on me--thank GOD she can't talk like a human! LOL! I know the day WILL come when she's not around anymore, but I can't even bear to think about it. I just can't. The thought of life with my NM is just heart wrenching. So, I totally understand where you're coming from. You CAN do this and you WILL do this, because it's the right thing to do. But, no, it will NOT be easy, you and your mom will probably cry for days--maybe even weeks--and no other animal will ever take the place of your precious Spliffey. Thank goodness you have Violet now to fill the "first [fur]baby" gap. I wish you and your mom all the best of luck and my heart, thoughts & prayers are with all of you.

Many Wonderful Pet Blessings,
-Sarah Liz

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Liz

We just did this a week ago with our dog, too. He was the last "family pet" - you know, the one that everyone was around before we all grew up and went our separate ways. He had cancer and was seriously starting to fail and we knew. It's a very hard thing to do, but I'm positive not one of us regrets it. It was for the best for him and it wasn't/isn't painful. Just keep reminding yourself that it's the best choice for a good old friend and it won't be too bad after a while.

Good luck.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKrystan

It's hard to say goodbye to a pet. I read somewhere that the mourning period for a pet is more intense and long than grieving for another human. I'm not entirely sure I buy that (having buried 12 friends and 1 sibling) but I understand the sentiment.

Often we keep our pets around longer than nature would dictate. And because they love us, they stick around until they literally can't any longer. I know that in the past I have been unwilling to give my pet a graceful death because of my own feelings and fear. And I still feel guilty for not facing facts and letting go so that my pet can have a peaceful death with dignity rather than, the way mine died, incontinent, deaf, blind, and unable to eat hard food because her teeth were so worn down.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjeneria

I'm so sorry, Monica. Losing a pet is soul-shattering, no matter how long you've steeled yourself for it.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKeenie Beanie

I'm so sorry Monica. My thoughts are with you.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica

There's nothing more painful than losing a pet. But I have to say... you never mentioned in your post WHY you are putting him to sleep, other than that he's really old? Is he in pain? Is he sick? Is he suffering? Or is he just OLD? In my opinion (not that you asked) I would never dream of putting a pet to sleep just because they were old, unless they were in pain, couldn't be made more comfortable, or sick with a disease that was going to take them away more painfully than euthanasia. I had to do this with my kitty who was way to young to die, but his kidneys were failing.

I'm sure you didn't come to this decision easily. And I don't blame you for feeling like you can't do it. I am just wondering... then why do it?

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

I just re-read my post, realizing it sound heartless and harsh. Damn typed words so often come out wrong. I'm sorry it came out that way. I guess my heart is just breaking for you after reading that post and I want to believe you can keep him around a bit longer.

My heart is with you. I am so sad for what you may have to do tomorrow. :(

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

oh, I'm so sorry, maybe... you don't have to do this, do you?
I went through this twice, the two of them get old and sick and the third one I lost in other way, it's always hard and in tears... sending good thoughts

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterana_jo

A horrendous thing to have to do. I'd say wait though. All animals give you the sign as to when they're ready. You will know. He will look at you with that pleading look.

Be strong girl. Be strong.

Big hugs.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersusan

My first dog, Babe (we got her when I was 6), lived for 17 years. I had moved aways from home and got The Phone Call from Mom. She had been mostly blind for several years, had nubs for teeth, limped from where she broken her hind leg as a pup, and lost control of her bladder. But she died naturally, in her dog box in our backyard. I miss that dog. In some weird messed up way she was like the perfect sister. Always listened and never borrowed my things.
I'd say let the old dog keep on keepin on until- 1. he quits eating/drinking or gets sick a lot 2. he can't get around 3. he can't control #1 and or #2 anymore. Until then, give the old man lots of (soft) treats and lots of lovins'. And have some peace of mind because I'm sure the little fella can feel your love even if he can't see it or hear it.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLori

As a dog person, I have been here. Nothing of my story, will prepare you.
You will come to a point and time when you know it's the right thing to do, you are almost there.
You will know, and you will handle with grace, I just know, you will find peace with your decision.
It is extremely humane, and you have so many memories to treasure.
You will know.
Have been sending you good thoughts for this move. Yesterday's text post indicates you are adjusting. Write Monica, write..............

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Ugh. I've been there. A few years ago we also had to put down the dog my parents got in high school. He had his share of illnesses. He slept on my bed when I lived there and was always happy to see me when I went back to visit. It was so hard! I took him because my parents couldn't stand it. He was nineteen. Worst day of my life, really.

Now my 11 yo lab mix is at the end. We're trying some meds. She's asleep right next to me now, but I know it is almost the end. Such a hard, gut-wrenching decision.

Hope it goes ok for you.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Domestic Goddess

oh Monica, I'm so sorry. My cat that lives at my parent's house is very near the end. I have given my mom "permission" to take her to the vet to stop her suffering, but selfishly I want to be able to say good bye to her before she goes. I have no advice for you, as I've never been there before, but I wish you the best in making this decision for your beloved dog and know that you and your mom have the strength to get through it.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterA-C

Aw..i am so sorry, Monica. This is so hard. Knowing what people go through with pets it's a wonder we want to have's like inevitable pain that we all face. So hard to deal with but such a joy to love for as long as we have them. The way you write about him, anyone can see how this old boy is family. Who can stand to watch someone they love become fragile with years? Maybe there is some medication for Spliffy, to help take the edge off and enjoy his twilight years. That's what we do for ourselves, right?

My dog was hit by a car and would have died if not for a benevolent women, Mrs, Emmanual, rest her soul, who gave me the $200 I desperately needed to get her into surgery. Once Bailey recovered I took her down to meet this old lady and eventually paid her back. About 6 months later, the woman called to tell me that I was the ONLY one who ever paid her back, and that she wanted to will me her farm with a house on it with the one stipulation that I run an animal hospice on the property and never allow a dog or cat to be put down...just keep em comfortable and let em go in their own time. Of course at the time, I was too dumb to take her up and respectfully declined. I could kick myself for that one. Anyway, my dog lived another 7 glorious years but finally developed cancer which devastated her insides. Al would NOT let her go until one stormy night, she was crying out in pain. My husband clung to her like a child, and wailed like I'd never seen while I just felt relieved that it was over and she was free from pain.

Your mom will know when it's the right time.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGina

PS. I prefer to say " Putting him UP" as in dog heaven.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGina

I've only had to do this once. My family have always had dogs, but it was never down to me to make that particular decision, and I usually tended to come home from whatever place I had just been to only to find the deed had been done.

Then with our last dog it was different. My mother had an Irish Wolfhound/German Shepherd cross, and that dog was AMAZING. Local kids used to knock on the door asking if the dog could come out to play! Then we moved into the bar, and the dog, Colonel, took to the new surroundings like a natural.

Time went by, and he got old, as dogs do. Then when he was around 12 years old we felt a big lump and took him to the vets. Who told us he had a tumour, cancerous, and would probably last another year at the most. Colonel howled all the way to the vets, and brightened up a bit when we were on our way home.

A couple of years later, way beyond the vets prognosis, his back legs failed him completely. He was no longer able to walk. My mother was all for keeping him anyway, insisted that she would sleep in the bar with him so he wouldn't have to deal with the stairs and so on, but we managed, at great length, to persuade her it was better for Colonel to end his pain.

The next day, me and my sister took him to the vets again. This time, instead of howling, he sat on the back seat of the car looking out of the back window all the way there. It was like he knew where he was going and was saying goodbye in his own way.

When we walked into the vets, his tail started to wag. It was clear to me by now that Colonel was ready to go. I held him all the way through the procedure. My sister had to leave the room because she was so upset, but I wasn't going to leave him alone in his final moments.

It was one of the toughest things I have ever had to do, but I felt relief afterward, as I knew his suffering was over, and he was happy and ready to go.

It's heart-wrenching to lose a pet, practically the same as losing a family member, because they become a part of the family. But you get over it, and you will always have your memories at least of the good times you shared.

February 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDamien

Wondering how you're doing today. Hang in there and you know you have a ton of support behind you.

February 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica

I'm so sorry, Monica! That is just the worst thing ever. I cried reading this. I hope you, your mom and that sweet dog all have a few good last days together. Best of luck and my thoughts are with you.

February 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercdawnh

Our dog Taylor got sick last week - his liver got all jacked up and for a few long hours, we thought it was cancer and that we'd have to put him down, which I could not fathom and I almost couldn't breathe. He is a prince among dogs, much like spliffer, it sounds like. Anyway, the doc came out of surgery and said his liver was just twisted, no cancer, and they had to take part of it out, but that he had a 50/50 chance to survive. He's hanging in there and I am so proud of him. He's home now and he hasn't eaten anything besides the liquid food we squirted down his throat, but he's moving around really well and his blood work looks really good. He is finally keeping down the water that he wants to lap up endlessly, even though the medicine usually makes him throw it back up. I just keep telling him that he'll feel better in a few days and just to hang in there. It is SO HARD to limit his water intake, but it has to hurt when he vomits. He has stitches all the way down the center of his belly. oh the sad looks he gives me.
Anyway, I'm sorry to go on about that. and I am so sorry to hear of spliffer. sounds like he is also a prince among dogs. it's amazing what stolid little creatures they can be and what fortitude we can find in their dark eyes.
Here's to Spliffer.

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJ

I don´t understand... why would you - our your Mom - even consider having Spliffer killed unless he is in unbearable pain??

No, "putting him down" doesn´t work for me... I think you have to call it by its name; after all that is what you will cause/witness/become a part of/will be your memory forever.

Tumors usually grow SO slow in old people... even if you don´t consider surgery to have it removed (risky with a 100+ year old), the tumor would probably not become a problem for another a good chunk of time.

He´s blind and deaf, so what? He obviously isn´t blind and deaf enough to not follow you around and enjoy your company...sounds like he´s still enjoying what´s essential in life. He´s loving you and being loved. What more does an old dog need to be happy, really?

Damn, another spring, another summer, a few months or a year. Why do we even begin to think we know when "it´s time"?

Also... this is a personal reason that may sound weird .... while not being religious and only vaguely spiritual, I do hope that there is such a thing as rebirth; that there is something more than just synapses and impulses and brain... some kind of timeless, travelling soul. And I am plain scared that if I do not let a being die naturally, but kill it through outside force, I would screw that up for them.

After all, what do we really know? What´s to lose in just letting him live out his life naturally?

February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Maybe I wasn't clear enough... You guys, I would NEVER consider putting my Spliffer down if I didn't think he was in a lot of pain. He often spends hours shaking and staring at the floor. It's a tough call, an agonizing decision that no one here is taking lightly.

February 23, 2010 | Registered CommenterMonica

that's amazing! I have a 17-year oldie too, also with a lump on his back since I dunno when. he's deaf but his eyesight is still half-decent, thankfully.
but he's great! such a happy dog he is.
maybe Spliffy is not ready yet either? you wrote the other day about how happy he was on his walk, he doesn't sound like he needs to be put down so badly! give the old guy a chance!

February 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie

"I can remember sobbing in my room, post abortion, clinging to Spliffy like a life raft. I'm sure he knows all our secrets, cuddling up to each of us during our respective tough times in life, thoughtfully listening to our laments, licking our tears."

That was so beautiful it brought me to tears. I'm going to do something I've never done before and admit that I suffer from extreme obesity. I'm homebound and so the only joy I get out of life is reading blogs. Yours in particular. I've been reading The Girl Who for years now, consistently following you through the highs and lows and I finally wanted to comment and tell you thank you. Thank you for allowing me to vicariously live life through you. If I didn't have your blog to check every day, I just don't know what I'd do. Best of luck with whatever you decide. I'll be here reading and thinking about you every day.

March 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbusstopbarry

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