Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Not Ready For This

It is my longest relationship with a boy. Nearly 13 years together. In my bed for thousands and thousands of nights and I LIKE hearing him snore. For the first two years of my marriage he wedged his 100 pound body between me and Serge in the double bed (only size that would fit) in our tiny railroad apartment in Brooklyn. He knows me more intimately than anyone else drawing breath on this planet. He likes being in the bathroom with me, follows me while I clean the house, has watched me have sex more than I care to admit. He has traveled all over the United States, from chasing deer in the Utah mountains and splashing around in the Great Salt Lake to swimming in New York City's East River and dipping his paws in the Washington Square fountain in the West Village. He's crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge countless times on foot and by taxi and I only now realize and regret I never took him over the Brooklyn Bridge.

He is the great love of my life. Was by my side when I was an impetuous twenty-something who took him everywhere in my forest green Dodge, Durango. He barked at the men I dated and was right, they never lasted. I eventually wore his dog collar as a garter when I got married to the only guy he never barked at and should've brought him along as best man/maid of honor. He was by my side during the tumultuous New York City years, waiting for me in the window of 151 Berry Street in Williamsburg after every overnight shift at ABC, was sitting at the window of our home in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City when my daughter was born and was there to welcome home my first son. He rode shotgun in the moving truck from Utah to Pennsylvania and was in the same room in our old farmhouse as I laughed and cried and cursed until my Charlie took his first breath of air.

I've been preparing myself for this time, the sunset of his life, since the first moment I brought him home when he was 8 weeks old. We all know that's how it goes with pets. The clock immediately starts ticking. Anything after ten years will be icing, I thought, after reading the life expectancy for black labs is 10 to 12 years. Despite several near-death experiences involving a speeding semi, a belligerent Brooklyn Pit Bull named Roxy and dangerous spring run-off that nearly swept him down a raging Utah river, Max gracefully met 12 years this past April. Frisky as ever, bounding around, mischievously stealing food from the table, leaping up onto my bed at night without a hitch.

It happens fast, the end. That's what I'm realizing now. Nearly imperceptible at first. Weight loss, no more leaping around the backyard with the same old pep, the joyful frisking gradually dissolving into a tired amble. Lately he doesn't even stand up when I come home. A month ago he was still following me from room to room in his usual fashion, constantly underfoot, not wanting me out of his sight for even a minute while I load the washing machine, scrub the tub or even just attempt to pee in private. Now, more often than not, a tired tail thump is my greeting upon returning home. Instead of him dancing excitedly around my legs it's me getting down onto the floor to lie next to him and rub his bony body. Nose to nose, I look into his eyes and tell him how much I love him, what a good boy he is and how important he is to me. I tell him I'm sorry I didn't take him on walks as much after the kids were born but that I always loved him just the same, more even, for gently tolerating all the ear and tail pullings from the very people who stole my attention from him.

He knows how much I love him. I know he knows. He knows I'm his mama, the one who controls the food and the treats and now, recently, the one who can take away the pain. He comes up to me and stares intently into my eyes while whimpering quietly in the back of his throat and I know.

The limping started a couple weeks ago and escalated to the point he couldn't walk and was shivering in pain one morning as I got ready for work. I called my neighbor and good friend, Dr. Dr. Holly (two PhDs!) who is a veterinarian of the highest order and a girlfriend of an even higher order. She checked him out and said maybe bone cancer, it's hard to tell without X-rays. But I don't really want to know. It doesn't matter. At this point it's about pain management and walking the hellish line of deciding what is most humane for my baby. She gives him injections that help with the pain and inflammation and he always rebounds spectacularly, but I can feel a deadline looming. It has settled heavily into my soul, stinging me when I walk in the door and he remains in his spot on the floor, tail thumping the carpet quietly in lieu of the excited tap dance that was my welcome once upon a time.

Fuck that deadline! I don't want to deal with that deadline, can't be the one to decide when death is better than life for this dog of mine who has lived and breathed my life with me since I was 25-years-old. Waking up together, going to sleep together, all the small things; breakfasts, lunches, dinners, morning walks, sunset strolls, just sitting at the front window watching the world go by. With me for everything crucial that has ever happened to me; boyfriends, break-ups, marriage, births, deaths, Utah, New York, Pennsylvania, divorce. During those first nights after separating, when the kids were with Serge, it was Max who clambered up onto my bed and nuzzled me while I sobbed. Full circle; just him and me again after all this time. It's unfathomable to contemplate a life lived without him underfoot, next to me, behind me, waiting for me. He is my constant companion, my greatest friend.

I want him to go quietly in his sleep, his avocado-sized paw clutched in my hand, waking to find that he slipped away at some point in the night with his mama's arms wrapped around his body. That's what I want. For me and him. I can't play god with my dog and yet I know I'm going to have to be the one. The heavy responsibility of deciding when it's time is my job as his mama, what I signed up for when I walked away from his dog family nearly 13 years ago clutching his tiny, shivering body to my heart. And it's how I'll see him out; clutching his old, tired body to my heart until his very last breath and beyond.

Reader Comments (34)

Oh my gosh I am bawling my brains out...its too close to our Spliffers heart is breaking for you...and our Maxie.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermama

What a beautifully written post. A dog is surely the bestest of friends one can have in life. My heart and thoughts go out to you and Max!

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJill F

OMG, The best post I have ever read.

I was there one month ago, I had to make the decision. I am so sorry. Do what is right by him, not you. Lots of love.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

Oh, I cried reading this. We lost our cat Charlie last week and it was heartbreaking and hurt so badly. Pets are really, truly family. They bring such unconditional love and joy. So sorry for your hard decision and hoping you can soak up every last moment with your faithful boy.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKirsten

have you read the art of racing in the rain? Your descriptions of Max and your reletionship with him remind me of Enzo. Hope when it's time the decision comes easy and that after he leaves this life, you are lucky enough to meet him again in another. Sending love.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Oh, no…I'm so sad that you're going through this right now, not that there's ever a "better" time. The dog love of my life took his last breath when I was one month pregnant with my daughter, and I'm sure that some of his "spirit" found its way into her. It's so incredibly hard, dealing with the end of a life and relationship that has held so much love. A girl will never have a better friend than a good dog…sending virtual hugs...

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

We are in the same sunset stage with our 13 year old dog, walking the slow, pain-medicated walk with you. Thank you for putting this in to words for me--us--too. Thinking of you and that wonderful boy of yours.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMemeGRL

I'm sorry for many things, but right now, for this most of all.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersonja

I just wanted to say I'm sorry. Making that decision for my beloved Rottie - almost 10 years ago now - was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Reading your words takes me right back there, to holding his sweet face in my hands as he breathed his last breath, and I cried so hard I could hardly catch my own.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Oh man, Monica. This is so hard, on top of everything else. I'm really sorry. My heart goes out to you. I'm going to be facing the same thing before too long - my sweet shepard mutt Finny is 11 and has been with me since before marriage and kids and now he is the only one here with me on nights like tonight in this quiet house while my kids are with their dad and I cry quietly about how I ended up here with my family blown apart. He's my most steady, faithful companion, but he is slowing down and it's just a matter of time before I'm where you are. It's so hard to let these sweet companions go. Hopefully your vet friend can help you do it peacefully at home when the time comes. Until then, give him lots of love and spoil him rotten.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLara painful. Reading this brought back similar memories of my own Bailey girl ( 14 years), and pain I never allowed myself to experience for fear I would just die of heartbreak. I know it's the worst feeling to know the moment is nearing and my heart breaks for you. t I know it was selfishness that kept me from making that decision sooner, but it was all I could do until that dark stormy night when my husband called to me from down the hall and said she was moaning/crying and in pain. We quickly wrapped her in a blanket and went out in the driving rain and lightning storm. It seems appropriate, this storm, the darkness as I hardened my shell, steeled my heart as he wept holding her. Praying for your peace and comfort when the time comes :(

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGina

So hard...Sending you love as you go. (And was just talking to people at dinner last night about why in this culture we ARE able to compassionately--HUMANELY is the word, which I find ironic--end our animal's pain when its time but so rarely can make the same decisions for our human loved ones...)

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterE.

I had my Chelsea for almost 18 years and this past April I had to give her up. I kept putting it off and I realized I was being selfish. She was the one suffering. I had the "moment" when I said "now". I went through with my spur of the moment decision and I'm still crying but she's at peace. You will know when you have to do "it".
I am so sorry that you have to experience the pain of it all.
Every now and then I think maybe I acted in haste and I could have had her another day or week or month but I realize that I'm only thinking of my benefit not hers.
From one Monica to another,
I truly feel your pain.
xo xo

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermonica

Oh, Monica. I'm sorry. It's the worst. I lost my sweet friend Elijah on August 18. Like your Max, Eli was with me before my first born and while I was still in college (I was a late bloomer and graduated at 24). From 4 a.m. parties to 4 a.m. diaper changes, that guy was there through it all. It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make. And yes, you're absolutely right. It happens so damn fast. Too fast. There's no way you can prepare for it. My guy was almost 11. He was a lab/great dane mix. The night before we said goodbye, we had a "going away" party for him. We ate cheeseburgers and nachos and french fries and had all the family over. We lit candles and released 10 white balloons for every year of his life. Inside each balloon, I had written a note to him corresponding to each year of his life. Just yesterday, one of the balloons found its way back to the ground. The note inside was from 2008. I felt like it was a little hello from the big guy (even though I don't really believe in that kind of stuff). I still miss him. And you will miss Max. But if I can offer you any consolation, it's this. Rarely do pets go gently on their own. I wanted this for Eli. So damn bad. Still wish that were how it went down. But what I can tell you is the actual process of euthanasia isn't as bad as your mind wants to believe. Elijah passed with his head on my lap on the blanket he'd had for several years. I talked to him the whole time. It was gentle. It was peaceful.

It has been gut wrenching in the aftermath. I miss him terribly.

My heart is with you. I know how hard it is. I'm so very very sorry.

And P.S. My son is named Max! He's 3!

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterstephanie

And now this. So sorry, Monica.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

I am so so sorry. I lost my sweet pup Coco to lymphoma almost two years ago when she was only 8 1/2 years old and feel like there is a physical hole in my heart and soul with her passing. Her symptoms and diagnosis took me by surprise as I naively expected us to have several more years together. The thing that helped me figure out when it was time to say good-bye was to constantly check in with her quality of life. I didn't just "know" when It was time to say good-bye but when a few bad days passed with very few good moments, I was able to make the call that the most compassionate and loving thing that I could do at that point was to let her go. Our vet helped us tremendously during this time so lean on your friend for support - good vets know how to help people navigate these waters. My husband and I held her at the end and while my tears flowed freely I just kept telling myself that she wasn't going to be in pain anymore. Her passing was peaceful. I miss her every day. Love to you. This is hard.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

I have cried in my office countless times since I found your and Serge ' s writings. The way you both so eloquently capture the joys and struggles of life is so inspiring and so comforting. Your words, collectively, have helped me and my family (though they don't realize you two are the source) more than I could ever articulate. This post moved me to the most tears to date. The love shared with such a loyal companion is one of the world's greatest gifts and the loss of that loved one is so deep. Know that my heart is sending compassion and love to your whole family during this complicated and incredibly emotional time. Thank you, thank you, thank you to both you and Serge for sharing your world with us.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKate

I'm so sorry you have to go through this. It's so hard to know what to do. This summer I lost both a dog and a friend to cancer. When my girl was clearly in distress--panting all night, not getting up unless physically helped--I knew it was time to let her go. Six weeks later, visiting my friend in hospice, I wished we could do the same for him.

On a side note, when talking with my vet about it, she said that she has never had someone say that they decided to let a pet go too soon, but very often hears people regret that they waited as long as they did.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBusySolitude

I'm going through this with my own beautiful dog now, she's my wonderful baby and I'm her mama. I feel you so deeply - I'm so sorry. I think you'll know when it's time. You will just know.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I don't know you but just wanted to tell you that my heart is breaking for you. I am 25 and just got my first dog. And you're right, as soon as you get a pet, you know that the clock is ticking, and it's always in the back of your mind. I already love my little man more than I ever thought I could love a ball of fur, and I can't even imagine how I will feel... how YOU must feel.. after 12 years as best friends.

Max is so lucky he had a mama like you loving him and taking care of him until the end. I hope you are able to take solace in knowing he is no longer in pain, and knowing that he is waiting in heaven for you just like he waited for you to come home every day!

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGirl with a dog

Realizing now after I posted the above post that I jumped the gun. I think my eyes were so full of tears by the last paragraph that I didn't realize sweet Max is still with us. But regardless my heart still breaks for you. Thoughts and prayers being sent your way.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGirl with a dog

you don't think you'll be able to do it, but you will. he'll need you to eventually do it and though your heart will burst into a million pieces, you will find the strength. and you'll remember the moment for years to come. how you were there for him ... as he always was for you.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbety

Hugs to you. There are few things worse than losing a pet. I'm so sorry you have to do this.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCharity

Hey monica, I'm a long time reader and have always felt so many similarities between us- but one of the main ones was my dog May, and how much Max always reminded me of her. She was a big black staffie, and looked quite similar to Max. I got her when I was seventeen and I let her go two years ago, after almost fifteen years together- from single and hitchhiking through North America to married with three kids at our farm in BC. Man, we had a good run. Her last year was hard, and I agonized with the decision- and then one night she looked me and I knew she was telling me it was time. We spent her last day feeding her all the treats she loved, and together we went on our last mama and may walk through the forest and farm. My husband and son (my brave, brave son- the first of her babies) joined us and together we walked down to the river and laid out her fave fuzzy blanket. Then with our hands all layed upon her, the gun cracked, and she was gone. I'm writing you this because I had feared that moment for so many years- I expected to be mad with grief, to sob and feel an endless sadness drown me, but all I could feel was slow tears of gratitude, and love, and most of all, I didn't feel her gone. My heart was still full of her... it still is. And so I miss her big brown eyes, and the way she loved to frolic in the spring grass... and the touch of her silky coat. And still, though there is some sadness, mostly it is just always an overwhelming sense of gratitude, and thankfulness, and awesome memories of the amazing time we had together... and a new found sense that some love really does stay forever- some connections really do go beyond death. I truly believe Max will always be with you, and your babies, and that when you miss him, he'll be there in spirit to comfort you.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterwhimmm

I have always liked animals more than most people and I have been in your impossible position several times. Your words brought me right back there. It never gets easier. Here are some words from my favorite childhood author about losing the magnificent Lad that captures the emotion so well:

Surely, there was nothing in such a death to warrant the silly grief that was ours, nor the heartsick gloom that overhung The Place! It was wholly illogical, not to say maudlin. I admit that without argument. The cleric-author of "The Mansion Yard" must have known the same miserable sense of loss, I think, when he wrote:
"Stretched on the hearthrug in a deep content,
Fond of the fire as I.
Oh, there was something with the old dog went
I had not thought could die!"

Over a magnificent lifeless body on the veranda bent the two who had loved Lad best and whom he had served so worshipfully for sixteen years. The Mistress's face was wet with tears she did not try to check. In the Master's throat was a lump that made speech painful. For the tenth time he leaned down and laid his fingers above the still heart of the dog; seeking vainly for sign of fluttering. No use!" he said, thickly, harking back by instinct to a half-remembered phrase. "The engine has broken down.""No," quoted the sobbing Mistress, wiser than he. "'The engineer has left it.'

We buried Lad in a sunlit nook that had been his favorite lounging place, close to the house he had guarded so long and so gallantly. With him we buried his honorary Red Cross and Blue Cross—awards for money raised in his name. Above his head we set a low granite block, with a carven line or two thereon.

The Mistress wanted the block inscribed: "The Dearest Dog!" I suggested: "The Dog God Made." But we decided against both epitaphs. We did not care to risk making our dear old friend's memory ridiculous by words at which saner folk might one day sneer. So on the granite is engraved:
Some people are wise enough to know that a dog has no soul. These will find ample theme for mirth in our foolish inscription. But no one who knew Lad will laugh at it.


I missed him, and I still miss him, more bitterly than a mere collie should be missed. His going took something unsparable out of my life.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterschushops

Oh Lord... it's just unfair, it is.. that we outlive our pets. You'll know and will have the strength when it's time, plus hopefully Dr. Dr. Holly can take care of things while you're at home together? There will be many tears-- he was the best friend, evah. I remember you writing about how you and Serge would fight in your Brooklyn apt., he would start barking while inbetween the two of you...

We love you, Max!

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Oh no. This is just heart-breaking and I so sympathise with the sadness and pain. He trusts you to do the right thing and dogs are so accepting of their realities, even when people are mean and neglectful. You have been a wonderful mother to him, feel no guilt for a slight shift in priorities when you were having babies, labs love to be part of a family, he'd have been thrilled to be part of the scene, lack of walks or not.

But now it's time - or nearly time - to do the right thing for your friend. If he's suffering, and it sounds as though he is, you have the hardest task to decide when the tipping point is into unacceptably forcing him to suffer because you cannot face the end. Speak to your vet friend very honestly and ask her what she would do clinically and when, were you and the dog strangers to her. Follow her advice, be brave, I know, you will be sick with sadness and loss, but you will be doing the loving, generous thing for your old and loyal friend when he needs you to.

Very best of luck and I hope he somehow rallies amazingly, at least for a while. You deserve a break, all of you do.

September 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline

I can't imagine what it will be like when I have to face this decision myself. I wish you peace and love and the wisdom to know when the time is right.

September 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJ

im not a dog person, but this story makes me cry. sorry to hear of this heartwrenching situation you have to deal with.

September 30, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterrach

Ohhh this is dear to my heart. It reminds me of my very own Gibson dog during the last few days of his life. I'll never forget driving to work that sad morning, as the sun was coming up and The Band - I Shall Be Released, started playing on the radio - almost as it was his last testament to his large abundant life.
That evening we sat with him in the backyard, as he always enjoyed basking in the sun smelling the world around him. He hardly desired to eat, but was able to gobble down a large steak. And then as the evening began to fall, the vet came with her box of things and we sat with him on the grass - twilight blanketed our swelled hearts as he slowly began drifting into a deep sleep. By the time night fell upon us... he was gone.
It was one of the saddest and most beautiful days of my life.
God Bless you and your boy.

October 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjackie

Hello~ I feel as if I have to respond to your touching story about Max. On June 25th, I had to put my best friend to sleep. Charlie was an almost 12 year old yellow lab suffering from laryngeal paralysis primarily. At the beginning of the summer, when it started to get hot, walking, something he NEVER MISSED at least once a day 365, became a struggle for him and I. We, too, had our special nose to nose communication. I truly believe he felt a loss of dignity towards the end. I was able to find a vet who had never treated him before ( Charlie and I recently relocated) as I needed to be led toward the "right" thing to do. For the first time, this wonderful vet validated my suspicions and he told me Charlie wants to go to sleep...
I am sorry for this rambling. Actually this is the first time I've ever responded to anything and it felt like a therapy session!
I hope Max is doing well...

October 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterElaine Enos

Hi Monica, Tears started rolling down without me knowing it. the love and affection shown by two individuals at prime was so beautifully starts wonderfully and ends sadly, it cripples. the pain was transformed in writing, very sorry for max but you are there for him to stand up.
with warm regards, prabu

October 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterprabu

OMG! I'm so sorry and as I read this beautifully written post my heart ached for you and your boy, and for me and my girl. I have a shih Tzu who will be 12 on the 22nd and I love her like no other. Thank you for your beautiful words. Peace, Love and Wisdom to you during this difficult journey.

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenda

It's been almost a year since I had to make that decision for my Henry....and I still cry almost daily. This was a wonderful tribute to a life well lived for Max, and I hope for both your sake's that the end is peaceful.

October 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterElle

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