So I'll just say more things have remained the same despite large changes. I don't know what to say really. I found a job then left it for another and am in training for that one. I'm in school now too, Wiregrass.
And Fred died.
I had to do an essay for my class. A friend suggested I write about Fred, who just died on Valentine's Day. And so I did:
Saying Goodbye to Fred
"They're ready for him."
I felt frozen to the car seat, the wind carrying a slight breeze into the old, beat up Taurus. I had ridden all the way to the vet in the back with Fred, my Basset hound, in my lap. He was in constant pain and the pills weren't helping it at all anymore. The only thing that quieted him down was sitting or laying in my lap. Sometimes he could even catch a few minutes of sleep before the pain interrupted it.
I looked up at my husband, feeling numb, and just nodded. He reached in and scratched my dog on his head again. While we had been waiting for the vet to make room for us, my husband had continuously pet Fred. He isn't a terribly affectionate man, but that day he gave extra attention where it was needed.
I don't remember getting out of the car or walking to the building but I do remember carrying my 12 year old dog through the stuffy waiting room, full of people and their animals. Back when he was healthy and eating right he'd weighed too much for that. As I carried him I thought briefly about how lucky I was to be born with chronic anosmia. I'm not often grateful for this defect, but several of the animals looked a little gamey and there was no way that waiting room smelled inviting.
Most of the conversation with the vet was foggy. I remember almost nothing but this daze and a feeling inside that I still cannot describe. Choosing to say goodbye to a loved one in such a manner… there is nothing I can compare it to. All of my other pets died naturally, most of old age.
The metal table was so cold. Maybe I was overly sensitive to it, but it felt like ice. And my buddy, my puppy was laying on it. I remember asking for a towel or something to go under him, thinking the last sensation he'll ever have is this cold, hard table.
God, I didn't want him to be cold.
My memory is clearer when the vet started. The needle wouldn't go in. I remember the vet had to try three different times, even had to pull out a razor and shave some of the fur away. I felt so bad for him because I could feel his guilt in his tone and expression. He'd been doing this for years and was frustrated with himself.
My gut still clenches at the knowledge I had then, this clarity in mind that every attempt could be the one that would work. Every time he tried could be the last. My eyes tear up even now, and I am sure they won't be dry on the subject for years. This was the first time I had ever felt the sensation of both an eternal waiting for something to just be over for the sake of my friend in pain and thinking that everything was going too fast. After 11 years of friendship I was doing the one thing I swore I would never in my life do; I was putting my friend to sleep.
For the majority of the time he spent with me, Fred was the same. Small, stocky but bigger than I thought Bassett Hounds could become. Those brown eyes were soulful and often manipulated in expert fashion while begging for a treat. His floppy ears were soft and flapped against his head when he was shaking off water or dirt after a good roll on the ground. He was also loud; easily excited about the slightest thing he would just boom about it over and over until noticed. Previously a cat owner, this was not something I'd really anticipated.
When I was twenty I'd lost the cat that had been my companion since I was 6 or 7 years old. My boyfriend at the time wanted a dog and I told him I wasn't a dog person and the only kind I was really interested in was a Basset Hound. I didn't think anything would come of it, but then one day it was there on the computer – a listing that seemed like fate. 'Fred' was the name of a puppy my parents had adopted then returned after about a week when I was a teen. A week isn't long, but it was long enough for me to have gotten attached and to carry that image of a puppy basset hound in my heart. We went to just see him and though he was a bigger dog the I had imagined, it felt like I'd found that puppy after so many years.
I didn't get him as a puppy. He was already over a year old when I rescued him. He was a $1500 AKC certified, neutered, outside dog. I could tell right away he was wildly affectionate and attention-starved. His previous owner was a pretty, young blonde stripper that had inherited a condo from an aunt and preferred to move there even though it meant getting rid of her dog. Being an animal lover who strongly believes a pet is a commitment for the life of the animal, this was something I never understood.
There were so many things we went through; it's hard to pick out the most agitating or endearing. He once ate an entire heart of Valentine's chocolates, though I am still not sure how he got it out of the zipped purse it was in, much less why he would drag it onto the bed before ripping the super-strength plastic open. I spent the rest of the night trying to get him to throw them up, worried that I was a bad owner, or that he was going to die because there wasn't anything I could do. Lucky for me they were milk chocolate and not enough to hurt. A night of bad gas and a heafty pick-up bag in the morning and he was good to go, but he never got another whiff of any chocolate that wasn't dog safe after that.
He was so ambitious in discovering his world and the intense smells that were everywhere that he was constantly running out of the house, down the road, into neighboring yards and, twice, their houses. He'd eat anything, like socks and paper, and was a pro at finding ways to reach things he shouldn't have. It seemed to slow down after having an allergic reaction that left his whole face and left ear swollen and me with a $500 emergency overnight vet bill and a panic-induced adrenaline high.
Still even with all the frustrations, he was the best dog I've ever known. He was a 62 pound lap dog that would force anyone with willing hands in the direction of his chest for a good, long rub. He was determined to follow me everywhere and kept me company no matter what I was doing unless it was vacuuming.
Adorably stubborn, he clearly believed that once something was one way, it was the way it should always be. He was easy to train though, despite his need for routine and sameness in daily activities. Best of all, he was a great snuggle buddy and always seemed to know when I needed a cuddle.
As he aged, his personality didn't change one bit, even as he started having problems with vision and movement. I have heard stories and seen other dogs change. They become meaner, become easy to irritate and snap sometimes because they can't see or are in pain. Fred never once snapped at anyone, even when in the worst moments.
He lost the use in his back legs and fought to pull himself around, in and out of the wheelchair my husband made for him. Shortly after he lost the ability to use his front right paw and with that muscle strength in pretty much his whole body. I would move him around, help him to relieve himself, change his diaper, pet him, talk to him, carry him with me from room to room so he could be with me. He would whine or bark for me if I wasn't there in his eyesight or touching him.
I knew in my heart that I would continue to do this for him until he died. I prayed that it would be in his sleep. In the mornings I would sit at my Buddhist shrine with the window open and the sun coming in and just meditate on patience and love, because sometimes stress gets to us all. I told myself for months that it was okay, I wasn't going to have to make the hard decision because he was just going to go to sleep one day and not wake up.
I think I was fooling myself.
Eventually the pain became too much for him. As I mentioned, the only time he could even find a little peace was when he was laying in my lap. One day I realized as I had this dog in my lap, almost half the weight he'd been the rest of his life, that I couldn't let him go on in pain. He wasn't happy, he was hurting and he couldn't move and didn't know why. He couldn't follow me anymore and could barely eat or drink.
It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make and I try still to come to terms with it. He didn't have the quality of life he deserved. Though it felt so wrong to take him out of my life - to take his life away from him - leaving him in this state felt worse.
So on Valentine's day of all days, I took him to the vet.
I remember shaking when I saw the needle go into the vein. Tears welled up and I thought I was going to die of sadness. I hurried to tell him how much I loved him, and I could already see in his eyes that he was slipping away. I rubbed his head and told him how great a dog was and then he was gone.
"He's asleep," the vet said quietly and then left.
I felt his body and no movement was coming from him. I looked at my husband who's red-rimmed eyes met mine. "Does he mean he's dead?"
Tony's hand laid next to mine on Fred's ribcage. After a moment he sighed. "Yeah, I think so." He took a deep breath. "I don't feel him breathing."
I felt both relief and the most horrible sadness in the world mixing within myself. My husband and I stayed with him for a few more minutes. Then it was time for what felt at the time an impossible task … leaving him behind. I couldn't leave him. I had to tell my husband to pull me out of the room. I could do the rest myself. I half-ran, half-stumbled out of the waiting room and pulled out a cigarette. I'm not a smoker, but I had to right then. I left the paying and the choosing of the urn to my husband. I couldn't breathe if I stayed there any longer. We were having him cremated so I knew he would be back, that I wasn't leaving him for good, but it wasn't the same.
It wasn't the same.
I was already in the car when Tony got back, my hand with the cigarette hanging out the window, mostly forgotten.
"I feel like I did the right thing," I said as he started the car. "Do you think I did?"
"Yes," he said immediately. He hadn't helped me make this choice, or the choice I had made at first to care for Fred as he got worse. He had just always supported me. "You made the right choice, Poppet. He's not in anymore pain."
I learned a lot of patience and more about the power of love through this experience, through having him and losing him. I am happier in my life now and when Fred comes to mind most of the time it brings me joy. To have gone through something so rough and still have great memories shows me the power of the friendship and bond I shared.
I know now I'll never be without Fred or any of my animals as long as I can remember them.