When Dina, my black Labrador mix, was fourteen years old, she started to lose her hair. The clumps of hair were like little bushels of hay, black at one end and white, with flakes of grayish skin attached, at the other. I relished pulling out clumps of hair and dropping them into the growing pile on the floor.
Dina had been with me since I was sixteen years old and we accepted each other. She accepted that I was afraid of loud noises and strangers and telephone calls. And I accepted that she was afraid of children, other dogs, thunderstorms, and walking across wooden slats.
Dina never had Cancer or Diabetes or Parvo or heart disease, but by the time she was fifteen years old, she was dying. First it was her kidneys. Then there was the arthritis. She began to trip over her feet, and then her hips dropped. Defecating was too hard of a job to do while standing. Her legs shook and she fell and squashed the pile of feces under her folded tail. Her legs splayed in splits on floors that had never before seemed slippery to her.
She paced from room to room, up the stairs and back down, endlessly, as if she didn’t know where she was or that she’d already done the route ten times in a row. She peed indoors, mostly, by the end. She couldn’t remember what the need to pee felt like, and even if she could, her urinary tract was completely befuddled. When I asked her if she wanted to go out to pee, she would lift her head, consider, and more often than not, go back to sleep. I didn’t know that dog. My Dina heard the word pee, or walk, or go, or leash, and ran down the stairs panting in desperation.
When she was younger, Dina could walk for an hour, to the point of utter exhaustion, and still want more. And the drool! Long strings of white, bubbling drool would hang from her mouth and she’d shake her head and the strings would paste themselves to her neck or her chin and her tongue would be heavy with sweat and her eyes shining. And she would sing. Whenever we sang high enough notes, she’d warble along and howl like a wolf. But now I had to inch her food dish closer to her feet because she couldn’t eat standing up or even squatting. She sat like a child with her useless legs splayed around the bowl.
The doctor kept offering us medications to cover her symptoms: an expensive drug to make her less senile, antibiotics for the endless urinary tract infections, Pepto Bismal for the diarrhea. I wanted the doctor to be compassionate and tell me that it would be okay to put Dina to sleep, but he didn’t. And my mother wasn’t ready to let go. Or, rather, she wanted Dina to decide the day; to walk off into a field and choose the moment to die.
And then Dina’s hair stopped clumping. Her body was covered with a fog of loose hair at all times, no matter how often she was brushed.
Dina died on a fuzzy blue blanket on the floor in the vet’s office when she was sixteen years old. I sat against the wall, petting her back. My mother sat under the examining table, petting her head. And we stayed with her through both shots, knowing it was time to let go, but still not ready.
I imagined Dina running into a field of roasted chicken growing like wheat from the ground as far as she could see with her eyesight fully returned. I saw her galloping, unable to decide where to start, unable to believe the joy ahead of her, that she could eat a whole chicken and never worry about the bones sticking in her throat, and splintering through her esophagus like a broken needle. She could eat without end and without rice as filler!
But she’d never learned how to make friends. She depended on her people for company and communication. What would she do in heaven without us? Who would laugh with her and at her and scratch her belly and pull on her ears in that way she hated so much?
Would all of that chicken really make up for being alone?
When we got home, we packed up her left over pee pads and pee absorbing powder and anti pee spray. We packed her food and water bowls and her collar and her leash and her brush. But we couldn’t throw any of it away.
I had to put away the scarlet bathmat she used to sleep on. She liked the ray of sunlight from the bathroom window and the softness of the mat. The bathroom was her favorite place and I had to fight with her constantly to get her to leave so I could pee in private. As she aged, it only got worse. The slow aching rise of her elderly body onto shaky feet, one long stretch where she tilted and threatened to fall, and then the drippy-eyed stare as she stood two feet from the door asking why this horrible exodus had come upon her and who was I, what fresh evil was I, that I would make her flee her home, however slowly.
Dina took up so much space and sound that her absence was profound. I felt the silence deep in my body; it reverberated. No jangly collar, no tap tap of uncut toenails on hardwood floors, no scrape of food bowls against kitchen tile.
Her hair was everywhere in the apartment, cropping up under chairs, in furniture crevices, trapped in corners of the floorboards.
I cleaned every surface in the apartment, scrubbed the walls and the floors until my hands were raw and my knees ached, but her hair still lingered.
When Cricket came home, Dina had been gone for nearly eight months, but the smell of her was still in the apartment, especially on the small rug in my room where Dina did a lot of her napping. Cricket could smell her big sister in the floors and behind the furniture, and I think they had talks about how to handle Dina’s people. Sometimes I could even see Dina, like a mirage, sleeping on the floor, opening her eyes for a second to check on me, and then falling back to sleep.
Your story brought back memories of all my ‘babies’ that have gone before me. I miss each and every one. I hope Dina has found Pepper, Ginger, Nikki and Lady and they’re having a great time romping together until their people come join them.
Thank you for such a beautiful story Rachel…
I love the idea that Dina is collecting all of these friends in heaven. I wish I could see her romping around with all of them!
Always such a sad story. I know we’re getting close to this point with Tucker, but not quite yet …
I hugged Dina more towards the end, because I wanted to absorb as much of her as possible, and because she didn’t have the energy to fight with me anymore.
It’s always a sad moment when you have to let a beloved animal companion walk across the bridge, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing your experience.
Best regards from southern Texas,
Thank you! I prefer to live in denial that I will ever have to face this experience again.
Well, as for our Sally and Chiquita I’m not thinking of them ever to leave us.
This is one of the most powerful and sensitive pieces of writing that I have ever read. You have captured that place we go to when such a beautiful soul leaves us. Thank you for this.
Terry and Matilda
Wow! That’s so kind of you to say.
Oh Rachel, I have tears streaming down my face, you have managed to put into words, every sense and feeling that I have been through in the past, and know I will have to go through again.
Thank you. I’m looking at my two girls right now, and I can’t imagine having to lose them. I can’t think about it.
OMG. Your post is an exact mirror of what I went through with my dear departed Marcos. he left this plane of existence on February 7 of t his year but he lives forever in my memory and my heart as I’m sure Dina lives in yours!
I hope Dina and Marcos can be of comfort to each other.
So sorry for your loss. Putting a dog down or any animal for that matter has to be one of the hardest things in life. Dogs just don’t live long enough. The missing part unfortunately never really goes away since so many memories exist. But I’m sure you know Dina is out of her misery and in a wonderful doggie heaven. Take Care.
My oldest puppy is almost 13. She’s as much as part of my life as my children. I’ve had to put a few beloved companions to sleep and still grieve over my favorite cat who was relieved of a long, miserable death in 2001. The story of Dina’s end brought tears of remembrance.
I hope that’s a good thing. It’s been wonderful to hear how well loved so many pets are by their humans.
I relate. I understand. Thanks for visiting my Maddie stories and for sharing yours!! ❤
A beautiful eulogy that never slips into self-indulgence, but whose voice instead grows ever stronger in the recitation of living memories, the true gift of love that makes it worth the pain. Dogs are a picture of perfect love so rare in this world. Thank you for sharing.
Wow! Thank you for that.
Thanks for the follow!:) Your writing made me think of all of our babies when they went to doggie heaven, dogs are the best and each and every one of them make their own special place in your heart forever. 🙂
So heartwarming and sad, too. I think Dina looks so sweet and such a wonderful story to share. A long time together is a blessing but so hard to get over, too!
Thank you. Sixteen years is amazing, isn’t it? She was there for so many parts of my life, and remained central for all of it.
Sad story… made me cry
Your story made me remember our precious Tuna Fish who was Sushi’s older brother. I believe our pets rely on us to make the right choice for them when life becomes too difficult. I hope Dina has met our sweet Tuna and is running free on a beach.
She would love the beach, unless there are horseshoe crabs, those things freak her out.
Dogs give us unlimited love and devotion…. I still have the collars and blankies from my last 2 dogs, Sam and Oreo. Everlasting love never goes away. I love your story .. very well written, capturing the love of your most wonderful dog.
Wow that was sad..I feel the same I am worried about my little black dog Charlie he is going the same way, nearly blind but still knows where the back door is. So fingers crossed.
Sending good thoughts your way.
My little dog Max died at home in my arms. I still love and miss him so much, and will never be able to replace him. I have MS and can’t take care of another baby, but Max understood my problems, and was always there with me, playing when I could, cuddling when I couldn’t.
I’m so glad you were able to have that connection with him. I’m sending good wishes your way.
I TRULY feel your pain. I say that when my dog dies, I want them to dig a hole big enough for me, too.
No! You have to stick around to share memories of your dog with other people. We need as many dog stories as we can get.
Dogs are the best people of all
Only dog lovers could understand what love we hold for them and how we put them on a pedestal. To us they live on forever, even in memories. Thanks for the story and thanks for the like, hope I made you laugh at my blog. 🙂
Dog noses rule! Butterfly has decided that the best way to wake me up is to touch my nose with her nose. Who wouldn’t want dogs to live forever when they think like that!
Our 15yo chocolate lab passed just a couple months ago. She had a lot in common with yours. We miss her every day and are so thankful for the many years we had with her! Your story brought back many memories – for better and worse 🙂
I hope there were a lot more of the better than the worse.
Ah, thank you for that, and thank you for stopping by my post. I am tearful as I read this, I know every bit of your words, the wobbly legs when my own Scout tried to pee out back, the senility as she wandered around the house as if looking for something but not sure what, and the endless sleeping. I do think my own Scout wandered off into the feilds this week to die, and somewhat selfishly I am glad to have not been forced to make the dreaded decision. We did that 2 years ago with Bear and it sucks. I’ve not yet removed Scouts insulin from the place in the fridge where it has been stored for the last two years, coming out ritually twice a day in an effort to prolong her life. Somehow I cannot yet bring myself to remove it, making it final. When I left her last in the back yard, on my way to work, her wagging, I did not know it was the last time I would say goodbye. I am sad. Thank you for sharing your own story.
Thank you, too. My Mom had a dog, when she was a child, who went off into the field to die, and she assumed that all dogs would do it that way. But Dina was too stubbornly attached to her humans, she didn’t want to go by herself.
Oh, Rachel. It’s so hard to let them go. They are family. 😦
They really are. I get confused by people who don’t think my dogs are people.
Oh no. I was enjoying your doggie stories so much. So sorry that she is no longer doing the leash dance with you.
Don’t worry, Cricket and Butterfly are still dancing. Dina is probably chasing an endless line of squirrels right now, and planning a snack of a roasted chicken when she’s done.
I’ve been there, too, with a wonderful old Border Collie cross called Bessie. She was sixteen years, four months and three days. It still hurts.
It’s almost like, having them for so long makes it even harder to let go.
This was so very beautiful! So why am I sitting here in an absolute puddle of tears?! Neither of my two dogs would leave me, either. And my vet, an absolute angel who retired after we had Daisy put down, just quietly talked about quality of life. Muffin and Daisy were both within a month of 16 years old when they went over the Rainbow Bridge. My husband and I were with them, holding them through the two shots, also. I could not let go so held them and talked to them.This brought back all the memories but in such a wonderful way. Thank you, Rachel.
There are times when a puddle of tears is a beautiful place to be, a place where we can feel connected to so much more than we ever knew was out there. Thank you.