Disclaimer: The following is a candid piece on a personal loss, written while in the midst of emotional turmoil. While I’ve tried to keep a level head, it is decidedly a very sad piece and veers hard into some tough subjects.
The first moment I can actively recall becoming aware of my dog’s mortality was an (admittedly) premature eight years ago. It was a sweltering evening in July of 2010, and I had paused at the crosswalk at the corner of Yonge and Front streets. I was going through an incredibly arduous time in my life also punctuated by loss, and my thought process eventually led me to wonder about what unwelcome surprises the next decade might hold for me. “What will life be like in 2020?” I thought to myself as I looked up at the sky before realizing that “realistically speaking, my dog is probably halfway through her life”.
It turns out I was preternaturally accurate, as exactly eight years later I’ve lost my friend, and am now struggling to make it through each day. It’s a strange experience I’ve never been through before, and there are long stretches of emptiness, until every so often when I’m hit with a moment of searing pain and I have to work overtime to maintain composure.
I’ve been preparing for this period in my life for a long time, going through bouts of anticipatory grief any time she displayed the slightest hint of illness. As the years went by these bouts went from being irrational paranoia to justified worries, and over the past few months my greatest fear had become a truth. On Thursday, May 24th of this year all my neurotic thoughts became legitimate facts rooted in reality.
Initially, it was just a run of the mill day of wall-to-wall work; something I’ve gotten used to, nothing but a nuisance. Hindsight has slowly rotted that memory into one of the worst days of my life, because it was on that day that the veterinarian officially declared the sickness that would fell my small friend. The overnight anxiety that for so long had been unmerited was now an inescapable part of life, and I had to deal with it head on as I was working straight through that whole night.
The two months since that night have been a living hell in the sheerest sense of the word. As my dog became increasingly weaker, every day became a new last. The last battle with the vacuum cleaner. The last mad dash after a chipmunk. The last greeting at the door. The last trip up the stairs. The last bark. The last walk.
It’s here where the pain became unbearable, both for my dog and myself.
On July 25th she could not move anymore, and I watched her fade out.
So many tribulations have come my way over the course of my life, ranging from the typical millennial woes of poor-paying jobs and uncertain career prospects to unbelievable streaks of bad luck that included frequent hospital visits and excruciating loneliness. There was one constant that held me together through all these ordeals, and that was the walks with my dog. Every horrible happenstance was weathered because I was able to head out into the world with my companion and explore for hours.
And now she’s gone. Despite her fighting spirit, she’s gone.
She was a fighter. In the truest sense of the word. It was in 2014 that she tore a ligament in her leg and sent a jolt of panic through a family that had literally just endured months of unrest due to an arduous and occasionally terrifying legal battle. The very day after we were all reunited and ready to forget the troubles, the injury happened and we were left with the possibility she would be stuck with a limp for the rest of her life. After all, she was already a senior dog at that point.
Frantic and at wit’s end, I spent days scouring the internet for any helpful advice. Relief came as I read stories of complete recoveries that didn’t rely on any medical intervention at all, and after a few short weeks of restricted activity my dog’s leg healed entirely.
It’s here that I need to go on a bit of a tangent. It might be nothing but an anecdotal tirade, and yeah, kind of immature, but honestly, the vets I’ve dealt with over the years have all been so full of garbage. Their solution- no matter what kind of pet I’ve brought in- has always been “ok well you can either pay us one million dollars, or well, sorry, it’s time to say goodbye”. Doesn’t matter whether it was a hamster, a rat, a turtle, or a dog. And it was no different in 2014 and the ligament tear.
Not only did the vet push for a surgery which it in itself was entirely unnecessary, but he recommended the most expensive, the most invasive surgery intended entirely for large heavy dogs. Like with full on metal bolts installed in her leg. If we didn’t go through with it, he said, “well you know she will probably never walk again. She’s going to get arthritis and soon all her other legs will stop working”.
We didn’t do the surgery, but the scamming clown did manage to hock some useless brace on us- something we barely used. And guess what- my dog never had a problem with that leg, right up until the very end. Never dealt with arthritis or any joint issues. She ran, jumped, and played right up until two months ago when the kidney failure hit.
These two months have been the most trying in my entire life. After a year already filled with massive disappointments, to be hit with the one thing I’d been dreading for nearly a decade has been downright devastating. I’m still numb, stuck in the denial stage of grief.
I haven’t felt like myself for a very long time. I’m reserved and reticent, and all creative spark has been extinguished. I’ve barely touched social media in weeks. I eat one small meal a day. I am burnt out. I am broken. And I don’t know how I’m going to rebuild without the one part of my life that always helped me rebuild before. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to being who I once was. There are acquaintances who I’ve met within the past few months who due to the grief have not met the person I used to be; they don’t know the real me at all.
I’ve dealt with intense depression and anxiety in the past, but I have never once referred to it as “suffering”.
But this sure feels like suffering now.
This has gutted me, clubbed me over the head, and mashed me into sawdust.
She was my wonderful little friend for sixteen years- over half my life. Aside from my family, there are no facets of my current life that existed before I knew her. She arrived before every person I now know, before I’d moved, before I started any of my creative endeavours, and, incredibly, even before I started actively listening to music. There are few songs I can listen to without thinking of a period in time where she was already in my life; it’s difficult even thinking of a significant moment that she wasn’t present for. What even happened before 2002? Nothing noteworthy as far as I can remember. She arrived before my very first experience with anxiety, and helped me deal with every single instance of it since then.
She was my closest companion.
My fuzzy bean curled up in only the best, most comfortable spot on my bed.
My yelling beast.
My four-legged support system.
My gargoyle perched on the stairs waiting for food.
My pair of eyes glaring at me from across the kitchen when I came home at 2:00 in the morning.