The Things People Don’t Talk About When Their Dog Is Dying

I’ve never had to watch a dog die. 

When my childhood dog wasn’t doing well, and it was time to say goodbye, I was a senior in college. It was just after September 11th, and just before my birthday in late September. 

I remember my dad telling me over the phone they were going to have to put her to sleep. It was a Wednesday night, which was newspaper deadline night. I was sitting outside the building crying. One of my sorority sisters happened to be around the same area and when I told her why I was upset, she said to me, “think about this, all those people who died [on September 11] need a pet in heaven.” 

It was the only thing that brought me comfort in both the fact I had just covered and witnessed arguably the worst terror atrack on U.S. soil and that my dog of 16 years was at the end of her life. She was mostly my mom’s dog, so, while I was obviously heartbroken, I was not solely responsible for her health, wellbeing and care the way I have been for Toby. 

At some point I known the cancer is going to win, despite my best efforts to fight it. I’ve thought so much about that moment, trying to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable. 

I’ve read articles by veterinarians and vet techs about what they want you to know when that time comes. Tips for making the process easier on everyone involved. And, trust me, they’ve helped. The one article that said not to remove their collar because it may stress them out, really resonated with me because Toby hates his collar being fussed with. 

But, there are so many more questions and thoughts that go through my head when I think about saying goodbye. 

Do I want to save a chunk of his hair? If so, when do I cut it off? Now, when he’s happy and healthy, or right before that dreadful day so he’s not walking around with a patch of missing fur?

I want to get a clear imprint of his paw pad so I can get a tattoo of his exact paw print. But, do I get the tattoo while he is still alive and I can take him with me, and take cute photos, or wait till after he has passes? When do I do the print? 

Does he realize the end is near? Was he so excited to go kayaking on Easter because he knew it might be his last time on the water? 

If I do have to make that decision and we are lucky enough to let him pass in the comfort of his home, where do we do it? My dad’s house where he spent much of his time, or at my house, which he loves? 

Do I let him pass on in his favorite bed or wrapped up in his favorite blankets on the couch? 

How does Maddux get to say goodbye? Should Maddux be in the room if it’s at home? Will it be traumatic for him like it was for me when my great-grandmother died right in front of me? How will Maddux react when Toby doesn’t come home? Will he whine at the top of his lungs like he does now when Toby is separated from him? 

Maddux is not going to be a good “only dog.” When do I seriously consider another dog? I’d like the other dog to get to know, and spend time with Toby. 

Which is better, to have him cremated or to burry him? If he is cremated, how can I guarantee it’s him who will be coming back to me? 

Do I want to be alone when it happens, or do I want my dad, who Toby adores, to be with us? 

When do make him that big bowl of pasta, and let him chow down? It finally let him eat an entire hard roll? Or, let him have more than a finger-lick of beer? 

How do I say goodbye to the only creature who has shown me unconditional love and never disappointed me? Who wagged his little tail every time he saw me? Who knew what I was feeling sometimes before I did? 

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