You bring me your puppy - she licks my face, chows down the cookies I offer, nibbles on my shoelaces. This is how our friendship begins. Several visits later, he starts to learn where all the cookie jars are in the clinic, and that bald guy in the jeans and untucked button-down shirt with a stethoscope around his neck, well, he is okay...
Fast forward many visits later, I am in love with your dog and your whole family because, well, you are just really good people and I have not only watched that pup turn into a really sweet family member, but I got to watch your kids grow every year and be a very small part of your journey and our community. Remember that time she ate your teenage daughter’s underwear? Yeah, we all had a good laugh over that once the surgery was done and she was recovered. Your daughter probably never forgave me for bagging that up and showing the whole family when you came to pick her up from the clinic.
So many adventures, so little time.....
And here we are…….many years later, having to say goodbye.
He’s got heart disease and I can’t fix it anymore. She’s got cancer and there is no cure. He has arthritis and the meds just aren’t working. I want her to live forever for you, for your children. I want that so badly it hurts. I feel like I have failed him and you when I have run out of options to keep them, and you, comfortable and happy.
So now it’s time, and I am supposed to be professional. Objective. I am the doctor none the less. I am supposed to be calm. Cool. Collected. Always under control.
Fuck that. I am an absolute mess.
I have known you and your family and her for nearly a third of my life, and nearly all of my professional career. But, I keep it together. My amazing technicians have put the catheter in. My support staff from receptionists to assistants have done all the paperwork. Trust me, they may not show it, but their hearts are absolutely breaking for you. They have been there. They know. And they know you, and they care about you too.
I have the syringe in the pocket of my coat. The same pocket that was always full of treats for him. I take a deep breath and come into the room. I have to stay strong now, YOU need it, your kids need it.......
She is giving me that sweet look she always did, the one that was followed by puppy kisses and a glance at the cookie jar. But she is too weak now. She is ready. You are not. I am not. But this has to happen, NEEDS to happen, because we all love her too much to let her suffer.
She would keep going as long as we asked her too. But we can’t ask that of her. It’s not fair to her. I wish our human hearts could be so giving all the time. I wish I could be the person my dog thinks I am. I wish. I wish. I wish I could find a way for them to live forever. But I don’t have those magical powers. I am just a veterinarian. I am human. The technicians are technicians, they are human.
So….we kiss him back, not much left of his body that still works, but that old tail wags, just enough that I lose myself on the inside but I cannot, must not cry. I must stay strong. You need me to be your crutch, your all at this point. I fight back my tears, take a gulp and a deep breath. I can handle this, you need me. You need strength. I must give that to you. I will go home later and kneel over crying. Right now you need me to be strong.
Her body relaxes, she is in your arms and you are sobbing. Another family has just lost one of its most cherished members. Oh the memories! I put my stethoscope to her heart to make sure it has stopped, but she is held so tight to your chest that maybe it is your heart I hear pounding, or maybe it’s mine and all the blood rushing through my ears as I try so so hard not to turn into a blubbering mess.
It is confirmed, he has passed. You lay him gently on the floor, and we hug tightly as you go to leave. No words need to be said. The door closes behind you and I don’t know if you hear this, but I sob into your pets ear. She is gone, he will be missed, and you have to face what I know will be one of the hardest parts of today, your week, your remembrance.
You arrive home. Entering your house, you come to realize they are not there to greet you. You don’t hear the nails clipping on the hardwood floors. The laps of water coming from the water dish. The squeak from the toy in the living room as you prepare dinner. Yet we are here. Not only me, but the rest of the staff. The memories of over a decade come flooding back to us as we are faced with the next steps of transition.
Please know that I, we, know how you feel. As you leave the clinic, we just wish with every fiber of our being that you never had to face what you just went through. We wish they could live forever. You are most certainly in our thoughts during this difficult time.
And please know, I am, we are, so very grateful that we were a small part of your journey.
Love always, Dr. Arnett and staff.
(modified from a caring and wonderful veterinarian named Dr. Brenda Gough)