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Duchess is breathing in my face. My Grandmother’s 126-pound Berneese Mountain dog is lying on my lap and drooling on my pants. I am in the backseat of my Grandmother’s Escalade, driving to the veterinarian with Duchess. My Mother and my Grandmother are sitting quietly in the front seats. Driving to the Veterinarian has been a long ride and all of us have become tired and hungry.
“How much longer,” I ask.
“About 10 minutes, Drew. And after this we’ll go get something to eat,” My Mother replies.
My Grandmother sits quietly in the passenger’s seat. She has been silent for most of the ride. You can tell that she is worried about her dog, Duchess. This large dopey-looking and droopy-eyed dog is the center of my Grandmother’s life. You know those little old ladies who you see walking down the street with those big-a** dogs? That’s my Grandmother.
Dogs have always been a big part of my family. We would pick up dogs from anywhere. We picked dogs off streets, we bread them, and we have adopted abandoned ones. My grandmother is probably the biggest dog-lover that you would ever meet. One time when I was a toddler she said to me, “If I go to heaven one day, I’m gonna be there with all the dogs I ever owned.”
In the past couple of years, my Grandma has had two knee replacement operations. The back yard that a one time flourished with many different breeds has now become empty. Now, the only dog we have is Duchess. And this dog, which is seen as a second child in the eyes of Grandma, is now sick and handicapped by her own weight.
Months ago, Duchess was diagnosed with cancer in several parts of her body. Grandma had the choice to treat the dog with several months of chemotherapy, or to euphemize her. Of course she chose to put the dog through six months of chemotherapy before the dog dies. My family and I tried to convince her otherwise, but there was no talking her out of it. This dog was the one thing she cared about other than her family, and she could not let go of her. So here we were, driving to the doctor to put the poor dog through one more torturing chemotherapy treatment.
“Is this the place?” I asked.
“Ya,” Mom replied.
The veterinarian’s office was squeezed in between two empty and littered lots on a busy street. I felt skeptical about walking into the place. It looked like one of those places that you would see being taped off for having dangerous pesticides.
The strong scent of alcohol and cleaning chemicals embraced us as we guided Duchess through the front door. The women behind the desk gave us an unfriendly look as we came to check in. After checking in we sat in the waiting room. I sat with Mom as Grandma sat on the other side of the room, rubbing Duchess up and down.
My mother turned to me, “Drew.”
“Listen, you know this how much this dog means to your Grandma.”
“If Grandma needs something or if she is talking to you, I want you to listen to her and do what she says.”
“Don’t just tune me out on this. Your Grandma has been going through a rough time. She’s been under a lot of stress lately. She lost the house on Staten Island, and you know how Pop is sick.”
I was trying not to listen. For the past week she had been giving me the same speech about how I should obey Grandma’s every wish. Today I was missing my track practice to come here. Then I would have to go home late, and stay up late doing homework. I was mad.
“Are you listening to me?”
“Ya, I am.”
Twenty minutes past. The doctor, a short stubby man with some accent that I could not identify, led us into his office and sat us down. He took the dog into the back to give her the treatment and left us sitting in his office. I got up to use the bathroom, and I came back to see Mom and Grandma fighting.
“I don’t care, if it helps the dog live for six more months, I’ll do it. You just don’t know how much I love this dog,” Grandma was saying to Mom.
Mom looked at me. She was on the verge of tears. Even though we were trying to convince Grandma to put the dog down, we loved her too. It was out of pure pity that we were wanted the dog to be put down.
The veterinarian returned with Duchess and led us back to the main desk. After paying the bill and receiving some medicine, we left to get something to eat. In the car, the dog rested her head on my lap. I looked down to see her dopey eyes looking back up at me. Duchess has these brown eyebrows, which move up and down whenever she looks around. Sometimes you can look at her and tell exactly what she’s thinking. I looked down at her. She looked up at me. Her one eyebrow was up and the other one was down, almost as to ask, “How’s life for you?” It made me laugh.
We arrived at the diner, left the dog in the car with the air running, and went into the diner. We sat outside so that we could see the dog in the car. We sat at a metal table with some uncomfortable seats. We ordered our food, and talked, avoiding all conversation about the dog. As we were eating, someone in the parking lot repeatedly honked on their car horn. Looking over to see what was happening, we saw the dopey-looking dog behind the steering wheel. Duchess panted happily as we turned our heads to look at her. It was one of those moments that you would have to see yourself to really appreciate. We all laughed and ate the rest of our meal.
On the way home, I sat in the back with the Duchess again. The ride home was pretty calm so far. The dog wasn’t moving around, and I was starring out the window at passing stores. Mc Donald’s, Coldstone, DQ, liquor stores, Josie’s diner, Jose’s Mexican Grill, and a load of other crappy looking buildings. I still felt angry about coming on here today. Why should I have to obey everything that Mom and Grandma.
Something began to smell bad. I looked over to the Duchess, who messed on the floor. We pulled over into an abandoned parking lot were we struggled to help Duchess out of the car. She limped over to a grassy area and struggled to stand.
“Drew, come help me with her,” Grandma said.
The dog went on the grass, and collapsed. What had come out was pure black, which obviously meant some sort of internal bleeding. Grandma knelt by the dog and wept. After settling Grandma in the passenger’s seat, Mom and I picked Duchess up and put her in the back seat again. On the drive back to the veterinarian, both Mom and Grandma were crying. We all know what would happen to the dog, but none of us would say it.
Back at the veterinarian’s office, the short man was trying to convince us to let him perform surgery.
“If you would just let us… Keep her here for a night, we could give proper medication, and perform surgery tomorrow. And then we could…” The vet talked, but I was listening to him. He talked while holding a bill pad and a pen in his hand. Grandma sat in a chair, with bloodshot eyes and a heartbreaking expression on her face. Mom knelt on the floor with Duchess, who was lying on her side, her eyebrows moving frequently from me, to Mom, to the vet, and to Grandma. Her heavy panting was loud and raspy. How could they let the poor dog go through such torturous treatments? But I can say anything. I have to let Grandma do whatever she wants. But if I do not say something, what will happen to the dog? Duchess will be tortured to death by this vet who obviously has his mind on the bill more than the dog. I have to say something.
“And after the surgery we could follow that up with-“
“No,” I said softly. The vet, Mom, Grandma, and maybe even the dog looked at me.
“But we could…-“
“No, the dog is sick, and we need to put her down.” I looked to Grandma, “Listen, the dog’s already been put through enough. Three months of chemotherapy? Animals are meant to go through that.”
Grandma looked down at the floor, “Your right, I can’t put off this any longer. I’m only putting off the inevitable.”
The room was silent for one uncomfortable moment. The vet looked from me, to Mom, and then to Grandma.
“OK. I’m going to take her to the back, and we’ll give her the injection. Do you want to go with her?” Grandma began to get up, but then came back down in her chair, sobbing uncontrollably.
“I c-c-can’t.” Mom knelt beside her and hugged her. Grandma looked up at me.
“Drew, please go with her, I just can’t do. I’m sorry.”
Even though I’ve had many pets put down before, I’ve never actually been there to witness them being injected with a lethal dose of ether. I will not lie. I was scared. And at that point I was on the verge of tears, but I would not show it.
“Sure, don’t worry about me.” A big muscular man came in and helped me carry Duchess down the hall to the room in the back. The room was completely white, cold, and expressionless. God, what a horrible place to die. I always imagined myself dying in a nice comfortable bed, in my own home, not on a cold metal table surrounded by head-shattering noise and confusion.
I watched Duchess’s face as the vet filled a needle full of ether. Her eyes were looking straight at me. I had calmed her down a started to stroke her thick coat of fur. The doctor came over with the needle, and shaved a small spot on one of her front paws. I continued to stroke Duchess as she lay on the table. The vet came over with the needle and slowly injected the entire shot. I was so consumed with the sight of the needle that I did not once look down at Duchess. By the time I looked down at her, which was no more than seconds after the injection, she had already died.
I had always thought imagined giving a dog a lethal injection being a slow procedure, but I was wrong. It had happened so fast, that I did not even have time to look down and catch one last glimpse of those dopey-looking brown eyes. But that opportunity was taken away before I could even realize it, just like so many other things in life. So there I stood, stroking a dead dog. I still wish I could have looked at her one more time before she died.
I started to walk back to the office were Grandma was still crying, feeling stupid and guilty, but slightly relieved that I didn’t have to worry about the dog going through anymore treatments. But there was still Grandma to face. The last dog that she had was dead. And knowing that Grandma would chose a dog over a person anytime worried me how she would act now. I felt guilty because I tried to stay home today instead of coming to the vet’s office. If I chose not to come today, who would have gone in with Duchess? But I cannot let that bother me anymore. I needed to comfort Grandma and help her. If I did not help Grandma now, will I get another opportunity, or will I miss it just like I miss the opportunity to comfort Duchess.