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I have always had a dog. When I was a bald little baby, my dad would put me on our puppy’s back I would ride on her. She was the stallion and I was the thrilled rider, swinging her leash above my head like a lariat. I don’t remember that, but I have been told the same story over and over again, where my dad had me precariously perched on Mocha’s chocolate-colored back. When he looked away for a fraction of a second, I fell onto the wet, cool grass, giving the most agonizing scream my parents have ever heard in their life. Mocha came to my rescue, licking me until I stopped crying, her wet almond eyes looking down at me lovingly. My brothers say that that fall is what explains my constant stupidity. It’s probably true. Even as a full-grown dog she would come to save you, even if you were only lying in the cool snow after a day of snowball fights and sledding. I can’t believe that I had to watch that same devoted dog get hurt just like me.
Everybody that met Mocha always commented on how she was the happiest dog they had ever seen. She was always jumping and cavorting around and she never bit or barked at anyone. She always greeted us on the driveway when we came home, prancing along next to the car, delighted that we were home, even if we left not long before. At dinner time she would take her usual spot on the front steps, watching us eat and whining until we gave her scraps from dinner, which annoyed my mom a great deal. Mocha would eat anything, from Caesar salad to juicy steak, but she still would eat her bland dog food when she had to. I made sure my mom gave her the leftovers so she could have a good meal too.
This past summer, my family noticed that Mocha had grown deaf over time. When my family called her name she would rarely acknowledge our shouting. We could sneak up behind her and poke her and she would yelp like a coyote, startled. She would spend everyday lying on the front steps lazily, eventually getting to the point where she wouldn’t get up to let us open the door. We were usually nice enough to go out the side door to let her sleep in peace. My mom would joke around and point out this large rock on the edge of my driveway that was perfectly flat on one side. She said that it was a perfect stone to go on Mocha’s grave. I just slowly shook my head whenever she said it, trying not to think about how we might need to dig her grave soon.
One weekend in early August, my mom, brothers and I went down to Cape Cod to visit my grandparents at the small cottage they rent there. My dad stayed behind because he had a lot of work to do. On the way back home, my mom said in a grave voice, “I need to talk to you all.” I noticed how her voice shook a little and immediately thought of Mocha and how she seemed to get worse every day. Tears welled up in my eyes, threatening to slide down my cheeks. My mom repeated exactly what I had been thinking and dreading. “Dad called this morning and said that Mocha has gone blind. She can’t see at all and we aren’t sure how much longer she will last like this. Just remember how great Mocha’s life has been and that we just want her to be happy.”
When I got home I dashed straight to Mocha. She was in my cellar, tied up on a short leash so she couldn’t walk into anything, not being able to see where she was going. When I saw her sprawled out on the floor, eyes closed and tail limp, my heart momentarily stopped. I thought she was dead because she was not moving and I couldn’t tell if she was breathing. I studied her for a second, willing her to take a breath when I saw her chest slowly rise and fill with air. I almost fell to the ground in relief. I sat next to her on and patted her, causing her to jump a little, but then she calmed down when she recognized my scent. That was when I saw the puddle of pee she was lying in, making me gag. She reminded me of an old lady who need depends because she can’t hold anything in. I felt bad for her so I brought her outside on the leash. I couldn’t help but laugh guiltily when I accidentally let her walk into the wall of the house. It took me a few minutes to guide her in the right direction, gently tugging her collar so she couldn’t walk into anything else out of blindness. I gave her a bath with the hose, using my own shampoo that smells like the salty breeze of the ocean. I think she really enjoyed all the pampering and the pleasant smell that she has lived with all her life.
I had known for a while that Mocha was getting worse and she was going to die sometime. Mocha has had many problems in her life like heartworm, Lyme disease, a pinched nerve in her back and getting hit by a car. Thirteen years is pretty old for a dog that has been through all that. I wanted her to die while doing something she loved, like hunting with my brother and dad or just sleeping in the sun. I never thought that I’d have to watch it happen. Lying in the back of a pick-up truck on an itchy old wool blanket doesn’t seem to me like the ideal place to die.
One afternoon my mom and I brought Mocha outside for some fresh air. Her ribs stuck out so far that you could put your fingers in between each one. She wouldn’t eat or drink and controlling her legs to stand up seemed like an impossible challenge. Dragging her feet along the ground blindly, she finally made it to my front yard. My mom and I sat down on the front steps and we watched her as she flopped down unsteadily on the grass. My mom told me that we were taking her to the vet later that day. She didn’t even have to say that it was to put her down, but I asked anyway. Staring at Mocha, I tried not to cry, but I wasn’t successful. The tears that seemed to have been welled up in my eyes for days finally trickled down. My mom went inside to get the camera so we could take some last pictures of Mocha. I posed with her what seemed like a million times, the whole time thinking about how in just a couple hours, I wouldn’t have a dog to play with for the first time in my life.
My dad lifted Mocha into the back of his jet black pick-up truck, which is as old as me. It was easy to lift her because she had gone from above 110 pounds down to 80 in just a few months, due to not eating everything in sight like she used to. I felt bad for her because it couldn’t have been very comfortably to bounce around in the back of a truck on a thin blanket, so I gave her a handful of treats when we got to the vet. My whole family, and my brother’s girlfriend who was visiting from Maine that week, piled out of the two cars it took to get us there.
My whole family crowded around the back of the pickup truck where Mocha was lying, totally oblivious of what was about to happen. My dad and I sat in the bed of the truck with her, comforting her and occasionally giving her little multicolored bone-shaped treats. I had my long, sun-bleached hair in a veil around my face so nobody could see all of the salty tears streaming down my face, but I’m sure everyone figured I was crying anyway, due to my constant sniffling. It took a while for the vet to come out, so we all just comforted Mocha and thought about her long, happy life.
I looked around at my family and tried to figure out what each of them was thinking. My dad was probably thinking about all of the times she sat next to him in the barn while he worked on a boat engine or some random object he was fixing up. My mom was probably feeling guilty for how Mocha loved her even when she made it appear that she didn’t love Mocha back. My brother Brian was probably wishing he had spent more time with her, and his girl friend was probably thinking about how happy Mocha had been when she first met her, and how miserable she looked just then. My brother William was most likely thinking about all of the times he had taken her hunting with him and she had retrieved the ducks he shot, no matter how far and hard they were to find. I mostly thought about all the fun stuff we had done together, like taking walks in the marsh under the hot sun, or riding my bike with her loping next to me excitedly. I thought about how everything I did outside was going to be so much lonelier without her, with no jovial chocolate lab shadowing my every move.
The vet came outside and climbed into the back of the truck with me, my dad, and Mocha. She explained that this was not going to hurt her at all and that the shot was just going to slow her body down until her heart had stopped. I was relieved that it wasn’t going to hurt her, but I still thought the whole idea was horrible because we were pretty much killing our own dog. She then proceeded to give Mocha the shot, the long needle that was put into her slowly emptied of the deadly clear liquid, and we all said, “Bye Mocha.” After a few seconds Mocha started twitching like an uneasy stallion being confronted by a swarm of flies. Then she took one last, deep shuddering breath, and sighed. The vet listened for Mocha’s heartbeat with her stethoscope in silence, and then slowly took the stethoscope from her ears. I looked away when the vet pushed the eyelids closed over Mocha’s vacant almond eyes, still wet, knowing the happiest dog in the world had died.