Choosing to Say Goodbye

November 1, 2010
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All my life, I have only had one dog. He was a West Highland White Terrier, and his name was Dennis. My parents purchased him the day they found out my mom was pregnant with my older brother Tommy. Dennis was so white that he blended into snow when he ran through it. Of course, I had owned other pets. The grand total of pets was a couple hermit crabs, two frogs, too many fish, but only one dog, Dennis. That is why choosing to suffer our own pain by ending his was one of the toughest decisions my family has ever had to make.

It was a Monday in July. I remember this because that day I went to the beach with my friends the Gardeners and Magnusons, and that Friday my family would be leaving for vacation. As a result of the vacation, my dog Dennis had to get ready to stay at a kennel while we were away. Dennis, at age seventeen now, had started to have some medical problems in the past year. Just in case his health worsened while we were gone, my mom had found an animal hospital with a 24-hour vet to tend to any problems Dennis had. That day was Dennis’s evaluation so the vets could meet him.

Ring-Ring-Ring! Mrs. Gardener’s cell phone rang.”Sheila, it’s your mom!” she exclaimed before she answered the phone. “Hey Kiki.” Changing to a calmer less enthused “How are you doing?”, Mrs. Gardener’s head nodded carefully as she let out an occasional “yah” or “uh-huh.” Finally, Mrs. Gardener said goodbyes and hung-up. Just then, she paused, looked at me in the rear-view mirror and said, “Hey, Sheila,” her lips pressed tightly together, “your mom’s really stressing about vacation, so how about you just come back to our house; and we’ll figure out what to do next.”

Obviously, it was more of a statement then a question, but I was not satisfied; my mom is known for how often and badly she gets stressed. There was something more going on here. Immediately, my head filled with all the awful possibilities, what if something had happened to my dad, my brother, my grandparents, the list went on and on. My palms started to shake as I picked up my phone and texted my dad and brother. As I pressed the send button, my thoughts started to settle. Surely, I thought, I was just making a bigger deal of this than it needed to be. A half-an-hour passed, and negative thoughts began to fill my mind once again. As we entered Arlington Heights, I grabbed the bull by its horns and texted my mother questioning why I could not come home.

After about fifteen minutes, the familiar ring of Mrs. Gardener’s phone sounded. It was my mother once again. “Okay,” Mrs. Gardener replied, “no problem. Whatever you both want.” At this moment, I knew I was going home; but I also was no longer sure if I really wanted to.

My driveway came into sight, and my mom stood on the porch, wiped her eyes, and came to the car. “Thanks again, Dina,” she said. I stepped onto the asphalt up to the steps to my house. As I took off my shoes, my mom slipped in the door as sly as a fox and walked to the living room. “What happened?” I intervened. “I mean, why did you not want me to come home?” Almost immediately, tears flowed down my mother’s cheeks. “It’s Dennis,” she sniffled. “He’s in kidney failure; we may have to put him down.”

“What?” I asked incredulously. Hot tears welled up in my eyes. I looked from my mom to my brother. “I- I’m sorry,” I sobbed as I bolted up the stairs into my room. I dove onto my bed as if it was a bath that would cleanse away this awful day. Tears started to fall freely as I buried my head into my pillow.

Why, I thought, not now. We can’t do this, I decided; he is our dog, and we can’t let him go that easily. Just then, I defiantly lifted my head to tell my family this conclusion, but then I saw a 5x7 picture of Dennis. The photo showed a baby and a toddler next to a little white dog. Wow, I thought as I looked at the toddler who had a mop of dark brown hair and the baby with light chestnut hair, this was my older brother and I. The dog, Dennis, had eyes that were as bright as the July sun and were filled with mischief and playfulness. Then I looked at the same dog, only older. This photo was taken earlier that year before Christmas. It was obviously the same dog, but his eyes which were as bright as the sun outside turned into a foggy, London evening; and the mischief and playfulness were gone.

I thought back to all the memories Dennis and I had shared; trying, but failing, to train him, the hundreds of Halloween costumes he refused to wear and the hours tirelessly barking just to go outside and run. Within the past year, Dennis had drastically changed. The arthritis in his hips no longer allowed him to run, and his loss of hearing and sight caused him to be almost oblivious to his surroundings. He was no longer the Dennis I had grown to know and adore. His fiery personality had faded, and he was in visible pain.

Knock-knock! “Sheila,” my mom sniffled from the doorway, “can I come in?’ Without waiting for a response, as usual, she walked over and placed herself at the foot of my bed. “I know how hard this is. We all love Dennis, and that’s why we can’t be selfish. The doctor said he’d keep Dennis over night; and if we want, they could put him through some tests which could give him a couple months but, Sheila, it’s inevitable now. It’s just a question of how much pain he goes through. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s fair to do that to him? He doesn’t understand why they’re doing this to him. We have to talk about this as a family; but do you think we should put him through all that just so we have one or two more months, if even that, with him?” she finally asked.

“No. It’s not.” I admitted to her and to myself. She was right, as usual. We had to let him go peacefully and end his pain.

We still had three days left with him. He came home for the last time on Tuesday, and he left us on Thursday. It was one of the hardest things my family and I had ever done. That Thursday night, there were lots of tears, but no regrets. It was the right thing to do. He had been our friend all those years, and it was time to be his friend.

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NooNoo said...
Nov. 7, 2010 at 10:16 am

Although I already knew how this story would end, I still cried.  Wonderful writing, wonderful feeling, wonderful everything!


Sheila N. replied...
Nov. 9, 2010 at 3:59 pm
Thank you NooNoo!!!
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