Three months ago today I was faced with the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make in my adult life. I had to euthanize my beautiful, loving dog, Oscar.
I found Oscar at the Toronto Humane Society on the morning of my birthday, 2002. We were each others’ best significant other for fifteen years. He was there, standing outside the bathroom door, every time I emerged from a shower. He came to the door whenever I returned home from work or shopping or socializing. He cocked his head to the side when I spoke to him. He nudged me with his nose and prodded me with his paws when he wanted to play, and inserted himself beside me on the couch when it was movie time. He was a constant, and when a constant is suddenly removed from the equation of your life, it can be devastating.
The first month I hardly knew up from down. The second month was more privately mournful. I kept having to remind myself that he was gone. I wanted so much to be convinced that he was in heaven or some other after-life scenario, but I am not at all convinced that trying to convince myself of these possibilities is healthy, wise, rational. My beautiful little guy is gone. And now I have to try to remember all the incredible times we shared. All the joy he brought, the love, the focus, the attention, the affection, the laughter. There was a LOT of laughter.
In his final year, his health declined. He was mostly blind and deaf, was afflicted with arthritis and, most likely, renal failure as evidenced in his escalating incontinence problem. I changed my work schedule to be able to accommodate him. I did it gladly, all of it, from the job change to reflooring my apartment to diapers, pee pads, belly belts, soft food…because. Just because. It’s what you do when you love and are loved. I only wanted him to be happy and comfortable and I hope I was able to. The thought of having failed him or having fallen short with respect to my care is devastating. I try not to linger on it, but I’d be lying if I were to deny it.
While I am glad to say that the weight of despair I’ve been feeling has been lifting slightly these last few weeks, I know deep, deep down in my heart that regardless of his physical absence, he will always be a part of my life—a very active one—even though he is no longer alive. I think about him all the time. How could I not? He was the first dog I had as an adult. Yes, he was very much like a child to me—as much as I can imagine.
To anyone who has ever lost a beloved animal or person, I empathize with your loss. It’s one of the many things I have learned about since that awful day three months ago. Another thing I’ve learned is that there are possibly two sides or elements to grief. You grieve for and miss the specific being who is now no longer alive, and you also grieve for the space or hole their absence has created, and because you know that being is not coming back, the ache for it to be filled by another joyous, loving, hilarious, rewarding relationship suddenly becomes a possibility—once you get past the initial anguish of the loss, the part that makes you think: I’ll never go through this again. I’ll never have another pet. For me, that phase lasted about three days. And then I encountered a neighbour’s dog and found that simple two-minute interaction lifted my spirits so much. Suddenly, almost subconsciously, the prospect of another dog was a viable option. And this is where I seem to be at. I am in the process of adopting another dog. I’ve already met him and he seems lovely. The adoption has been approved and now all that’s left are the minute details, the wheres, the whens and… the complete revamping of my apartment, currently underway.
I’m not sure why I’m posting this except to put it out into the world in the hopes that someone else in my situation will find it and take some comfort in it. Grief isn’t the hottest topic among friends and acquaintances, so I have learned, and so I have been trying to keep as low a profile as possible, not always with success. But even that seems to be lifting. As I continue to prepare for the arrival of this new dog, Oscar is coming up in my thoughts more and more frequently. He is irreplaceable, I know this. And this new dog is in no way an attempt to replace Oscar. It’s for my sanity and peace of mind. To have that responsive being in your presence, that very quiet and usually unspoken pride that you are caring for a vulnerable animal, and all the love you get just for doing that…. it’s probably the most incredible, uplifting, moving thing I’ll ever experience. I need it so much. It’s also to provide shelter and love to a dog who has been in a less than ideal circumstance so far in his life. Being an adult adoptee myself, the adoption process is very close to me, and while puppies are great, so are adult dogs. This is the route I am taking. I am hoping for a lot of good and great things to come from this new arrival.