We all know how dog stories end. I’ll just copy my post from Tasty Sauce.
“Hand me that file on Sweet Pea,” said Death. “I want to read something to you that you wrote when you filled out her medical history forms at the animal dermatologist.” He shuffled through the papers, found one and cleared his throat.
“‘Sweet Pea is a rescue dog who lived in a urine-soaked, maggot-infested truck camper. Her diet was mostly white rice, bread, baked goods, a little meat and cheap dog food. She was in misery with continuous scratching. She had an ear infection, bacterial, fungal and yeast skin infections, inflamed paw pads, severe hair loss, skin thickening and oozing, and she smelled like death.'” He stopped a moment, cocked an eyebrow and smiled. “I find that offensive, but I’ll let it pass. To continue: ‘After six months of veterinary care, good food and medicated shampoos, her symptoms have abated; but in less than a month off antibiotics, she starts itching and scratching again, and her belly skin starts feeling moist and it starts darkening again. I took corn and wheat out of her diet, and she seems to tolerate sweet potatoes and potatoes, but rice might be a trigger too. Sometimes she scratches after we go to the park — grass allergy? (heavy sigh).’”
Death set the papers down and leaned back in the chair. “Do you remember all that? You need to understand that Sweet Pea was on our schedule in May 2011. You swooped in, all love and concern and cubic dollars, and scooped her up. That’s fine with us — no problem there, the absolutely final day for a dog isn’t necessarily carved in stone — but everybody eventually has to make that appointment in Samarra. I mean everybody and everything that lives must die. People. Dogs. Snails. Corn and wheat and peas and presidents and cats. Fish don’t get off the hook, if you’ll pardon the pun.” He shrugged. “It’s nothing personal. Come on, you remember The Lion King, the circle of life and all that? You called Sweet Pea your baby and your little girl, but she was twelve and then some, which made her a rather elderly cattle dog. Just think about what you did for her! Instead of being put down at the shelter after the worst time of her life, she lived an extra fifteen months with you. That’s like, what, eight or nine human years? Medicine, food, water, treats, walks, nonstop petting — doggie heaven on earth, right?”
I nodded, still too choked up to speak, the box of tissues close at hand. I’d asked him here to get some answers, and I couldn’t even manage to ask the questions.
“People would stop you in the park and say, ‘What a beautiful dog! What gorgeous fur! How old is she, six, seven? TWELVE? You’re kidding!’ Did people not do this all the time?“
“Yes,” I whispered.
“And this isn’t the first time you’ve done this for an animal, you know. Your Sheba — come on, what dog her size lives thirteen years? Remember what your friend Clara said when she came to visit, and Sheba walked over, turned around, sat on your feet and waited for her massage? She said, ‘Haven’t you noticed when Sheba comes to you, she’s stiff and her arthritis hurts her, and when she walks away she’s walking normally? Your hands glow when you pet her. They shine. The love just pours out of your hands and makes her feel better.’ You remember that?”
“I do,” I said. “Clara sees auras.”
“Yes. And what did you see when the vet showed you Sweet Pea’s x-rays and ultrasound?”
“Two massive tumors in her abdomen. I just thought she was getting fat from all the treats and her metabolism slowing down.” I got teary again.
“That’s right. Cancer never crossed your mind. Why? Because she had no pain. Because every morning she came to you, rolled over, and you rubbed her belly and sang, ‘Oh, you beautiful dog, you great big beautiful dog…’”
I laughed, embarassed. “You know about that?”
“Please. I get a kick out of you. We all do.” He looked thoughtful. “That very morning, didn’t she do that thing where she practically stands on her head and looks at you upside down to get you to rub her butt above her tail? Didn’t she bound into the kitchen and gobble her breakfast? Sure, by the time you got home that afternoon she felt too crappy to move from the hallway, but come on! Give yourself a break! The dog didn’t even have twenty-four hours of pain. How long did it take your next-door neighbor to die of brain cancer?”
“I get your point,” I said, “but it still stabbed me in the heart when she turned her face away from the Thai green bean Steve put in front of her.”
“Yeah, Sweet Pea and her Thai beans.” He smiled and nodded. “But you didn’t just let that pass. You got her to the vet. You got the exams. You saw the tumors and the pool of blood inside the big one. You said your goodbyes, and she was gone in, what, five seconds? Even though I’m Death, I don’t get any pleasure from the suffering of any creature. But everybody’s got to go eventually, and let’s be honest — you’d pretty much run out the clock to the maximum on Sweet Pea. Good call on the shot — it was going to get really ugly, really quickly.”
“So, explain something to me.” I leaned in, looking him in the eye. “I know it was the right thing to do, a choice that almost made itself when I saw the exam results. Why do I feel as if I let her down?”
He sighed. “The simple answer is, you’re half-nuts. Most people are, or they make themselves that way eventually.” He shook his head. “Let me point out that interspecies relationships are a two-way street. On the one hand, you were Sweet Pea’s mommy; on the other hand, you were the alpha leader of your little pack. This is not news to you.” He waited; I nodded. “The alpha has to decide what’s good for the pack and make the hard choices. You did your job. So don’t do your usual human bullshit with the shoulda woulda coulda. It’s a waste of time, and it’s not a news flash that there’s more time behind you than in front.”
“Thanks for the reminder. So, how much time do I have left?”
“That’s classified. If I told you…” He smiled and waited for me to deliver the punchline.
“You’d have to kill me.”
“There it is.”