I had to put Oliver to sleep on Saturday morning. He became very sick, very quickly, and there was nothing that anyone could do. I made the decision on Friday, but I selfishly kept him one more night, hugging him next to me in bed all night.
I took him to an emergency vet clinic early the next morning. They gave me time to sit with him and feed him some junk food, though he didn’t eat much. They gave him a sedative. I told he was a good boy, and he lay down on the ground with his head in my lap and thumped his tail on the ground. As the sedative began to take effect, he started licking his nose with his long, pink tongue. After a few minutes, his tongue began to not go all the way back into his mouth. I began to cry, hard, and tucked his tongue back between his large white teeth, but each time it would come out, again, and retreat only a little, so that his tongue was sticking out in a tiny ruffle. It was absurd and horrible, and I cried so hard that the nurse who came in to see how we were doing began to cry. I also realized that he was drooling, and that my jeans were soaked through. He was still breathing, but shallowly; his tail wasn’t wagging anymore, and his eyes were half-closed, like they used to be in doggie ecstasy when I rubbed my thumb down the middle of his head.
The vet came in with a nurse, and they knelt down next to him. The vet spoke all of the steps out loud, slowly, deliberately.
“I’m just putting some alcohol on his leg,” she said, rubbing the wet cotton ball on the fur on his back leg, “and now I’m inserting the needle.” She inserted the needle, attached to a tube, on the other end of which was a syringe full of liquid. His blood backtracked into the tube a bit.
“I’m putting in the first part of the injection.” She depressed the plunger, slowly. She took a second syringe and replaced the first.
“This is the last part,” she said. After it was empty, she took her stethoscope to his ribcage–warming it up with her breath before placing it on his fur–and listened. His large barrel chest, around which I had so often wrapped my arms, went still. His golden eyes were still open, just a little. I buried my face in his fur and cried and cried.
The vet removed the stethoscope. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “Stay here as long as you need to.”
I stayed with Oliver for a long time. I tried to put my hands over his eyes to make them close, like I’d seen in the movies, but they wouldn’t close. I cried and stoked his soft ears and kissed his spots. I told him I was sorry he hadn’t been able to see snow. I told him that he was brave, and that I loved him so much. After I couldn’t bear to stay any longer, I stood up and walked out. Outside, it was raining.
Oliver was an amazing dog. He took care of me. He was funny and silly and kind and cuddly. He was a strange little miracle–showing up on the freeway, coming into my life during a time of growth and uncertainty. He stayed by my side through fear and heartbreak, though happiness and joy.
After I came home, I was sitting with my friend Amy, and she told me, “My favorite sound in the world is a dog getting up for water in the middle of the night.”
I immediately thought of that sound–the sloshing of water against the side of the bowl, the gentle slurp of a dog tongue, the sounds echoing in the hollow of the kitchen, the silence of the night.
I keep expecting him to be here. The house is quiet. Every time I drop something on the floor, I expect him to come running around the corner to investigate, his nails clicking on the hardwood. When the next door neighbor’s dog barks, I keep listening for the echoing bark. But there’s nothing but the sound of my own breathing.