The best 10-and-half-years of my life have officially ended. I have not known loss as an adult until now.
The year after I graduated college, I was living with my best friend Annie in an apartment that did not allow dogs. I would obsess over my friend’s family dog – a little Yorkie mix if I remember correctly. I called her Rags even though that was definitely not her name. I eventually decided to get a dog and name him Rags, even though I didn’t know where to find him.
In early November 2006, I saw an ad in the newspaper for peke-a-poo puppies (it turns out there is no Pekingese in Rags whatsoever, but Lhasa Apso instead, hence lhasapoo) who were almost ready to leave their mom. My best guy friend Jason and I drove to the woman’s house in Springfield. There were only a few “unclaimed” puppies left in the litter and I remember their names were Sneakers, Lilo, Stitch, and Marcus. Marcus? What a weird name for a dog, especially because the others had such cute names. When I picked him up, he launched himself from my arms and fell onto the floor. I joke that it was a “you break it, you buy it” situation, but really I just knew I wanted the feisty one.
A week or two later, “Marcus” was ready to come home. I drove to get him on a very cold day. As I was driving, I heard a huge clunk and my car just died. I pulled over and called my dad to come get me, and then called the “breeder” (I’m not sure what to call her – she wasn’t breeding purebreds but her dogs had several litters over the years) and explained the situation. I was desperate for my puppy, but she didn’t want him sitting in a cold, dead car even though I was about a block away from her house. So I had to wait. Eventually my dad picked me up in his truck and my car was towed away (turns out engines need oil and my engine literally dried up and fell out of my car because I was ignoring the oil light for months). I drove my dad back to his office then finally went to get my puppy.
Our first car ride together sure was memorable. He cried and cried and cried on the front seat of my dad’s giant suburban, which I could barely reach the pedals of. To cheer him up, I thought it would be a good idea to stop at Petco and get him some toys (I already had the essentials). The sights and smells turned out to be too much, and he puked all over this little toy that I was then forced to purchase. In the end, I learned from the vet that I should’ve never brought him to a pet store or around other dogs before he had the rest of his vaccines. Oops.
Now officially renamed, Rags spent Thanksgiving sleeping upside down on my lap. We tried to cordon him off in the living room while we ate, but he was having none of it, so I eventually gave in. And that was the day I created a spoiled brat. From then on, Rags spent every meal glued to my chair, begging.
Annie and I were Rags’ two mommies. He spent time alone during the day when we were at work, but seemed to adjust well. He had accidents but we both loved him so much that we didn’t care. At Christmas, we decorated the tree with all these brightly colored glass balls, and Rags ate every single one within reach. He should have died from shredding his insides with glass, but instead he just pooped out all the glass. The vet could not explain why he was so unscathed.
When we moved out in February, the landlord told us there had been complaints about a dog barking and that she knew we had one illegally. Another oops.
And of course, we moved into a new apartment that also didn’t allow dogs. But right before we moved in, my dad suffered a major heart attack. He almost died and it threw my whole world upside down. I will never forget the Saturday I was at the office with Rags – I worked for the then-Springfield Falcons, and it was a gameday, so I was at the office for a few hours in the morning to prep, and Rags always came along for those short shifts. My mom called and was freaking out and yelling about my dad and a heart attack and an ambulance, thus freaking me out. I was around the corner from the hospital, so I ran into the legendary Bruce Landon’s office and told him what happened, and he begrudgingly agreed to dogsit in the office. I got to the hospital to find my dad upright and talking, but confirming that he was having a major heart attack. It was the strangest thing. He ended spending a few days there, so I brought Rags home and took the night off from work.
Our new apartment was just a few minutes away from my parents’ house, which I had to pass to get to work. So every morning, I would open my Vera Bradley duffel bags, Rags would jump in, I would sneak him out of the apartment and into my car, then drop him off to spend the day with my dad, who spent several months at home recovering. They would take 15 walks a day, and when I wanted to go out at night, Rags stayed with my parents. Sometimes I would get there so late I’d sleep on the couch with him, and not bother driving the 10 minutes home.
When I got accepted to the University of Florida for grad school and told my dad I’d be moving with Rags, he was heartbroken. They spent every weekday together and lots of weekends, too. So it was perfect timing in May when the breeder called me and said her dogs had another litter, and asked if I knew anyone who was interested. I brought Rags with us to the visit the new puppies – his dad clearly forgot who he was and tried to eat him – and my dad picked out Cocoa, who became Shaggy or Shagwagon or just The Wagon. Shaggy and Rags were brothers of some sort, and they adored each other. They spent the whole drive down the Florida cuddled next to each other, in or near my dad’s lap as he drove. Watching my dad and Shaggy drive away from my lonely new apartment was so sad for me, but I think Rags was beside himself as well.
Eventually, we came to love Florida. My roommate had a declawed cat, and he and Rags would roll around like lovers. They were the best of friends and he was so sad when my roommate and her cat moved out. My new roommate’s cat wasn’t a big fan of Rags, and he wasn’t a fan of my new roommates. I had to buy them new underwear because he became obsessed with eating the crotches of their panties. Sometimes we wouldn’t even notice until he pooped polka dots or purple stripes. He ate so much underwear that the vet said he should have digestive problems, but he always pooped them out a few days later. There go those intestines of steel again.
I was not a responsible dog owner at first. I loved Rags with my whole heart, but I partied in grad school to make up for all the partying I didn’t do during undergrad, and Rags spent several nights locked in his crate or wandering the apartment. I was wildly inconsistent with the crating, and he would often pee or poop on my bed when I left him alone too long. The vet said it was Rags’ way of showing me he was mad at me for leaving him.
We had a lot to learn, and those 2 years of grad school were rough on us both but we had so much fun, as well. My then-boyfriend’s parents lived about 45 minutes away, so we’d visit them often. They had a big yellow lab named Riley. Rags didn’t do well with bigger dogs, but eventually Riley put him in his place and they became the best of friends. One day, my we had just gotten home from a weekend with his parents, and Rags jumped out of the car without his leash on. He ran straight into the mouth of the nasty Rottweiler who lived next door to my boyfriend (we lived in the same complex, but in different apartments) and was always chained up out back – illegal in Florida. We both ran to Rags and my boyfriend ended up wrestling Rags out of this dog’s jaws. I will never forget the sound of his screaming, “No!” as he cried, thinking Rags was a goner. Fortunately, Rags and my boyfriend both survived, but had some pretty bad battle wounds. It was our fault that he had gotten out without his leash, but we involved the police because the other dog’s owners were illegally chaining him up. A few months later, I was walking Rags out of my boyfriend’s apartment and the dog escaped out the front door, and as soon as I picked up Rags, he jumped and attacked us both. The owner grabbed him immediately, but it was the last straw. I called 911 on the spot and I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I never saw the dog or the owner again.
When I graduated and moved to Ft. Myers to a condo by myself, I vowed to take better care of him. I had always been religious about taking him to his checkups and getting him groomed regularly and keeping him on flea prevention (man, we struggled so much with those Florida fleas until I found Trifexis), but I wasn’t home enough and diligent enough about walk schedules. But we were grownups, now.
Rags was now officially crate-trained. He would even go into his crate in the morning when he could tell I was getting ready to leave. He basically never had an accident ever again, aside from the rare occasions he got sick. I lived in that gorgeous condo for 8 months until the owner wanted to rent it out for 4x as much (because January-April = tourist season in Ft. Myers), so I moved into a much smaller, one-bedroom apartment. Rags and I loved that apartment so much. It was modern and bright, with plenty of space for the two of us but small enough that cleaning was manageable.
About 6 months after we moved in, I started a new job around the corner. Almost every day, I went home for lunch to let Rags out and sit next to him while I ate. The apartment complex had a huge lake in the middle, which we’d walk around every night after dusk. It was hot all the time, so Rags loved jumping into the fountain at the entrance. As this was Florida where alligators live, Rags wasn’t allowed in any lakes or streams, but he did love that fountain.
Shortly after moving to Ft. Myers, I found out about an off-leash dog beach in Bonita, between Ft. Myers and Naples. I took Rags there almost every weekend. Like he had been his whole life, he was a jerk to other dogs except ones his size or smaller, so the beach visits were sometimes stressful but he loved the ocean so damn much. He loved to be able to just wade in and out, and then lie on the warm sand. My car had sand in every crevice possible, but I didn’t care. I’ve never seen Rags as happy as he was on that beach.
One day on a walk around the apartment complex, we were coming around the corner and walked right into a woman walking her two big dogs. The dogs must’ve spooked each other, and they immediately started attacking Rags. She called her dogs off right away and I grabbed Rags, but I could barely walk back to my apartment with him in my arms because I had gotten so cut up. She offered to drive me and said she was so sorry, she had just moved in that day and her dogs were freaking out, and gave me her number when I declined the ride. I ended up taking Rags to the vet where he needed a few stitches and some medications, and she paid the vet bill. We ended up becoming friendly and I went over her apartment a few times for a glass of wine.
When I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease and hospitalized for two days, I tried to get my co-worker to sneak Rags into the hospital but instead she just took care of him. I was hospitalized again about a year later when they found a tumor on my thyroid and I was having trouble swallowing, and my boyfriend also could not be convinced to sneak Rags into the hospital. In fact, he didn’t stay with me or Rags. He let Rags out twice a day, but turned out to be a total loser for leaving us both alone during a very scary time, so I ended it shortly afterward.
By 2012, I was homesick beyond consolation. I got a job and canceled my lease, and my dad flew down the first week of February and we drove back to Massachusetts with Rags and whatever I could fit in my little Toyota Corolla. I ended up living with my dad for about a year-and-a-half until I finally found my dream job in Boston. That time with my dad (and brother and Shaggy) was great for Rags, except that we lost all that great crate-training. He and Shaggy were the best of friends, and Rags especially loved the 10 daily walks with my dad and playing rough with my brother.
When we moved to Boston, I tried to re-crate train him, but my roommate texted me the very first day I went to work to say that Rags had chewed a hole and was half escaped from his crate. Yes folks, my dog chewed his way out of a metal crate. I tried 2 more days to crate him, and he did the same thing, so my roommate let him out and said not to worry about him having free reign of the house. Except I was worried. So I took him to doggie daycare and he did great, but then the next time they said he was very naughty and would not be welcome back if he misbehaved again. It was also so expensive on my measly salary, so in the end, my roommate and I agreed to let Rags stay home in the house all day. If I was stuck at work late or missed my train, Frank would walk him. Rags loved Frank SO much. When Frank decided to sell his house, I was most sad about Rags not getting to be around Frank every day.
We ended up moving in with a girl and her dog to an apartment in Brighton. She had lived in the apartment for 4 years, and she had a coworker who knew my coworker, so I thought it would be perfect. Except it wasn’t. First of all, moving into someone else’s apartment always sucks. There was barely room for my stuff in the living room, closet or kitchen. And she turned out to be a bit of a psycho, so Rags and I lived in my bedroom with the door shut. She made so many accusations and threats that I had to put up a baby gate to keep our dogs separated during the day, and I spent every second away from Rags worrying about him. In February, it all came to a head over a phone call I heard her making about how I treated my dog like shit and was never home (not true at ALL) with him. Rags lived with my dad for 3 weeks and I eventually found a subletter (sorry sucker) and moved back in with my dad for 3 months until my brother and I got our apartment together, right next door to the psycho.
That was in June 2015, and we’ve been here ever since. Rags loved this apartment. We had our walking routes – which were different for morning walks, post-work walks, and evening walks. We even had a special weekend morning or work-from-home morning walk that took us down to this little city park where we often saw the same small dog with her owner. We had a few small dog “friends” from over the years, but Rags liked to be the only dog in my life. My dad got a second dog shortly after I moved to Boston, and Rags liked playing with Magee much more than he liked playing with Shaggy.
On Labor Day Weekend in 2015, my dad let the dogs outside our cottage in the Adirondacks before dawn like he always did. He saw all three dogs chase after something, and realized it was a baby porcupine. Rags ran back to my dad covered in quills, and my dad took them out right away and then they went out for a walk. Except, Rags was still covered in them but it was dark and you couldn’t tell. My dad left to go get coffee and Rags back to my bed, whimpering. As soon as I petted him to get him to go back to sleep, I felt the quills. I jumped out of bed and flipped on the light, and realized what they were. I began ripping them out in a panic, as he cried and made sounds I had never heard before and hope to never hear an animal make again. I was struggling to get several of them out, and as soon as my dad got back I told him we needed to go to the vet immediately. Rags was shivering on the ride – he was going into shock. As soon as we got there, they rushed him right into the back. He ended up needing emergency surgery to remove a couple of the quills that had gone into his chest. They thought they got them all, but I pulled two out of his back the next days, as his body began rejecting them and forcing them back to the surface. He was drugged up for the first 24 hours but clearly miserable, so I stopped giving him the pain meds, and he happily returned to running around, swimming in the creek, and going for walks.
I was first told about Rags’ heart murmur a few years ago, after moving to Boston. The vet said he had likely had it all his life and that it wasn’t much of a concern. They were more worried about his liver enzymes, which had been increasing every few months for his whole life. They were off the charts, but even after advanced testing, we couldn’t figure it out why. When Rags turned 10, I finally convinced the vet to stop hounding me about the liver enzymes. He had no symptoms and no other unusual lab results, and I just wanted to let my 10-year-old dog enjoy life without being poked and prodded. After all, he had survived two attacks by other dogs, and a run-in with a porcupine. He was invincible!
A month after turning 10, Rags suffered his first seizure. It had been raining, and he hated to be wet. I live on the 3rd floor but it should be considered the 4th because there’s a full flight of stairs just to get into the building. We were on the landing between the 2nd and 3rd floors, when he stopped walking. He was panting and almost wheezing after shaking himself to dry off, and it was like he couldn’t catch his breath. He went still for a moment, then slowly and gently collapsed onto his side and began twitching uncontrollably. He didn’t thrash but I was freaking out and crying and saying “No!” and carried him back into my apartment. The episode only lasted about 10 seconds, but it was terrifying. He didn’t lose his bladder or bowels (he had just done both outside), and he seemed dazed for about a minute then TOTALLY fine. I called into work and rushed him to the vet and spent the day learning it was likely related to his heart murmur, which had gotten worse. He had two more seizures that week and we ended up at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital’s ER one Sunday, where he was diagnosed with mitral valve disease. It turned out the episodes weren’t seizures, but syncope – dramatic fainting episodes where his heart temporarily wasn’t giving his brain enough oxygen.
I thought we were going to be OK, but it was a scary and stressful 6 months. He declined pretty quickly, and each time we visit the cardiologist she said the scans are worse. It wasn’t until the last month that his personality changed. He smiled less, began refusing his meds (hidden inside Pill Pocket treats), stopped wanting to eat his own food, and became restless in the sense that he couldn’t seem to get comfortable. He would also stare at me or off into space when I was getting ready in the morning. He did OK with my mom when I was in DC. She even figured out that if you gave him his meds inside a Pill Pocket but with a piece of chicken squished into it – but she got worried on the last day of my trip when he seemed to have more coughing fits and was breathing fast, even when he was lying down. Once we got back to Boston, he was straight-up refusing to his own food so I started cooking him chicken, beef and salmon and mixing it in with his dry food. He seemed to like that a lot. We went on several long walks each day, and his energy level on walks seemed amazing but as soon as we’d get home, he was a vegetable staring off into space. He stopped lying down – the fluids around his heart/lungs builds up unless he’s sitting upright – and began having sleepless nights. He pooped in the apartment two days in a row while I was at work. He woke me up at 3, 4, or 5am every day to go outside.
A month ago, we scheduled a follow-up visit with the cardiologist for last Friday. I planned to ask her some questions, and confirm he wasn’t suffering. Except that morning, he woke me up at 5am to go outside but could barely walk. When we got back inside, he was panting. We eventually fell back asleep lying sideways across my bed, face-to-face, me holding his paw. I was afraid we wouldn’t make our noon appointment, but eventually the panting turned into a puppy dream where I could tell he was dreaming about running and barking and playing. He was still off an hour later when I got out of bed to work from home, but when the exterminator came at 10am to address our mouse problems, Rags came to life. In true Rags fashion, he tried to eat the exterminator at first and then became his best friend. I drove him to the vet feeling much better.
When we got there, the scale showed he had gained half a pound, so cooking him human food had paid off! Or so I thought. The doctor was worried that it might actually be fluid buildup. We talked at length about the weird morning and the noticeable changes in recent weeks. She took him back to do a chest ultrasound and check his kidney levels – the Lasix he’s on can cause kidney issues.
When she brought him back about 20 minutes later, she said the fluid was the same or worse than it had been a month ago, so adding Lasix hadn’t really helped. She said we had three options.
- Try Viagra. No joke. It reduces lung pressure, making it easier for him to breathe. The cost would be $400 a month and he was not a prime candidate. She thought there was about a 25% chance it would help him.
- Up the Lasix from 25mg twice a day to 37.5mg twice a day, meaning he’d have to pee more.
- Do nothing – consider Rags “on hospice” and either schedule an appointment for euthanasia or wait for him to be in crisis mode.
She confirmed he was not in pain and not suffering in the sense that he was struggling to breathe, but that he was clearly uncomfortable and “hanging on” for me. I was not OK with that. Rags has been so good to me for 10.5 years that the thought of him fighting so hard just for me broke my heart. In the end, we talked about what euthanasia really meant and if was too soon – it was not. I wanted her to be the doctor to do it, and she agreed. She said it could be that day, or that she would be back on Tuesday for the rest of the week. She did want me to increase his Lasix either way, to keep him more comfortable. She asked me to email her assistant on Monday and let her know how the weekend went, but by the time I got home, my mind was made up. Just the thought of him entering crisis mode and dying in an emergency room situation, by himself, killed me. I wanted to be there so he wouldn’t be scared or alone. And I wanted it to be when he was still feeling like as much of himself as possible.
I called my parents. My dad promised to be there whenever I needed him, and we agreed that Wednesday sounded good. As stupid as it sounds, I literally HAD to go to my client’s office for at least an hour on Tuesday morning around 9am, so I didn’t want to come home, take Rags to the vet, and say goodbye. I wanted to come home, spend a whole day with him, wait for my dad to get here on Wednesday morning, let them spend some time together, then take him to the vet to say goodbye. I called my boss to tell her my plan and she couldn’t have been more supportive. She just moved to San Francisco to open an office for our company there, and kept saying she wished she could hug me. I told a few other co-workers – I would be working from home Monday, going to the client’s office for as short a visit as possible Tuesday then working from home the rest of the day, then taking Wednesday off. I said I would see how I felt Thursday and Friday, but that I thought being home alone in my empty, Rags-less apartment might be a bad idea. They encouraged me to take Monday and Tuesday off instead of working from home, but Rags has been so tired lately that we’re just sitting around the apartment anyway – might as well get work done and save my vacation/sick time for another time.
As soon as we got home from the vet, Rags got into his bed and went to sleep. He hadn’t done that in weeks. He’d been lying on the floor or just sitting up and staring. It was like he saw me sobbing in the exam room and then for the rest of the day at home, and knew it was OK to start letting go. He was very sleepy all weekend. He was so tired that I didn’t take him out an extra time before bed on Friday night, which was a mistake. We both slept so well that we didn’t wake up at all during the night, but when he woke me up at 6am and let me know he needed to go outside, I couldn’t get out of bed and dressed fast enough. He ran to the corner of the living room where he pooped twice last week, and peed an ocean right in front of my brother. I felt so bad for him. It wasn’t like he lost control of his bladder – he told me he needed to go out and I didn’t move fast enough. With Lasix, he really needs that one final late-night pee before bed in order to not have an accident in the morning. I’ll be honest, I had 3 beers in quick succession on Friday night to drown my sorrows, which made me slow and groggy Saturday morning.
After we went back to bed for a few hours, I tried to get Rags to eat something, anything. In the end, he had a few bites of salmon I had cooked him the night before, a few bites of his wet dog food he’d refused to touch for the previous week, and a few bites of my eggs. I took him to the groomer for our 9am appointment. I explained his state and coughing fits, and they agreed to let me go into the back with him. I was close enough if he had trouble, but he couldn’t see/hear me so he was mostly well-behaved for the groomer. She was able to get out most of the matted hair – something he’s never had in his whole life, but my focus had been on keeping him alive for the past few weeks, not well-groomed. It wasn’t a full groom and I was a little surprised they charged me full price especially knowing he was being put to sleep 5 days later, but whatever.
The rest of the day was a constant back-and-forth between letting him outside to pee/poop but not really take a walk, trying to get him to eat, and admiring his old-new ability to nap so much. I ran to Target to pick up some essentials, and bought him a bag of Beggin’ Strips and two cans of stinky, wet, chunky dog food – two things he was never allowed to have. He loved both.
Sunday was a much better day, except for him waking me up at 2am to go for a full walk. Then we went back to sleep until 6:30am. After I ran 18 miles (which sadly kept me out of the house and away from Rags for 3+ hours), he seemed to be in good spirits. I’d been giving him an extra dose of Lasix mid-day which meant he had to pee a lot more, but was hopefully feeling better than he had in a while. We went outside a lot, and after a bath (for me) and a nap, I took him to Shake Shack where I got us each a plain cheeseburger and him a Pooch-tini – frozen custard + peanut butter + a Milkbone. I let him eat half of the cheeseburger – sans bun – and about 1/3 of the ice cream. He also ate more stinky wet food, chicken, and some eggs. He was difficult about his meds, despite the fact that they are hidden inside Pill Pockets and covered with grilled chicken – I think he finally figured out that the chicken was a disguise. I had to force meds down his throat a few times which is just truly an awful experience. He would gag and I would feel terrible, but I knew he needed them. We ended up taking two really long walks, including one before bed where if I had let him, we would’ve needed a cab ride home. I was trying to let him lead the way but it was brutally cold, so I had to draw the line somewhere.
On Monday, Rags woke me up at 4:30am to go out. Fortunately, we went back to bed until after 7am, then took a nice, long walk to the park he loves. He fought me on his meds again, but I rewarded him with a fried egg. I noticed he wouldn’t eat it off the plate/bowl on the floor, but ate it off the plate if I held it up to his level, or hand-fed him pieces. I thought there might be a gravity/fluid buildup issue at play here, so I put his food bowl up on a box. It turned out that would be the last time he ate off a plate. From Monday morning on, he would only eat of my hand – including a full can of wet food. I almost puked 17 times handing him chunks of nasty Pedigree, but if it meant he ate, so be it.
We played hooky for an hour and went to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. I knew it was supposed to rain Tuesday and Wednesday, and it had been too cold over the weekend so I wanted to go during daylight hours and when there would be fewer big dogs around. He ended up doing so well! Since we discovered the Reservoir, he’s always been too tired to do the full 1.5-mile loop (we’ve done it but I’ve had to carry him at some point), but not this time! We crossed multiple items off his bucket list:
- Do the full 1.5-mile loop ✓
- Chase geese ✓
- Roll in a dead animal/other animal’s poop (I think this was his ploy to get me to take off his jacket) ✓
- Take a selfie where we have the same hairdo ✓
Throughout the rest of Monday, Rags got the second half of Sunday’s cheeseburger, shredded cheese, lots of chicken (bot with and without meds), and more frozen custard. His energy was good despite so much walking, and we walked for over an hour before bed even thought it was cold out.
At 5:45am on Tuesday, I had to gently wake him and then drag him out of bed to go for a walk. Turns out we had covered 5 miles on Monday! No wonder he was tired! Unfortunately I HAD to go to my client’s office for an hour, but when I told them why I had to leave they were so supportive and rushed me back home. When I got home, I had an email from the cardiologist offering me a 3pm appointment on Wednesday. That gave me 27 hours with Rags. The time made it seem so final, but I knew it was right.
Rags was tired the rest of the day. I dumped every toy he owned into a pile and let him play with each one at least once, but he mostly just wanted to relax. We took several long walks, including another 1+ hour walk before bed, and hung out in the living room until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. He was very cuddly, more than normal – as he had been for several days – and we fell asleep back-to-back, touching.
He woke me up around 4am on Wednesday morning, and we went outside for a quick pee before going back to bed until 7am. When I woke up again, he was snoring gently and I tried to take one last picture of him sleeping in my bed, but he woke up as soon as I stirred. He sat on my chest and gave me “good morning” kisses, which I only used to get a few times a week and not as much lately because he was often waking up needing to go out immediately. We took an hourlong walk that ended at the cafe across the street, where I ran inside to get myself an ice coffee and him a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. Like the good pup he always was, he waited outside, within eyesight. When we got home, I was saddened that he only wanted the bacon – not the egg and cheese he had always loved so much. But bacon is better than nothing! We cuddled for a few hours and waited for my dad to arrive from Western Mass. Just as my dad walked in the door, Rags was polishing off the last piece of an entire breast of grilled chicken. I had to handfeed him, but he ate it all in about 90 seconds.
We drove up to Woburn – about 30 minutes north of Boston – where we used to live. I used to take Rags to Horn Pond every weekend. Some days we’d do a short walk, others long. We both preferred the trails through the woods instead of the paved sidewalks, but always made a stop at the little beach area where he could wade in, and Wednesday was no different. It was cold but he must’ve known it would be his last swim.
It turns out we covered over 2.5 miles on the walk, and he seemed tired at one point so I carried him for about 90 seconds, but he was eager to walk again and was fine after that. We drove home on the backroads, with his head sticking so far out the window I thought he might go flying if we hit a pothole.
We had about an hour at home until we had to leave again, and Rags cuddled close to my dad on the couch but I did steal him for about 10 minutes to cuddle alone on my bed. Before I knew it, it was time to go. For the first time in a long time, Rags hesitated before getting in the car. It was like he knew where we were going and didn’t want to go. But pretty soon he was hanging out the open window as we drove, and had a big cheesy grin on his face. When we got the hospital, they brought us into a private room and then quickly moved us into the actual procedure room, which was set up like a living room with leather couches, a private bathroom, tissues, that stupid “Rainbow Bridge” poem framed on the wall, and nothing medical-looking at all. They took Rags into the back to insert the IV, but no meds yet. Eventually, the doctor came in to explain the process. My dad and I agreed that I would be alone with Rags and the doctor for the actual procedure, so he spent a few minutes saying bye to Rags before stepping out. When the doctor came back, I felt such a sense of peace. Rags actually lied down on his blanket with his bear and waited for her. He’s never been so calm at the vet. He was a little feisty when he saw her coming at him with a needle (it was just saline to check the IV line), which is exactly how I expected him to be – he was 100% Rags.
The process was very quick but so calm and peaceful. She let me know that his heart had slowed, and then that he was gone. I cried a little but was surprisingly OK. It was just like he was sleeping, so I think I was in a bit of denial. I petted him for several minutes while we talked about what a great life he’d had. I knew I had to take his blanket home with me (he couldn’t be cremated with anything), but I hated the thought of leaving him lying on the cold floor, so I actually picked him up myself and carried into the adjoining exam room. The doctor promised me he’d only be there for a minute before she removed the IV and moved him somewhere more comfortable. I gave him a kiss and fixed his ear – they were so floppy and always ended up inside out! – and the doctor escorted me out the side door so I wouldn’t have to go through the lobby. When I walked outside, the sun was shining so brightly. I couldn’t help but think about how much Rags loved to close his eyes and turn his face to toward the sun, and I did the same. I’m not sure what I believe in anymore, but I felt him in the sunshine.
I let my dad go home as soon as we got back to my apartment. I was feeling OK – it turned out I was just numb – and I felt like I wanted to be alone. I also knew he had a long drive home in traffic. I gave him all of Rags’ toys, except for the bear and stuffed bone, and all his leftover treats to give to his dogs as a gift from Rags. I packed up all of Rags’ things right away, and checked every drawer and cupboard so that things wouldn’t sneak up on me someday. I felt bad throwing away all his unused meds – I know they were expensive for me so I wished I could help out some other pet owner who couldn’t afford them, but that’s unfortunately not a thing due to safety issues, so I had to toss them all. I put the rest of his things in my room, hidden on the other side of my bed, to be donated to the adoption center at Angell, probably this weekend. I took his tag off his harness and kept it close by me all night, and I know it sounds weird, but I put his bear and stuffed bone on his spot of my bed so it didn’t feel quite so empty.
I thought it would be cathartic to post some pictures on Facebook and let everyone know Rags was gone, but all the wonderful comments and text messages that resulted just sent me into a downward spiral and I could not stop loudly sobbing for the rest of the night. I fell asleep on the couch a few times in tears, but when I finally moved to my bed, sleep wouldn’t come. I took Benadryl and drank some chamomile tea, and eventually fell asleep snuggling his red blanket, but woke up around midnight unable to fall back asleep for over an hour. From then on, I only slept in fits, and woke up crying several times. It was awful. The grief was just so overwhelming, and I was realizing that he was gone and not coming back. I know it will get a little easier each day, and I know in my heart that I did the right thing by putting his need for peace ahead of my need to co-exist with him in this world, but I still can’t believe that it’s real.
When I finally got out of bed on Thursday, I had no idea how long I would need to get ready. My routine had always included bundling him up (during winter), taking him for a 20-minute walk, feeding him, changing his water bowl, and – in recent months – giving him his meds. None of that would be part of my routine anymore. I got to work an hour earlier than normal, and arrived to flowers and a card signed by the whole office. I broke down for about the 15th time that morning, and would continue to do so every time someone came over to my desk to ask me how I was or tell me how sorry they were.
After work, I met my DFMC teammates for our weekly Thursday night run, and cried again, several times. I had barely eaten or slept all week, and could only manage 3 painful miles (I also hadn’t stretched or foam-rolled since before my 18-mile run on Sunday). Two of my amazing teammates bought me beers and I treated myself to a third, trying to delay going home to my empty apartment as long as possible. When I finally did – around 11pm – I was buzzed and exhausted, but it didn’t stop the waterworks. There was no clicking of toes on the hardwood floor when I put the key in the lock and no prancing puppy to greet me. I sobbed myself to sleep, snuggling his blanket, and finally slept.
On Friday, I barely cried before work. I didn’t even cry at work until around 3:30 (48 hours later, almost down to the minute), when the cremation place called me to tell me Rags’ ashes were ready to be picked up. I was shocked. They had told me it would be 5-7 business days – probably because most people opt to have the ashes shipped, but I had refused and insisted on picking them up myself, lest they get lost in the mail or stolen from my front steps. I guess I just wasn’t ready to think about his little body no longer existing. I was glad he wasn’t in some freezer anymore, but it finally sank in that I would never again pet his soft hair or look at his sweet face. I was in a conference room, and I had to text a coworker to bring me a box of tissues. I sobbed and she stayed with me, and we talked about my plans to scatter his ashes among his favorite places – our cottage in the Adirondacks, the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, Horn Pond in Woburn, the park down the street, and the dog beach in Florida. Yes, a trip to Florida will be happening sometime after the Marathon. I also found a beautiful necklace on Etsy that will hold a tiny bit of his ashes, and you would never know looking at it.
After work, I met my dear friend and former coworker Cathleen for manicures following by dinner and drinks. She has two dogs she absolutely adores, and totally understands how much I loved Rags because that’s how much she loves her pups.
Earlier today, I got up for my DFMC long run. Again, it felt weird to get ready without all the parts that used to include Rags. After a few more tears when teammates came to hug me, I headed out for 12 miles. Every step would hurt – my shoes need to be replaced but I also didn’t take care of myself this past week – and my heart was still so broken. My head wasn’t in the game, but my supportive teammates and our amazing volunteers got me through it. Afterward, a bunch of went to brunch, killing several hours, many calories, and two mimosas. I paid my check while everyone else was still hanging out so that I could make the hourlong drive to the cremation place, which is actually a pet cemetery and funeral home as well. Rags was no-nonsense, like me, and would never approve of a funeral or a grave site – but it’s nice that people have that option.
I lost it when they brought me the tiny cedar box that contained all that was left of him. I refused to look inside until I was alone, outside in my car. I took a deep breath and opened it – not sure what I was expecting. I was underwhelmed by seeing actual cremation ashes for the first time in my life, but overwhelmed by the realization that Rags was really and truly gone, and reduced to crumbs. It was a difficult drive home, but I’m glad he’s here with me until I can scatter his ashes appropriately. We are expecting a foot or more of snow on Tuesday, and boy did he love that snow. I may give him one last romp in it by scattering his ashes on the grassy area outside my apartment where he always insisted on walking in the snow, even when it was deeper than he was tall. He would love that.
Just like I loved him, and always will.