- April 16, 2014 in Columnists
Laying Theo to rest
On November 9, 2013, early Saturday morning I was sitting next to my bed as my Beagle, Theo, lay dying. His breathing came out in rapid puffs with him gagging every so often. We had planned to take him to the vet to have him euthanized and were just waiting for it to open. I petted him, held his paw and told him that he was a good boy and that it was okay for him to go. In fact, I told him to please go.
He suddenly jerked and reached out with his right paw once, twice and a third time. Then his paw slowly fell to the mattress and his tongue hung out of his mouth as his breathing stopped. I leaned over him, holding him, kissing him and telling him that I loved him.
It was the end of an era.
I loved the Beagle brothers but I always favored Tyson. Tyson was the alpha male. Tyson had a traditional Beagle “AROOO!” bark while Theo’s bark was loud, repetitive and irritating. Plus Theo ate poop. You don’t really want to cuddle with a dog that regularly snacks on his own feces. With his annoying bark and gross dietary habits it was easy to blame Theo if we came home and found garbage strewn about the house or something chewed to pieces.
But after we had to put Tyson down, a weird thing happened. We’d come home and nothing would be out of place. It had been Tyson leading the charge chewing up things and getting into the trash. When I thought back on it, there was plenty of evidence that Tyson was behind it but when you’re biased, you see what you want to see.
And like magic, Theo stopped eating his poop! Slowly, Theo adjusted to sleeping next to me in his brother’s spot. Theo usually slept at my feet before. I’d lay in bed petting him, apologizing for blaming him for Tyson’s misdeeds. We became inseparable.
While I was glad to be at Theo’s side in his final moments comforting him, the mechanics of death haunted me. I closed his eyes and slid his tongue back into his mouth before I let Cathi and her daughter (who was over the house early for a garage sale) see him. Then we let our Maltoodle Rafi jump up on the bed to see him. She looked at him, smelled his mouth and then jumped down, seemingly satisfied that he was truly gone.
I was so pained and haunted by his passing. The scene played over and over in my head in rich detail. Me coming out of the shower, getting dressed and cleaning Theo up to take him to our vet for disposal. When I wrapped him in a blanket to take him to the car he was in full rigor mortis, a physical, tactile reminder that he was no more.
I wrote about his death in my newspaper column and announced it to family and friends on social media. But I never let on even to Cathi just how disturbed I was about it. I couldn’t get the images out of my head. My thoughts of Theo during happier times always morphed into the puking, gagging dog of his last 24 hours.
My sleep was disturbed because I had to sleep in the very spot where my boy died. That first week I lost seven pounds without even trying. I’m not an overly sensitive guy. I’ve had 12 dogs die. I was present for four of them and for two, I found their remains after trains hit them. And losing them all was hard but nothing like this. My grief was compounded by the awesome relationship Theo and I had in his last year and a half. I regretted not being as close to him as I was with his brother since day one. I also felt guilty for his suffering through the night before because I knew we should’ve put him down on Friday.
Two months later we brought home a Shih Tzu poodle puppy. There was no way I was ready for another dog. But I live to make Cathi happy. In her own way she was trying to help me by getting the puppy. She could see how distraught I was and even suggested I ask my doctor about antidepressants.
The night before we first went to see the little puppy I had a dream that I was fishing with an old man near a stream. He was telling me about pets that he’d had. He finally said, “If you get a male puppy tomorrow, you are to name him Duke because he’ll be royalty. And if it’s female, you’re to name her Mazy because she’ll be amazing.”
Mazy has been a blessing. She certainly has helped me deal with my grief.
But the other day I went on Craigslist looking at pets. I don’t really know why. There was an ad for a Beagle that looked just like Theo. I even showed the picture to my grandson without telling him anything about the dog and he thought it was a photo of Theo. I went to Cathi with the dog telling her we should look into getting him.
She was supportive but concerned because the dog, Dinger, was 10 years old. While she loved the idea of bringing him home she was concerned about him having health problems (Tyson and Theo were sickly animals.). Prospective pet owners have to look at everything including whether they can financially sustain a new pet. But what she really feared was me not seeing Dinger for whom he is and me treating him like he was Theo. She was concerned about how I’d feel if we got an old dog that passed away within the year. I get it.
There are some people who cannot fathom how anyone can grieve a pet. After all, it’s only a dog, right? You can get another one. But I can’t waste time trying to explain it to those folks because that’d be like explaining walking to a fish.
April 16 is Tyson and Theo’s birthday. So it’s fitting that I write this. The repetitious thoughts of Theo’s last day no longer play in my somewhat addled brain. Mazy has carved her own place in my heart. And along with Rafi, they’re enough for me right now. I’m moving on. But I won’t forget my Beagle boys.
- April 16, 2014 at 9:13 pm