We need to put Maddy down!”
Those words sent a chill through me. I knew they were coming, but for months tried not to think about it. I wish I had said something comforting, reassuring or profound. I wish I could but I didn’t. I don’t remember my actual words, but I’m sure it was something dismissive or glib. That’s what I do, and I’m sorry for that.
Maddy, our 10-year-old Golden Labrador Retriever, was suffering from kidney problems as a result of diabetes. She was losing her eyesight, her ability to digest food and her ability to control her bodily functions. She could eat the stucco off the side of the house but lost 40% of her body weight in just a few months. It was time. Jeanette Faria, my significant other, and I both knew it. But Cezar didn’t.
Cezar was Maddy’s best friend and constant companion. They had been inseparable since Cezar came to us as a puppy five years ago. Cezar was the yin to Maddy’s yang. Maddy, a female Golden Lab was overweight; Cezar, a male Goldendoodle, skinny. Maddy ate like a horse, Cezar like a French-cuisine critic. Maddy was quiet and reserved, Cezar childlike in wild playfulness. Maddy would bark at an approaching stranger like a security guard challenging a shoplifter. Cezar would bark, too, but only to invite them into the yard to play.
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As different as they were, they were never apart. Each morning they went outside, but never separately. Cezar would walk to the door, turn and look for Maddy. If Maddy wanted outside, she would send Cezar. Cezar would come to get us to let us know Maddy wanted out. Maddy would be lying in front of the door till Cezar finished his errand. Maddy, having finished dinner in a nanosecond, would come to Cezar’s bowl and lie patiently until Cezar, eating agonizingly slowly, (I’m sure to tease Maddy), would walk away. Often Cezar would fein a retreat from the dinner bowl and suddenly come back before Maddy had a chance to finish up.
When a person is the first to an accident, he or she knows that he must stop to give assistance but secretly hopes someone else gets there first. I was that way as I offered to take Maddy, relieved that Jeanette said she preferred to do it herself.
Normally, when we grabbed a leash, it was time for wild excitement. Maddy and Cezar knew an adventure awaited rushing for the door, tales wagging at 100 rpm. This time it was different. No wagging tails, no excitement, only agonizingly mutual plaintive looks.
In some parallel universe, there is some form of communication that dogs have. In that universe, Maddy looked back at Cezar and said, “Goodbye, friend, forever.” I cannot recall a time when only one dog left home without the other. Cezar looked at me to ask, “What’s going on?” I couldn’t answer.
Maddy would never return. Cezar knew. I don’t know how, but he knew. The next day, we decided to take Cezar shopping with us when something strange happened. When we put the leash on him, he trembled. Not a little imaginary tremble, a real fear-filled shaking. It may be my guilt, but I believe Cezar feared whatever terrible thing had happened to Maddy was in store for him. He didn’t want to go.
That night, we tried to console him, but instead of jumping on the bed to say good night, he went to Maddy’s bed, stared at the empty bed for an agonizingly long moment. Then slowly and sadly went to his own, face against the wall, and covered his head with his paws. “Don’t bother me, I’m grieving.”
A week later, things were more normal. But not quite the same. Each morning before Cezar goes outside, he looks around the house for his buddy, stopping by the open door waiting and searching, room by room, for a friend who had suddenly disappeared.
Instead of leaping over his friend to be the first outside and racing to the corner of the yard to rid the place of pesky birds and squirrels, he quietly walks out, takes care of business and comes inside. Instead of of pacing the perimeter of the yard endlessly searching for insects on “bug patrol,” he simply goes out and waits. And waits.
How else can I explain it when, each morning, Cezar takes his kibble and, bit by bit, builds a pile in the very spot where Maddy ate her morning treats? It hadn’t happened before but it does now, every day. The pile stays there all day until Cezar resigns himself to the fact that no one else is there to eat it. He removes the pile each night, and then builds it again the next morning. A ritual? A shrine to a fallen friend?
Dogs probably don’t have souls; I don’t know. But they have the next thing to it. Only a person who has owned a dog and has gone through the agony of ending its life, for whatever good or loving reason, can understand the overwhelming sadness of looking into its trusting eyes without making it understand all the reasons it must be so.
“It is for for your own good. You are not going to recover. We have no other choice.” Blah, blah blah. What can be worse than that? Only watching the greatest friend, the one left behind, try to figure it all out.
Logic tells me that they are only dogs, that they have limited attention spans. In a few weeks, Cezar will be back on bug watch and will have a new friend. Maddy will be a fading memory. We are grownups who know that these things are common events, so we must look at it with a logical, unemotional, fact-of-life perspective. But I’m watching Cezar take another piece of kibble to the pile — and right now I don’t feel that way at all.
Update: Cezar now has a new pal, Cali (short for Calpurnia, Julius Caesar’s wife.) She is a newly adopted Lab-mix rescue puppy about 4 months old. They are now best friends, but every so often, a little pile of kibble still mysteriously appears.