The day the dog died started like any other.
I’d only had my little beagle mix for two weeks, but my days had already taken on the shape of walking, feeding, petting, scolding, and picking up after her.
The kids adored her.
The night before she died, Emily was shrieking with glee watching the pup dance and bounce around the living room, full of friskiness.
You don’t wake up in the morning thinking, oh, this will be the day the dog bolts away from me and I never see her again.
It isn’t in your agenda that you’ll get a call from a neighbor, in response to your desperately scrawled “MISSING” flyer, letting you know your small dog was hit by a car, her car, and that she died instantly.
There are not really ways your brain can grasp that she was hit right around the corner from where you so desperately searched and called out until your voice shook with sobs.
And there isn’t really any good way to teach your brain to be content with the image of your dog flying away from you like a flash of lightening, as your final memory of her.
I’d chuckled when I read that beagles rated five out of five stars for “Wanderlust”. They like to sniff. They are stubborn. When they get an idea in their noses, they just have to follow it. I’d never let the kids hold onto her leash outside, because I knew she was high risk for taking off.
I actually got a kick out of her stubborn streak because she was so willful, but she was so easy to just pick up and redirect.
She was just a little dog.
I’d searched the neighborhood with my neighbor for an hour, trying to locate her. Then I called the cops and put up flyers. I was consoled by friends that “dogs run away all the time!” “they always come home,” and “it’ll be fine.”
I went off to work figuring the cops or pound would call me and tell me they’d found the naughty girl and I would collect her and chide her. I planned to hug her and pat her and tell her what a wicked little girl she was…
My neighbor and some utility people who were working right there when she was hit, collected her body, wrapped it and put it in a bin. My neighbor put the bin in her yard and let me know I could come and get it.
A school bus driver stopped and stood vigil over my dog with neighbors I didn’t know. These strangers stood and prayed and cried over my dog. Then my neighbor carried the bin back to our street and put it on the side of her house.
I drove home from work. It felt I’d never stop crying. My neighbor had left to pick up her kids at school, so I found the bin in the side of her yard. I started to uncover the lifeless little body of my dog, but the rags in which she was wrapped were bloody and I could smell her blood.
So I left her be.
I put the bin in my trunk and drove her to the vet. The wonderful vet who had been helping us work through separation anxiety and all those other quirks of little rescue dogs. She held me as I sobbed and a vet tech went out to get her body.
They took the bin with her into the back and the vet told me she would look at her to see if I could go back and say goodbye.
She came back a little later and told me it would not be good for me to see her like that.
But she told me it was probably very fast.
She told me that my dog was curled in a peaceful position.
No, I did not want the bin back.
Another tech let me know she could cash me out when I was ready. They would send her body to be cremated. They would wash off her little, pink collar and put it aside for me to come back and get.
Five years ago, I lost my dog who had been by my side for 16 years. It was agonizing. But it was not sudden and shocking. It was humane and peaceful. As much as it broke my heart, it was a good death. I was able to hold her and tell her what a great friend she’d been, and she breathed her last in my arms. I grieved for months after losing her.
I’d only known this girl for a couple weeks.
But it feels like losing my friend of 16 years all over again.
It is raw and tragic and just horrible.
I never thought I would love another dog. I never thought I could go through the terror of losing and grieving for an animal.
Loving an animal is a voluntary grief we take on. It is a grief to which we willingly open our hearts and souls, knowing we will love a being who will predecease us.
This dog weaseled her way into my heart.
When you lose an animal companion, the house is terribly empty. It is quiet and still in a way that is haunting.
The kids sensed it the second they entered the house after their days. We sat with them on the couch and told them about the dog.
My eight year old Jack’s eyes got very wide. His face flushed and paled. He did not cry, but he sank against me and stayed there. He asked what happened to her body. I let him know I’d brought her to the vet and the vet would keep her.
I used very simple, almost blunt words.
Mama was out walking our doggy. You know how tricky she was and how careful we were with her? Well, she bolted and Mama lost her grip on the leash. Mama could not catch her. I tried and tried. She ran into the street and she was hit by a car. Her body was too hurt to keep living. She died.
Emily’s face crumpled immediately into a mask of pain and despair the likes of which I’ve never seen on either of my children. I watched as she tried to grapple with the information.
“But where is she?”
“Mama brought her body to the vet.”
“Nooooooo,” she wailed. “I want her! I want to pet her. I want our dog.”
“I know honey. Me too. It’s very sad. But we have each other and Mama and Daddy will take care of you and Jack. We will all stick together and help each other.”
The kids hugged each other and Emily cried in Jack’s arms. It was a moment of beautiful and mournful sibling truce in honor of their pet.
A while later she went upstairs to my bedroom. I knew she was looking for the dog. I heard a keening cry come and ran up the stairs to find my four-year-old girl crumpled in a ball on the floor, having not found the dog but found one of her squeaky toys.
“She can heal?” Emily asked. “Will she return?”
“No, honey. No. She won’t ever be coming back.” I did not know if I should tell her that maybe someday we could get a new dog. I didn’t know what to do other than hug her.
She said she wanted some noodles with butter. So we went down to do that.
“I’ll never feel happy now,” she sobbed as I cooked.
“Of course you will, sweetheart,” I said. I wept with her, petting her head and rubbing her back. “Our hearts are hurting right now, but we will feel better. I promise.”
“My heart will never be better. My heart was in Doggy and now it is broken and I’ll never have my heart again.”
I held her and hugged her and said all the things moms say when their children are devastated. I walked back and forth between her and Jack, hugging and stroking and trying to make sense of not just my own shock and loss, but that of my small children.
The whole night was very painful. The delicate skin under my eyes puffed out like someone punched me. My skin burned from the salt of my tears.
Jack could see I was sad. He came to me in the kitchen and put his arms around me. His head comes up to my breast now.
“I love you,” he said, looking up earnestly into my face. “Doggy will always be in our hearts and in our heads. You are the best mom in the world. I know sometimes you lose your cool and yell. And sometimes I lose my cool and call you stupid. I don’t mean those things. You’re the best mom in the world. And if Doggy hadn’t gotten away, she would have lived with us as long as dogs live because you are the best mom in the world.”
He finished his little speech with an extra tight hug.
I didn’t feel deserving of it.
I’d been terrified the kids would blame me.
Because I blamed myself.
I felt guilty as all hell; the image of little Dog darting away from me with her leash clattering after her, scaring her, spurring her on until she disappeared. It took but seconds.
How could I have let her go?
I’d been adamant about having this dog. My husband didn’t want a dog at all, but I pushed him into it. I had to have her.
And I loved her.
For two weeks.
And now she’s dead.
Her ears were so silky. Her paws were so tiny and smelled like popcorn. She loved to lick and sniff. When it snowed, she put her nose right down and tunneled into the snow, sniffing away. She made us laugh. She was lazy at night and curled up on the couch or bed with me. Her belly was soft and a bit fuzzy where it had been shaved when she got spayed.
I loved her doggy smell.
I don’t get it right now. There is no perspective or framework for me to understand this loss. And dealing with my children’s confusion and grief is so immediate and important.
We will get through it. I keep telling myself this. We are strong and we are a close family. We will help each other and our hearts will heal. These are my mantras.
So that’s the story of the day the dog died.
It was a day that started like any other and ended like no other.
I’m thinking we will probably be reading and re-reading and telling and re-telling this story until it feels okay or gets boring.
I’m looking forward to being able to finish the last chapter, for the last time, so I can close the book, and go on to something new.