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Why I Decided to Euthanize My Dog On My Birthday

For many, when they think of their birthday, they’re filled with a rush of good memories of years past. Some feel nostalgic for simpler times – that one birthday in grade school where the entire class wrote them a card or when they were surprised with a car on their 16th. For me, when I think of birthdays, I think of losing my best friend.

 

Animal Connections

I have always been an animal lover. My family, natural introverts, always felt more of a connection to animals than people. My mom is that “horse lady” everyone loves to joke about. From a young age, she’s been mucking stalls and living life like it’s The Saddle Club. My dad had many dogs and cats throughout his life to add joy to his sluggish world of insurance. To many, dogs are “just animals”. To me, they’re so much more. They come in all shapes and sizes to fit each person’s lifestyle. Live in a tiny apartment? Chihuahuas are perfect. Love to run and get outside? Australian Shepherds are one of the most active dog breeds. I’m also an only child, so the animals in my life practically became my siblings.

April 7th 2000

On my 5th birthday, my mom brought me to the local dog store to pick out a puppy. She noticed I’d been dying to have one and she knew it was the right time. (On a side note, please don’t buy from a dog store like we did. Many of these dogs come from puppy mills and are not treated humanely.) I may have been young, but I remember every moment of the day I met my best friend. I remember being in the car with my mom and her telling me that we should make a quick stop at the puppy store. We did this all the time, so I thought this time would be just like the others. I hopped out of the car and walked hand-in-hand with my mom through the parking lot that smelled of concrete and the spring air. The moment I walked in the door, I ran to the area of the store with the puppies for sale. Immediately, I locked eyes with a fluffy ball of joy – a bichon-frise that looked like he was only 1 week old. I knew he was the one for me. Fast forward 20 minutes later and I was walking out the door with my new best friend in my arms.

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What felt like years later, when my dad got home from work, I asked him what I should name him. His wooden-heeled shoes still knocking on our hardwood floor, he said, “He looks like a little macadamia nut…. let’s call him Mac”.

 

Our Friendship

As a child, my favorite movie was The Wizard of Oz. My grandmother used to sew me dorothy dresses because the ones at the store just weren’t authentic enough for me, a serious Dorothy Gale impersonator. My mom even hunted down “real” ruby slippers that I wore down until my toes peeked out of the front. I even slept in my costume.

 

Naturally, Mac was my Toto. I shoved him into a small wicker basket almost daily to perform my daily run-through of the movie.

Mac also loved to celebrate. On Christmas he would snuggle himself under the tree in between all the presents. On New Year’s Eve, he loved to be covered in confetti as we counted down.

As years passed, he was there through it all. I remember waving goodbye to him through the window as I got on the bus for my first day of middle school. He licked my tears when I had my first heartbreak, immediately mending it back together again. He even put up with the ridiculous outfits I put him in.

Facing Reality

By my sophomore year at Loyola, Mac’s health was deteriorating by the day. He was approaching 15 years old and could no longer walk without coughing and sending his tail down between his frail legs. A Bichon’s lifespan is only 12-15 years. At this point I was living at home again. I ignored the warning signs because I knew what they meant. Around Christmas, my parents started to gently bring up the possibility of it being Mac’s time. Before they could finish a sentence, I would cut them off and hastily deny the problem, but I knew it was there.

 

It’s Time

Come April, he was having seizures and couldn’t stand up. On April 1st, he wouldn’t eat or drink anything. Refusing to accept reality, I sat with him that whole day, practically force-feeding him milk. Being the trooper he was, he took some milk and would have some of this dog ice cream that I bought on my way home from class one day. “See!”, I told my mom. “He just doesn’t like his food anymore! We just have to feed him milk and ice cream.” I was so far away from reality that I could feel my mom cringe as I said that. On the 3rd of April I was sitting in my room and I just started crying. I didn’t know why, but eventually I connected my emotions to my brain and typed into google: “pet loss”. I was mentally prepping myself for what was to come, but I didn’t know when was the right time. He would get better and worse like a roller coaster for a week and I would become optimistic on each peak of the ride.

At midnight on April 6th 2015, I woke my mom up and told her  “I think it’s time.”

 

April 7th 2015

I’m not going to lie and tell you that I was a mature adult on April 7th. I cried like I was 5 years old again, until my eyes couldn’t produce any more tears and my face was stained with eyeliner. I layed on the floor with him and watched The Wizard of Oz, replaying our favorite song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” over and over.

Something they don’t tell you when you arrange to put your dog to sleep is how it never feels like the right time. I have lost 3 grandparents, animals to natural causes and even friends to tragedy, but putting a dog to sleep just felt cruel to me. It felt like I was deciding something for him that he couldn’t tell me if he needed. I was comforted by the fact that I wouldn’t have to bring him to the vet, but that someone would come to us. We booked an appointment with Lap of Love, “a network of veterinarians around the country whose goal is to empower every owner to care for their geriatric pets.” We were booked with a wonderful and kind vet, Stacy Chirillo, who received her veterinary degree from U of I in 2000.

As I sat with Mac on the couch, waiting for Stacy to arrive, I couldn’t even imagine that in an hour, he would cease to exist in my universe. My cellphone chimed, an unknown number popped up and my stomach sank. As I was instructed when I made the appointment, this meant they would arrive in approximately 10 minutes. As I was on the phone with Stacy, Mac started crying – literally screaming in pain – something he has never done before. This may sound strange, but I know that he was telling me that it was okay. He somehow knew that it was almost time and it was like he couldn’t hold on any longer.

When Stacy arrived, everything happened very fast. She began by sedating Mac, so we could say goodbye without him being in pain. My dad read a prayer for Mac, written by my uncle who’s a Catholic priest. Moments later, the final drug was given and it was over.

It wasn’t as dramatic as it appears in movies. There was no dramatic score of music or montage of memories. We brought him to the vet’s car, she tucked him into the front seat and I watched him drive away – forever.

 

Grateful

Coming up on the 1 year mark, I’m glad I did what I did. I could have easily put off the appointment another day or two, but it wouldn’t have been fair to let him suffer. It taught me a lot about maturity and putting others, especially those you love, before yourself. On birthdays, I may think of losing my best friend, but I also think of how my decision helped him in a time of true need. Now, whenever I catch part of The Wizard of Oz on TV, my eyes glisten and I fill with warmth knowing Mac’s waiting for me somewhere over the rainbow.

  • written by Kiera Dempsey on April 15th, 2016
  • posted in Edit
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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.