I killed my dog today.
You can sugarcoat the words by saying he was put to sleep, euthanized, or that his suffering was ended mercifully, but it doesn’t change that even if not by my hand that by my decision a life given by God to one of His creatures ended away today at 12:10 PM, and the responsibility is 100% mine.
The sorrow rips through my soul like a dull knife tearing through my flesh. I’ve cried and cried and cried until I thought I could cry no more, and then yet more tears flowed.
Sir Percival — Percy — as we called him, was a worthless little mutt. At least that’s what I thought at first. He was a Maltese/Shihtzu cross, not even a purebred. And I told my wife Sylvia on many occasions she didn’t pick the sharpest puppy in the pack. He wasn’t overly smart, usually wouldn’t come when you called, didn’t like being held, wasn’t very affectionate, and his only real trick was to stand on his hind legs to beg a morsel of food. I often asked him if he was looking for another handout, and he always was.
But he did get pretty good at obeying simple commands. It didn’t take long for him to know the drill about “go to the grass” at potty time and “go to your room” at night-time. I guess he was smarter than I gave him credit for.
I grew up with animals. Cows, pigs, chickens, horses, dogs, and cats were a natural part of life. But they all served some purpose, whether for transportation, security, pest control, or food source. Animals were a commodity used for some practical result or sold for gain. So I really didn’t get the “purpose” of Percy. Way too small for security and since he barked at everything he could see out the front window or hear with his admittedly sharp ears you never knew whether it was something important or not. Since he did nothing of value, I considered him pretty worthless, other than the fact that Sylvia loved him.
But he kinda grew on me after a while.
I started coming up with nicknames for him. Names such as “Perc” — like the woman’s handbag — or “Perc-Perc”. Whenever my wife would ask if I’d seen her purse, I’d point to the dog. This expanded into “Percy McPupper”, Percy Pup”, “Puppers”, and “Doggers”. And he would often roll around on the carpet, laying on his back with his toys between his paws like an infant, chewing them and pulling the stuffing out that he would then leave trailed across the house. He had a habit of pulling his blankets out of his night-time kennel and dragging them into the living room to roll around on until he swaddled himself inside. His value was beginning to increase slightly. At least he was entertaining.
His best friend was a silver tabby cat, and they got along great. They would wrestle playfully in the family room, Percy circling and barking at her, both enjoying the romp and sharing the house well together.
We discovered he was a darn good little travel mutt when we took him on his first of many trips. Actually, that’s where he shined best. He became affectionate and even wanted us to hold him when he was in the car. Whenever my wife would pull out his fleece harness and retractable leash, he became so excited, standing on his hind legs just the same as when he was begging for food. In the car during city travel he would thrust his snout into the wind, sniffing and taking the world in through his nose and big brown eyes. On the freeway, he would be either on my wife’s lap or perched on my left leg, looking through the window, making the rounds back and forth many times throughout the journey.
He enjoyed going everywhere, but he was a beach dog at heart. Since his first trip on September 4, 2010, the soft sand at Cayucos or Morro Bay was among his favorite things in life. My wife and I would stroll along the beach and Percy would be at the full extension of his leash, arcing back and forth from left to right, exploring the white to brown terrain as we moved along, checking out the sea gulls, pelicans, people, and especially the other dogs (since his “sister” was a cat and he didn’t see many other dogs). He enjoyed the water so long as it wasn’t too deep or too cold, and when the waves would wash against his feet he would wind up covered in sand, looking kind of soggy, and stare up at you with eyes that would melt your heart.
He was also a great conversation starter. Since he was actually rather cute, adults and children would always comment and want to pet him. We met and talked to many interesting people with which there would have been no opportunity if it hadn’t been for this little furball on the end of the leash.
I felt really bad for him a couple of years back when he started having trouble walking. You could tell his hips bothered him so we took him to the vet. The prognosis was that he probably dislocated his hip while bouncing around or up-and-down from the couch. The vet prescribed some pain medicine and in a few days he seemed in pretty good shape.
There was a time back in January of 2011 that Sylvia and I were having marital problems. Actually, she was the one with the problem — and his name was Rick. I wasn’t being a very good husband and she felt the need to move out of the house for a while. I’ve hopefully grown since then, and things are better now. We have a strong, loving, and committed marriage. But while she was gone, the house seemed awfully large and lonely.
Women, I’ve learned, have a way different way of communicating than men. As we were working toward resolving our differences, she asked if I would take care of Percy and move him back in. At first I was rather hesitant, still hurting and looking with male eyes at the fact here was a woman who ran out on me now wanting me to take care of her dog. Although I wasn’t really too keen on the idea, thankfully I did it anyway. But, yeah, now I get it.
So it was Percy and me (plus the cat when she wasn’t roaming outside). And we got to know each other pretty well. He started sticking pretty close. And although still not really what you would call affectionate, he was there, an ever-present companion. If I was in the living room, he was there. If I went to the bedroom, he was patiently waiting outside the door. If I went into my office, he was about a foot away from my chair, flopped on the floor in a furry ivory semi-circle.
Even though I’d grown to kinda already like him, we became pretty close during that time. I still thought he was worthless, but in a good way.
Sylvia and I worked out our differences (meaning I wised up a tad) and the household became one again. Since the kids are mostly grown and doing their own thing, and the cat is — well, a cat and you know how they are — Percy became like the little furry kid running around the house.
One time my wife was at a woman’s church conference in a city a few hours away, so the day belonged to Percy and me. We decided to have a guy’s day out. I took him on a road trip through Coursegold and Oakhurst, up to Bass Lake, and just to the outskirts of Yosemite. I thought it would be a great place for a mountain dog like Percy to embrace his inner wolf. And it was. He loved the pines and the rocks, sniffing and enjoying everything we did. He was a great companion that day and we talked about a lot of stuff. He was a good listener, never interrupted, and I swear he agreed with everything I said. We became pretty good buddies.
He had another bout with his hip one weekend, and since we still had some of his medicine, we gave it to him and were planning to see the vet again if necessary the following Monday when they re-opened. It was clear he was uncomfortable, but by Sunday evening seemed his normal self.
As time went on, he engrained himself more and more into my life. I found out that he loved canned vienna sausages and hot dogs. and you wouldn’t believe how he would circle-dance for a piece of cheese, earning him yet another nickname of “Cheese Hound”. I started loving him as much as he loved the cheese.
I was also learning something from this dog. He had no practical value as I had always measured it, but I was loving him more all the time, and he loved us back in his own doggie way. I think he was likely abused or hurt before we got him and that was why he was a bit distant much of the time. I told Sylvia on several occasions that I thought he had “issues” and would probably benefit from “Puppy Prozac”. Guess that was just one more thing he and I had in common.
I determined that I was going to try to help nurture him back to emotional health. I made it a point to speak to him softly and handle him gently, paying close attention to his reactions and would always stroke him lovingly with kind words to try to soothe and comfort him. It worked to a great degree. He got where he would actually come when called and would jump on the recliner with me and sit in my lap wanting his petting more nights than not. His personality changed and he seemed to smile more. Yes, dogs do indeed smile if you’ve never noticed.
God taught me so much through this little animal. He gave me a glimpse through His eyes of how He must see us. We cannot possibly have any real practical value to God, yet He loves us regardless and unconditionally.
I learned that I was loving this little guy more and more even though I could see no practical reason. I just did because he was lovable, and I loved him so very much. It had nothing to do with what he could do. It was only about who he was. He was our dog, a part of our family, and an important part of our lives.
Three days ago, he started having trouble walking again. From the several bouts he’d had before we thought he’d bounce back by the next morning. But by the next morning he was still hurting and had lost the use of his back legs. He was moving only by dragging his hind-quarters with his front legs. He looked like a little white seal moving along and it broke my heart to see him that way. We knew something was seriously wrong this time.
Sylvia cared for him and coddled him as best she could and I could see the pain and the tears in her eyes.
I knew he loved vienna sausages, so I opened a can and broke them into very small pieces and put them in a small paper bowl. There were a couple of leftover barbecued hotdogs in the fridge, so I gave them a quick zap in the microwave to take the chill off and broke them as well. I sat on the kitchen floor and held the bowl near his mouth so he could eat. He sniffed a bit, not really interested, then gingerly started with one small bite and wound up eating nearly all of it. I then filled another bowl with a little water and held it for him to drink.
When he had his fill, he used his front paws to move himself toward my lap. It was obvious where he wanted, so I held him gently and cuddled with him, trying to comfort him and feeling completely helplessness. I prayed for that dog the first of many times, knowing that God loves all His creation and asking Him for mercy and healing of this dearly loved small creature. I cried the first of many times for Percy.
Finding a veterinarian in Porterville the week before the fair, since we are a very agricultural community, is much harder than I would have ever thought. Explaining the situation call after call, we heard the same thing. No available slots until after the fair and in most cases the doctor would not even be in the office. Finally we reached a caring person in a city 45 minutes away that unfortunately could not see us now but could work us in the following day.
It was so hard to see him in this condition. I took him to the back yard so he could relieve himself, but he had no control. I cleaned him up, being reminded of the experiences changing my daughter Amy’s diaper when she was a baby. Percy was my furry baby now. He had many accidents, and Sylvia and I cleaned them up.
Placing him on the floor in the living room, he still tried to get around as best he could. I would carry him and gently sit him in his favorite spots and it was obvious his pain and discomfort had grown worse. His small body quivered and he whimpered with every touch and move. He was in agony. I wish now I had held him up to the window, which he loved to see out of. But I just didn’t think of it at the time.
I was learning yet another lesson. With the pain that he endured, he still smiled while looking at me lovingly, and he licked my arm gently with his soft pink tongue. I must admit that I never usually let him do that, but this time seemed different. I had a sinking, gnawing, tightening feeling in my gut that he would not have many more opportunities to express affection. His attitude was the greatest I’ve ever seen. He endured, yet he loved. I could not help but wonder how much even the more that Jesus must have shown this type of strength on His way to the cross. It was yet another small glimpse the Holy Spirit has given me through this small dog.
I was planning for the future that night. I didn’t think I would ever see Percy walk again and went online to look at little doggie wheel chairs and figuring out which would likely be best for his needs. I mused that maybe his next nickname would be “Wheels”. I was thinking ahead about how we would best care for him.
Sylvia took time off from her job to take Percy to the vet, since it’s very hard for me to get time off. That morning I sat on the entryway landing with Percy on the carpet in front of me and talked to him before going to work. It’s amazing how much I’ve grown to love that little worthless dog. And now I also feel terrible, knowing how much he loved car rides, that I wasn’t with him for the last one he ever experienced.
As I sat in my work office, the clock moved slowly. I was anxious, yet also dreading the time to pass. I hoped so much that the answer from the doctor would be that he was going to be fine and that my prayers for him would be fully answered. But God’s plan isn’t always what we want, and when I received the call from Sylvia she was crying.
The doctor explained that Percy had a completely collapsed disc that had damaged his spinal column, that the other incidents leading up to it were just precursors and there was nothing that would have likely prevented it other than a very expensive surgery with slim chances of success. There was no feeling in his legs and there was no effective treatment that he would likely respond to. My heart sank. Percy would be paralyzed in his hindquarters, in constant pain in the rest of his body, and have no control over urination or bowel movement for the rest of his life.
That’s not much of a life…
Some may hate me for the decision that I made. And it was a struggle between head and heart. My head kept arguing that all life is precious and worthy of prolonging at any cost. But my heart said that sometimes death is a form of mercy. I decided I could not bear to see him in pain that would never end. Agony is not a good life.
Sylvia needed me there, and I wanted to be there also since it was my decision and my responsibility. I left work and took the agonizingly long drive, second-guessing and arguing my decision many times along the way while praying for strength and wisdom..
When I arrived, Sylvia was standing outside the office with Percy wrapped in a towel he’d had a few accidents in. He recognized me immediately and I could see the expectant smile on his face and the happiness in eyes. I took him gently in my arms and guilt flooded my mind. How could I do this to someone I love? This is not mercy, it’s murder….
I held him close, putting my cheek on his small head and talked to him, telling him how sorry I was and that I so very much wanted things to be different.
The time came so much quicker than I wanted, and I remembered a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth who said, “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.” He was also planning a murder when he spoke these ominous words. My heart was very heavy.
An assistanct led us into a nicely appointed examining room with a soft brown mat on the table and asked that we let Percy lay down there. The doctor came in, told me I had made the right decision and explained the procedure. He asked if I needed a few moments and I said yes.
Sylvia was in so much emotional pain, but I cannot relate what was in her heart, only what was in mine.
I hugged Percy and told him I knew he could not understand my words or what was happening, but I hoped that God would allow his animal spirit to understand what my spirit was saying. I told him again how sorry I was and how much I wanted something different. I wanted to simply wake from a bad dream and see him healthy and bouncing around again. I asked God to please forgive me if I made the wrong choice.
I broke down, sobbing and telling Percy how much I loved him and that I didn’t know if his spirit would live beyond his body as our soul lives beyond ours, but that I hoped with all my heart that it did and in few moments he would have a new body without pain and be running on warm glistening sand with radiant seagulls soaring overhead and cool sapphire waves lapping at his feet as he runs and plays on a heavenly beach for eternity. I told him I hope to join him there someday. I asked him to please forgive me and to know forever how much I love him.
The doctor returned to the room and when I looked around I did not see a doctor’s office, but an execution chamber. Although part of me understands, there is another part of me that wonders how it is that a person can deal with being a professional executioner, stealing the lives of other living things, even part of the time and under the guise of mercy.
The syringe filled with Pentobarbital would anesthetize Percy so he would not feel any pain. Then as he was in a drug-induced sleep his heart would stop. I hugged him close as the doctor gave guidance and the technician found a vein in his hind leg since it was already numb from the spinal damage. She inserted the needle and I watched horrified as the violet solution entered his body. Part of me wanted to cry out “NO!” but I remained silent, knowing in my heart that easing his suffering was the merciful thing to do.
But I was still killing someone I loved very dearly and it hurt.
I watched his body relax and his eyes droop. He was feeling the first effects and his pain was easing. The tension flowed from his body and he went limp – a third the syringe was injected. His eyes closed almost but not quite fully. He looked like he was going into a peaceful sleep. A quick check with the stethoscope revealed to the doctor that his heart was still beating, so the technician injected the rest of the drug and it was done. Percy, my beloved little dog, was dead because of my choice.
Sylvia and I both cried over him and the doctor and technician stepped out to give us a bit of privacy. Tears flowed and I lost count of how many tissues we used.
In a few moments, the technician returned and gave Sylvia a hug, touched me on the shoulder, and gave us both words of comfort and encouragement.
Now we wait to get the ashes of our loving companion in a wooden box with his name on a gold plate. But for now there’s now an empty kennel in the corner and an emptier hole in my heart.
As I write this, I keep looking down to the left of my office chair hoping to see him plopped down in the furry little circle where he would usually be. But he’s not there. And he never will be.
Percy was my friend, my travel buddy, my family member, and most importantly my mentor. He taught me so much. I miss him immensely, beyond words’ ability to describe. I want so much to feel his warm, furry body enveloped in my arms again, to see the happiness in his fuzzy face as he looks at me with large round eyes with his cute pink tongue sticking out. I would love to see his fluffy little tail wagging.
But never will that happen again in this lifetime.
I was so very wrong. Percy was not worthless at all. He was priceless.