As something like a foreword, I’d like to say this took me months to write, and it still feels like it’s not enough. I’m hoping the writing and publishing of it all will help with the grief. I still feel it plenty.
Tuesday night I had a horrible dream. I dreamed that my dog Taubensee was alive, but still sick. I dreamed he had somehow come back to life after being put to sleep. And in the dream I was overcome with grief at the realization that I had tried to kill him when he wasn’t ready to die.
If you’re a pet lover, I don’t have to explain why Wednesday morning was a serious struggle for me.
Taubensee was my first pet. I adopted him in 2000, and the only things I really knew about pet ownership at the time were: 1) I wanted a dog, 2) it was absolutely essential the dog have floppy ears, and 3) I was going to name whichever dog I adopted after my favorite Cincinnati Reds catcher–no matter what.
After visiting a few shelters and not feeling that thing, I found Taubensee in the back room of the Warrick Humane Society. I was twenty; he was barely four weeks. He was so young and so new to the shelter that he was being held in the quarantine area until a vet could look him over and make sure everything checked out okay. He could be adopted, but he couldn’t be taken home just yet.
He was the tiniest, fluffiest, shivering-est, ball of fur I’d ever seen. He was curled up in a towel facing the corner, all alone.
All alone like me on my first day of kindergarten. I couldn’t even see his face, but I understood him immediately: It’s not shy or anti-social if you just prefer being alone. If Taubensee could have taken a Myers-Briggs assessment, he’d have been an INFJ like me. There’s no doubt in my mind.
In the early days, when Taub and I were trying to work out a schedule, I’d often have to let him outside in the wee hours. I’d crawl back in bed rather than wait for him to finish his business by the back door, because he was always pokey and I was always groggy. Besides, he’d let me know when he was ready to come back in by letting out a bark or two by the bedroom window.
One night I was startled by the sound of a great thud! against the house right outside my bedroom window. It was immediately followed by the sound of something screeching and slipping against the aluminum siding. I went to the back door and found Taubensee sopping wet on the back stoop, more than ready to come inside. I toweled him off. We went to bed.
The next morning when I went out back there were puppy paw prints and streaks of mud on the siding under the window. Apparently Taub had jumped at the bedroom window during the night to get my attention. Unable to grab a hold of anything, he slid down the wall, trails of mud marking his descent. By my estimation he’d thrown himself at the house at least a dozen times.
When Taubensee was three, I witnessed him having a seizure for the first time. Watching my precious Puppybutt on the kitchen floor convulsing was horrible. I didn’t know what to do, so I pretty much just resorted to hysterics.
The seizure eventually ended, I called the vet, and in relatively short order, Taubensee was diagnosed with canine epilepsy. He took phenobarbital morning and night for ten years. It always came wrapped in a tiny treat, accompanied by a head scratch and a “Goooooood puppy!” (said in that low, dumb voice that dog owners often use).
The medicine didn’t stop his seizures entirely, but when they did surface, they were shorter and milder. I was so relieved. When a seizure did break through, Taubensee’s ability to walk was usually the first thing to go. His joints wouldn’t bend, and his muscles just wouldn’t cooperate no matter how hard he tried. Still he’d paw and lean his way as close to me as he could get.
I’d meet him halfway–well, probably more–and I’d pet him and tell him I loved him until the shaking ended. When it was all over I’d say, “Want a treat?” and he’d run to Treat Station (the place where the puppy treats were stored in the kitchen, duh) like nothing had ever happened.
For thirteen years people told me I really had something special. And I knew it was true. Taub was the Best. Dog. Ever. He never drank from the toilet. He never sniffed a crotch. He only jumped up on family. He never ran away. He curled up in a ball and slept on car rides.
He climbed in the bathtub all by himself. All I had to do was run the water, call his name, and point to the tub. He’d reluctantly climb in and await further instruction.
Taubensee had been a snorer since he was about five, but it wasn’t the loud, disruptive snore of a 200-pound human. It was a soothing, sleep-inducing reminder that your best friend was close by and everything was right.
But one night in July I noticed Taubensee’s breathing at night was really loud and labored. I called the vet, Dan took him the next morning. They did X-rays, and his lungs looked cloudy. We tried a few things, but nothing really worked and so the vet didn’t delay in referring him to a specialist. Taubensee was admitted for some tests and kept overnight. He was clearly sick, dehydrated, and malnourished.
We left him in the care of the staff at the emergency vet, and spent the next couple of days in Milwaukee for a funeral. Dan’s father had passed away.
I called the vet to check on Taubensee while we were away. They’d put him on an IV, they were syringe feeding him. On our way back from Milwaukee, we stopped at the veterinary hospital to pick him up.
He wagged his tail at us, but his tail was heartbreakingly lower than usual. He was looking better because they’d been pumping him full of fluids, but he was still lethargic. Still struggling to breathe.
In the last few hours we had Taubensee at home, Dan and I carried him everywhere: outside, upstairs, downstairs, to his food bowl. We lifted him into his favorite chair. We tried forcing medicine and food down his throat, but he refused. His last night at home, I put an air mattress on the floor, and Taub and I slept side-by-side.
We took him back to the emergency vet the next day, where I explained we couldn’t get him to eat or take his medicine. When the vet tech interpreted what I was unable to say, I broke down in tears in the lobby.
Taubensee was 13, and to the best of our knowledge he died of cancer. They did a couple of different tests to try and verify what was wrong during the whole ordeal, but they were inconclusive. What we did know is there were lots of spots on his lungs, and he could hardly take in a breath. More tests weren’t going to make him feel better.
I know why they call it “putting to sleep.” Because he passed away peacefully, with his head in my lap. He looked me straight in the eye while I cooed at him, and then he became totally relaxed. His breathing eased, and Dan and I mooshed him and told him we loved him until the vet said, “He’s gone.”
January 8, 2000 — August 4, 2013