One day, at around age 19, I realized that I had never seen any of my pets die. In fact, to my knowledge, not a single one of my pets ever HAD died. Save for one very flat kitty cat I discovered in the road with a very flat mouse in her mouth, every animal I'd ever owned had grown to a nice old age and then run away while I was at school. Meanwhile, my best friend had an actual graveyard in front of her barn filled with goldfish, hamsters, kitties and a couple of German Shephards. It never seemed at all peculiar to me until I was nearly all grown up and I said it out loud to someone who was all, "What? All your animals ran away? All of them? Dude, your parents made that up, man." And I was all, "No, seriously, they even put ads in the paper sometimes." And my friend was all, "Um. Yeah, kind of like you wrote a letter to Santa? And mailed it?" And I was all, "Nope. I was raised by realists, dude. Santa's fake, there's no tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny is made up. But it is totally true that all my dogs ran away." And my friend shook her head sadly and asked, "Ooooh. I understand so much more about you now."
After much contemplation, I realized that probably my 11-year-old tumor-ridden Basset Hound Towser probably did not, in fact, run away. But I appreciated the fact that I was always left with some amount of hope he and all the others would eventually return.
At age 24 or so, I was dating a cute cowboy guy who would one day become Big Dude and living with my arthritic dachsund-poodle mix and a Beagle puppy. The dachsund/poodle was 6 pounds of pure bad-ass, evidenced by the fact that even my cowboyfriend loved him. His name was Peppy, because I named him when I was in the 8th grade. That right there is the main reason why middle school girls should not be allowed to have babies even if they are biologically capable. It has nothing to do with the fact that they don't have the means or common sense to raise a child, it is purely because 13 year old girls would name babies something stupid and there would be a bunch of babies running around with ridiculously dumb names like Peppy or Sparrow or something and they would find a way to put smiley faces and hearts on birth certificates where the dots on the i's should be.
Anyway, Peppy eventually started showing his age, caused mostly in part by that damned beagle puppy pestering him, and the day came where I had to put him to sleep. Because I'd never really gone through losing a pet, the Cowboyfriend in Shining Armor left his job early to accompany me to the vet. Peppy had been there all day, struggling, his little bitty heart valves failing. I wanted to see him one more time before the fatal injection.
Big Brave Cowboyfriend and I walked in from a mid-August heat wave into the cool air of the animal hospital. We were standing in a big room with high ceilings that started swirling around me as the gravity of the situation hit me. A kind woman in sea green scrubs walked towards us and asked if she could help us. I couldn't speak. A lump rose in my throat. I looked to the Cowboyfriend. He looked at the ground. I grabbed his hand so he would speak for me. It was ice freakin' cold. He started to shudder, his shoulders raising up and down, and big ginormous cowboy tears began to plop on the grey tweed rug.
So. I guess I'd be handling the details. I summoned strength, stood up straight and told her we were there to euthanize Peppy, could we see him first? She led us back where I told him he was the coolest dog ever and he licked my hand with his teeny tongue. I tied a friendship bracelet I'd made around his neck (it was the 90s, after all) and removed his collar and put it on my wrist. I held his head while they put him down, his breathing slowed, the weight of his head became heavier. I scooped him up and carried him out in a light blue towel.
We walked out with our heads down, the heat of the day blasting us, radiating off the blacktop and drying the tears that streamed down our faces. I put the limp little body in the backseat. The Cowboyfriend/Big Dude-to be recovered somewhat and drove me and the little body of my friend 45 miles to the house where Peppy and I grew up. The Colorado clay was rock hard and it was at least 98 degrees as afternoon slipped into evening, but we took turns digging a hole in an iris garden. I highly recommend swinging a pickaxe and hard ground when you're upset. Sweating out the grief, I call it. We patted the ground, cried some more and said goodbye to a friend.
I learned a few things that day.
1. Pets do die and it sucks even more than wondering why they ran away.
2. Supporting someone doesn't necessarily mean you take over and fix everything. Sometimes it just means you cry with them.
3. Knights in shining armor sometimes wear cowboy hats.