I never really allowed myself to believe that my dog might die one day. Wensley always looked like a puppy, so even when he started limping from arthritis and sleeping most of the day I thought we would still have years together. I was wrong.
Wensleydale Danger McDoggiepants, my partner in crime and Netflix binging, passed away on Sunday. No, that’s a lie. I called a veterinarian and asked him to come to my house to give my dog a life ending shot and he died. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Maybe the hardest.
The only kindness in this is that it happened so fast. He lost interest in eating so I made an appointment with the vet. Last Wednesday I got the diagnosis: Chronic Kidney Disease. I read several articles on the internet and thought, “Okay, this is bad, but I don’t know what phase of the disease he is in. We are just learning about it so maybe it is early?”
Nope. I put him in an animal hospital and they tried to flush the toxins that his kidneys were no longer dealing with, but he didn’t respond to treatment. We brought him home on Friday and made him as comfortable as possible. On Saturday he rested but could still walk around outside and even ate a little. But on Sunday he threw up everything he ate the day before and couldn’t even stand when I took him outside. He was shaking as if he were freezing but when I wrapped and spooned him it didn’t let up, which meant that he wasn’t cold, he was in pain. The moment I knew it was over when when I got up to get some pain medication for him and his eyes didn’t follow me as I walked across the room. Matt’s Dad always joked that Wensley was “my shadow” because he padded after me everywhere, and even if he was to tired or sore to follow me on foot he followed me with his eyes.
I’ll spare you the rest. Or rather, I’ll spare myself having to write down the rest. I’m sure you can imagine.
Wensley was a small dog. (Only twelve pounds for most of his life, but significantly less by the last day.) And yet, the hole he has left is unfathomable to me. I’ve always said that we were codependent, but it was more true than I realized. This entire week I’ve been struggling just to feel like I’m still myself without him. I feel pain at every meal because I don’t have the soundtrack of whimpering at my feet, begging for a bite, that I have had at every meal for nearly fifteen years. I don’t have anyone putting their paws on my leg in the morning reminding me to make breakfast because he knew I’d let him lick the bowl of oatmeal glue when I was done. I always remembered to give Wensley his pills, even though I could never remember to take my own. So we took them together. I haven’t had breakfast or my meds all week. Every time I come home, there is no wagging tail or urgent whine of a dog needing to go out to pee. I don’t have a first order of business any more, so I just stand in the kitchen not sure what to do.
Then there is everything else. By which I mean, the crazy thoughts. Like the fact that I feel cheated every time my neighbor’s dog barks because why does she get to be alive? And how is it possible that everything that has eyes reminds me of Wensley? People, birds, stuffed animals – in person or in a two dimensional image – all of it hurts me because I can never gaze in those deep brown eyes again. He would sit at the top of the stairs and I would lay on the steps so we could be eye to eye and we would stare at each other. It made me feel so calm and connected. Everyone, stop having eyes! And then there is the guilt for every bit of human food I gave him. I should never have done that! And also all the guilt for everything – all the Cheetos and fries – I denied him. I should have given him everything he ever asked for!
God fucking damn this hurts. I now understand why people go straight out and buy another dog after a loss like this. The void is crushing. Only I don’t want a new dog. I want a new house. One that doesn’t remind me of Wensley everywhere I look. Part of me keeps waiting for him to walk into every room I am in, his black nails clattering on the wood floor.
I’m not going to buy a new house. If I were obscenely rich, I might not be able to stop myself. Is that why rich people have so many houses? One for every beloved pet they have lost? I wonder.
There is nothing to do but let it hurt. I need to give myself time to grieve, and time to build some post-Wensley memories in this new house. It’s unbearable to think of still, but that is what has to happen.
I’m sure I sound like a crazy person, but Wensley was a once in a lifetime dog. He was with me through the most difficult years of my life. I was only 26 when I got him; it’s crazy to think of that! He was there through a divorce, multiple moves, countless loses and heartbreaks, and stressful shake-ups at work. For more than ten years, it was just Wensley and me, and he got me through. He was a the life raft that delivered me safely through the dangers and into the hands of my new family, Matt and Ethan.
They have been amazingly supportive, by the way. (All of my friends and family have been.) I broke down doing dishes the other night because there was a little chunk of celery left on someone’s plate that Wensley would have LOVED and I couldn’t give it to him. Ethan (who is seven) jumped up from his homework and ran over and wrapped his arms around my waist, telling me how much he loved me and how glad he is that we are a family. That made me cry harder but with gratitude.
I guess that is where I start. There is one new memory I have made in this “after Wensley” period. I guess I’m creating another one right now, as I’m writing in my too quiet house, and I’m feeling grief and gratitude at the same time, and I’m having a big sloppy cry as I get through this entry. Baby steps.
There are few things that have been running through my mind all week. One is this song by Holcombe Waller called Hardliners. Maybe listen, but don’t watch? It’s not a terrible video but I worry that the cheesiness distracts from the lyrics. I’m trying to figure out why it keeps popping into my head, other than the line that goes, “you’re so sad you just might die” which feels apt. I think it is because I need to be reminded that I have permission to feel all of this grief that is washing over me, but I don’t have permission to stop loving. It’s been exhausting to be a member of my family this week when I really wanted to be in bed with the blinds drawn, but my life raft didn’t get me all this way just so I could throw myself back in the rapids and go under.
This is the other brain worm that has been whispering in my ear. It’s a quote from Jamie Anderson (who according to the internet wrote Dr. Who).
That is so spot on, I think. Grief and love are just two sides of the same doggie biscuit, or similar.
This morning I dropped Ethan off and school and turned the car back toward home. My first thought was about going to a Starbucks that I know of near that area, but with a sharp sting I decided not to, because it is so close to Wensley’s Veterinarian’s office. My second thought was about Ethan. I started thinking about his breakfast routine and wondering if he is getting enough protein. I have a few ideas about what he might like, but I want to talk to Matt about it. Then I realized with a smile that I’m transferring my grief for my dog into anxiety for my stepson. Where else is all that worry going to go? So I suppose the healing has begun. Which is painful, but natural.
I don’t have a great ending and I’ve reached that point where I might start singing “The Circle of Life,” and no one needs that. Instead, here are a few favorite pics of Wensley, including one of both of us from 2005 when he was about five months old.
Rachel, I lost my sidekick of all sidekicks in 2017 and I was certain I’d never be happy again. This was the dog to whom I dedicated my first book. It took months (and admittedly a new dog) for me to stop looking for him in all of his typical haunts. The new dog isn’t quite George, but he does take up the same space. Thanks for sharing this post, I needed a smeary cry today.
Thank you so much Ella! That makes me feel like less of a crazy person.
I love this so much, and it breaks my heart.
I’m so sorry you lost your partner in crime. Sending *hugses* if you want them.