Last night, I awoke from a dream, crying. In my dream, I was remembering my last moments with my dog, Oliver, as I was about to have him euthanized. Only this time, I was begging; begging my Gods, begging the veterinarian and staff that he not die in distress and that I should be the last he saw before he drew his last breath and his heart beat its last rhythmic thump. I remembered stroking his head and whispering prayers to Gods and Goddesses to whom I knew dogs to be special. His thick, glossy fur disguised his bony, scrawny body. I suspect his fatty tumors had turned cancerous, for his appetite never faded, though his body was thin and frail.
This memory-dream is accurate, by the way, except for the begging. I guess I was too much of a coward, too overwhelmed with the grief of having someone administer a lethal dose of anesthesia to my constant companion for almost sixteen years, to actually beg out loud. I did gently hold his face in my hands to distract him from the pinch of the needle.
Oliver was a birthday present – the only good and beautiful addition to my life with my ex-husband. He was a very big schipperke; at least five pounds heavier than the maximum breed standard. I have a favorite picture, though I can barely stand to look at it. We are in my ex-sister-in-law’s apartment in Las Vegas. I’m sitting on a chair with Oliver on my lap. His front legs are on my shoulders, and my arms are around his lower back. We are both facing the camera, smiling. Mother and child, best friends, protector and protected – though we often swapped those roles.
We faced some tough times together, me and this small dog with the big personality. He would tolerate other people, but I was his favorite. He would wait patiently for me, even when I worked weeks at a time out of town, only reluctantly leaving his post to eat or relieve himself. I think he was secretly happy when I left public accounting for good.
In December of 2011, or maybe early January of 2012, I was working swing shift as a tow truck driver. Being in school and working full time cemented my early-rising habits and this day was no exception. As I walked down the hallway from my bedroom, I could hear a scratching noise. I walked into the home office to find Oliver, paddling around in a pool of his own excrement. The hardwood floors were sometimes too slippery for him to get up without assistance for he had snapped his meniscus a few years earlier. I had no idea how long he had been trying to stand up so that he could get through the doggie door and go potty. It was then that I knew our time together was coming to an end. He was starting to suffer. By February, he would be gone.
I have yet to get another pet of any kind. Next February will be the two year anniversary of his death. It’s strange because this is the first time in my life that I have not had a pet, and never in my adult life have I not had a dog. I keep saying that it’s not the right time to get a dog because I’m in school and wouldn’t be home enough to care for a pet. Inside though, I’m filled with doubt. I second guess my decision to have Oliver euthanized constantly. The guilt makes me feel as though I don’t deserve another pet.
Perhaps it is because the holiday season is upon us, that I remember my beloved pet. Or maybe, it is because I just finished reading Veganist by Kathy Freston, which among other things, is filled with stories of the abuse of livestock.
I learned all kinds of things from Freston’s book. Did you know that if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off US roads? In fact, “UN scientists conclude that the business of raising animals for food is responsible for about 18 percent of all [global] warming, and that meat eating is ‘one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. (Though the World Bank concludes it is at least 50% responsible for climate change.)”
One story that haunts me is from an investigator. He tells this story: “When documenting conditions at a Texas stockyard, I saw this cow in a pen, with her head flopped over to one side. I asked the stockyard worker what happened and was told that the cow was brought to the stockyard with her calf, and when they were forcibly separated as is common in the cattle industry. Cows have very close bonds with their young, and when mother and calf are separated – usually at day one – the mother bellows and cries for hours and sometimes days. This mother fought to be with her calf, but she was restrained and couldn’t go after him as he was dragged away. When she lunged toward him, someone slammed the gate on her and her neck was broken. Her eyes were wide open, full of fear, moving and darting around. Sometimes her head would swing wildly across the floor, but she couldn’t lift it. There was actually a groove in the pen where her head had swung back and forth. I felt sick and pained and helpless. She was to be used for meat, so there was little chance she would be put out of her misery.”
I’m sure this investigator felt as sick and pained as I did when I saw my little dog desperately trying to get up off the soiled floor, only I wasn’t helpless to relieve his suffering. That day, I was able to offer my pet affection and a warm bath; and about a month later, I was able to offer him a (hopefully) painless journey to the other side of the veil while being held and stroked by the person who loved him best.