On Saturday, I awoke to find my old black lab Macey in a bad way. Pat and I knew this day was coming; we just hoped there would be a clear sign. Now there was. It was time to help Macey “crossover” to greener pastures, where she could once again roam free . . . to rummage through trash cans, one of her favorite activities. At least that was the image I chose to hold onto to get me through the next few hours.
The employees at the vet hospital were very accommodating. I arrived unexpectedly a couple of hours before they closed for the weekend. “Don’t worry. We can work her in.”
Macey was in the back of our Honda Element. It had been a struggle to get her there. Macey had lost the use of her back legs, but I had managed to pull/drag her out of the house and lift her to the very spot where she now rested. (Pat was out of town.)
Now, I had help. The aide and I struggled to get Macey onto a stretcher and strap her down so she wouldn’t fall off. Then she was carried off to the back of the hospital to be “triaged.” I was not allowed to be with her. Instead, I was shuttled into an exam room, to wait . . . alone.
I tried to call Pat on my cell but could not reach him. So, I just waited. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before the door opened. Two women entered with Macey on the stretcher. She seemed to float in, on a magic carpet, partly covered with a comfy quilt.
I was thrilled to see Macey looking like her old self, even as she confusedly looked around the room. I noticed a port taped to her front leg. The aides sat the stretcher on the floor and left us alone to visit until the doctor was available. Macey was never much into being touched, except in certain spots. So I massaged those places, as I reassured her that all would be ok. “I am ready,” she seemed to say.
Macey was over 14 years old, old for a lab. We adopted her six years ago as a companion dog to our blind dog, Whitey. Macey’s health had been declining for a while. She had lung cancer, though a nerve disorder is what had brought her down. Macey had rallied for the holidays, though, and that meant a lot to the family.
The vet entered the room, gently interrupting our visit. She made a point to assure me that I was doing the right thing. “It is best for Macey and that is what matters most,” she said. I felt ready.
“Have you gone through this before,” the vet asked. I nodded. I couldn’t help think about it, in the same hospital, with Whitey. “Okay, I have a syringe in my pocket,” the vet said as she reached toward her lab coat pocket. “She will just go to sleep.”
WHOA . . . . Not so fast. “I don’t want to be here for that,” I blurted out. “Sorry, I wasn’t sure,” she replied. I was flooded with mixed emotions. I knew I couldn’t stay, but I feared I sounded uncaring. I looked to the doctor for direction, and she came through. “I will leave the room. You can say your goodbyes to Macey and then just leave. I will take care of the rest.” She then hugged me and left Macey and me alone. I took a deep breath.
“Bye girl,” I said as I rubbed Macey in her special spots. “You have been a great dog. Everything is going to be fine.” Tears were running down my face. Not wanting other dog owners to see my upset, I raced through the waiting room and left alone in our Honda Element.
Perhaps it is common for pet parents to not stay with their animals being put down. I don’t know, but I was angry that I could not.
I am a capital defense attorney and have witnessed the execution of four clients.
Zane, Willie, Steve and Timmy were all strapped down to a stretcher with a baby blue blanket pulled to their chins. I never saw the tubes that I knew were inserted into their skin. Separated by a thick window, I kept my eyes on each of their faces, trying to provide whatever comfort I could. I sat there staring at Zane, Willie, Steve and Timmy, mouthing words of comfort and smiling. All the while knowing that they were being poisoned to death — or as some like to think of it, being “put him to sleep.”
Yet I could not be there for my dog. Witnessing those executions has left me vulnerable to traumatic stress reactions. My first time was stepping up to have my own blood drawn, months after Zane’s execution. The discomfort is less about the images and more about the flood of emotions: the paralysis, the helplessness. It is a state of mind one avoids if possible. And on Saturday, I did.