Why we put Clarence down before Christmas.
We were going to put it off till after all the kids came home for Christmas so they could say their last goodbyes. But well before then Clarence had stopped eating and was just a bag of bones.
He went from 22 pounds to 15 and his spine was sticking out of his back. We could feel it through his skin as we’d rub his stinky matted fur.
He could barely stand when Lorraine bathed him this week because he’d shit himself again.
He couldn’t even climb out of his doggie bed sometimes without falling. He’d face plant on the concrete from the two brick steps in front of our home.
He’d get up around 3 AM and click click click across the bathroom floor dropping turds as he went. He didn’t even whine anymore to ask to go out.
To try in vain to pack a little weight on him, Lorraine cooked hot meals just for Clarence: scrambled eggs, chicken burgers, rice and chicken broth. He’d sniff it, maybe eat a little of what he once wolfed down ravenously.
Then this week he brought it all back up on the floor. He wouldn’t even eat his doggie treats, the cartoon bone- shaped cookies. Once upon a time we had to drop them in front of him because he’d quite literally bite the hand that fed him. He was never very well trained, always a bit of the rebel anarchist.
Lately he didn’t seem to know where he was — like he had sundowners or doggie dementia. He’d walk round and round and round the house, bumping into walls or getting tangled in electrical cords.
Even his sense of smell seemed to leave him. He didn’t seem to know where to pee to mark his territory, not the usual spots covering the other dogs pee.
He wouldn’t lift his leg like a male. His back legs would collapse uncontrollably.
He’d cower and quiver. He developed full body spasms that started when he was startled by a breeze or a stray leaf. He’d walk into the monkey grass lining our walkway and a strand would stick him in the eye because he couldn’t see it and his whole body would react like he was having a minor seizure.
When Lorraine held him in her lap in the front seat of the Kia on the final ride he did it too, so much so that she asked me to roll up the car window I had cracked to air out his fetid rotten fish smell.
Zuzu, the runt bitch, his fellow Westie adoptee and constant companion, could not rouse him to play even by barking at him furiously. He was done.
The kids had already said their goodbyes. He was getting us up at three and five and six in the morning. And as we were walking or standing in the freezing dark, it didn’t seem to help him.
He’d keep right on peeing inside, as likely to pee on the floor as outside, just as soon as we brought him back from a long walk. The walks took a half hour or so, but he rarely left the block. He’d return to his bed and collapse.
At this point it just seemed cruel not to relieve his pain. He didn’t have much life left in his life.
The vet tech using a rectal thermometer on him seemed like a particularly pointless exercise, a final indignity, a data point to be shelved, then trashed.
The vet shaved a little patch above his paw to run the IV. I picked up the tuft of white fur from where the tech laid it on the metal table and tucked the hair in the pocket of my hoodie when Lorraine wasn’t looking. That small scrap of fur and photos and memories and a dirty collar with tags jangling are all that is left of the 16 years of Clarence the Westie, rescue, adoptee, pound pup.
We elected to have him cremated with a bunch of other dogs and to have his ashes spread “on a farm near Asheville.” This could be code for a dumpster for all I know. It was the $30 option, not the $175 one. We weren’t going to place the ashes in an urn on the mantle or scatter them ourselves around the neighborhood or dole them out to the kids for Christmas. We had our memories. There was no need to cling to the detritus (detritus — from the Latin meaning a rubbing away, worn down).
The phenobarbital derivative was bubblegum pink, death the color of kid stuff, jarring. His maroon blood backed up into the thin capillary tube as he lay on a maroon bath towel in Lorraine’s arms on her lap, already sedated. She assured him over and over: it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. It’s all okay. I was not okay. None of us seemed particularly reassured but I’ve got to give it to her for trying. The last time with Bailey she faced this alone.
After the sedative took effect, the tech stuck her head in the door, with a chipper “How are we doing?” I didn’t have a quick answer.
The animal doctor, a balding, bespecaled man, kissed Clarence on the forehead and told him he was sorry, not an apology so much as an acknowledgment of our common suffering.
He pushed the plunger on the syringe and the maroon reversed course, replaced by pink.
Clarence stopped breathing almost instantly, his last breath not a deep sigh but a breath like any other, unremarkable. I held my hand on his belly as Lorraine cradled him, ever the mom. The vet put a stethoscope on Clarence’s chest and said he’s gone.
The vet said we could stay as long as we liked so we sat in the chairs with the color portraits of happy healthy dogs hanging around us and rubbed our dead dog and cried and sniffled.
“Say hello to Bailey for us,” Lorraine said, and we lay his body in the towel on the metal table and shut the door.
Twelve days before Christmas, Clarence Oddbody, Angel second-class, finally got his wings. Someone ring a bell.