My dog’s death deserved to go viral
MA: ZOE STECK, 12/29/01–9/16–16.
Here is what I did not do in my dog’s final hours: take cute videos of her eating her favorite food or frolicking in her favorite places. I did not apply a filter over anything, not even one quick snap of her tail wagging. Here’s what I did do: snuck her some Xanax and some pain meds in a hot dog, sat with her weeping in the parking lot outside our building, my hand on her body as much as possible. I took in the expression in her eyes, one of desperate exhaustion, and I called the vet. I took her into the office where she promptly got stuck once again, her back legs having finally, finally had enough, and began to bark and cry. I sat on the tile floor next to her and cried myself as we waited an hour for a nurse to carry her into a room. The vet arrived. She said she could do a full work up, a comprehensive exam and x-rays and bloodwork, but she wasn’t stupid, she could read my face, and she asked me, was I thinking…
I don’t want her to be in any more pain, I said through mine.
Nothing in my life has prepared me for the experience of ordering the death of another living creature. I rubbed her ears and told her over and over and over that it was OK. I’m here, I kept saying to her as they shaved her leg and inserted a catheter. I’m here, I told her, as the sedative went in, my body shaking with something deeper than just about anything I’ve ever felt even as hers went, finally, still. Are you sure she’s dead, I asked the vet, who checked twice for me, to make sure she had no heartbeat. Oh god, I said to the body of my dead dog. Oh my god.
There’s a children’s book called On The Day You Were Born in which an animal tells another animal of the marvelous arrival of this creature. I didn’t take poignant videos of the perfect last day I gave my dog, because there was no time for videos, she gave in so quickly and so terribly finally. But the news of her death should spread in a kind of opposite to the children’s book. The reindeer should tell the terns who should tell the whales who should tell the salmon who should tell the butterflies who should tell the rutles who should tell the eels who should tell the warblers. It should spread as far as possible as fast as possible. This is the information age, is it not?
The day I got Zoe I was 16 years old. My family got her from a backyard breeder which was the exact wrong thing to do — you should never get a dog from a pet store or a backyard breeder, but thank god we did. When I was in high school she became the one healthy focus in my life. I researched everything about what to feed her (a raw, or BARF, diet; barring that, high quality dog food) how to train her (with a clicker) how to manage behaviors. I had a binder full of back issues of the Whole Dog Journal. I learned to fall in love, to, as she was beside me nearly constantly, in my bed, on the backyard trampoline, chasing after me while I rode my bike, running up and down hills at the local park. I took her everywhere I could — the beach, the bookstore, the video store, for long walks to the grocery store where she’d sit outside watching the world. I taught her to shake hands and stop at the street and come with I called her. When I experimented with cutting in high school she licked the blood clean from my arm. She finished my meals, slurping up whatever was left on the plate. She talks to you, a dog trainer once observed, watching us, and she did. We started a conversation when she was 7 weeks old and we finished it when she was 14.75 years old. I was 16 when we started. I had just turned 31 when we finished. I talked to her constantly. She deserves to go viral because you, too, should feel what a cataclysmic loss this is, how the world has rent apart. It should no longer be possible for the earth to spin around the sun. Where are the special Facebook filters for the loss of Zoe Banana, my best friend? Somehow it did not bother me when my father died that the world kept spinning, despite the fact that we were very close. His loss was less visceral, and perhaps that is the reason. I miss his wit and I miss arguing with him and I miss a thousand other things. Zoe, though — oh Zoe, I miss the feel of her ears, the Frito smell of her paws, the way she lifted her head to greet me even in the end when she was so tired I would often be home for a matter a minutes before she even registered that I was there. I miss the way she’d let me snake an arm under her head, the weight of it on my chest. The sound of her snores. How do I sleep now, without that music? Her bovine grunts, the dolphin squeals she made when excited: who will ever greet me again like that, going in circles around me, her odd noises a song?
People are assholes, all of us, my sister says. But dogs….
I called my dog an asshole all the time. When she barked too much, when she wouldn’t stop making noise, when she woke me up in the middle of the night. Sometimes I yelled at her. Sometimes I said it in baby talk. Often I told her how my day had gone. Was a rough one today, Banana, I’d tell her over dinner, and she’d listen politely and wait for me to finish so she could clean up. I’m tired, I’m bored, I’m unhappy, I miss my father so much his death has been an IED and I am watching myself burn, I told her. Hey, you’re adorable. I told her. You’re the sweetest. You’re the best little toast/bear/banana bear/love/sweetie ever.
Hey, I asked her, do you want some veggie hot dog/yogurt/cereal with milk/ice cream? Do you want to go for a walk/an adventure/a swim/a car ride?
Six days after she died I realized I had not gone for a walk in all that time. In 14.75 years I had been for very very few walks without her. I included her obsessively, turning down invitations, bringing her to teach Sunday school with me.
What else should an obituary include? Have I not told you the most important information? I suppose you need to know about her accomplishments. She was very good with a stick; she could carry, in her prime, a solid ten-footer. She could hold two tennis balls at once. She swam beautifully, her tail the perfect rudder; she once went out to play tug of war with a rope swing dangling over the Bay of Fundy, grunting and growling at this beast that wouldn’t give in. She tolerated car rides but hated boats of any kind. Marble floors, or shined wood, scared the hell out of her as did small spaces. She liked children that dropped food and disliked children that pulled her tail. She liked people, generally, and especially as she got older she preferred them to dogs, which is more or less the exact opposite of how I feel. When I cried she came to me and licked me, herself distressed. She grew up in the same household I did and there was anxiety in her body, too; she could read a room better than Bill Clinton at a campaign rally and adjust herself accordingly. I miss her as I would miss my own heartbeat.
And there’s the manner of her death. She just gave out, that’s all. She was just too tired to go on. Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? It her case it just happened to be less metaphorical, more literal.
Of course her death doesn’t really deserve to go viral; it’s only in my own head that it is this important. Really what should be going viral is that being black in America appears to be a capital crime, that there are starving children all over the goddamn place and the reality of geopolitics makes it very hard to help some of them but of course we have to try but how the hell do we even try when the problem is so big, and our schools are a mess, and the school-to-prison pipeline, and there’s how problematic drone warfare is, that Donald Trump could become President, and Agent Orange is still killing people and Jesus fuck what about climate change and I’m sure there are a million horrific things I’m not remotely aware of that deserve to go viral. Really, my dog’s death is nothing.
Except that’s a lie too and you know it, if you’re lucky. I hope you get a chance to know it.