“Can you climb out, baby?” I whisper. Maggie’s watery brown eyes meet mine for just a moment, and she turns away. I rub her head; her body shakes beneath my hands. She looks up again, her eyes dart around me, past me, at me. “I’ve got you, baby,” I promise, leaning my face into the side of hers.
I straighten myself and contemplate how to lift her from the uneven surface of the car’s backseat, and then balance her and get her through the front door and…
“I’ll get the doors for you,” my friend says. “And I’ll grab your purse and lock up the car.“
My purse. Keys. Right.
I turn back to Maggie. She’s trying to withdrawal further into the car, but there’s no place to go. And she can’t move herself anymore. I reach in and stroke her face and her back and put my arms beneath her belly, fork-lifting her from the car. Her almost useless legs dangle over my arms. Her body offers no resistance, just the remnants of fear that started when she realized where we were headed.
The front door dings as I carry her into the lobby. The technician looks up. Our eyes meet for a moment and sadness softens her expression. “The room is ready for you,” she says. “You can bring her back here.”
Warm blankets are arranged on the metal table. I lay Maggie’s crumpled body in the middle of them. Slowly. Gently. The technician steps in and situates her for me. I just stand there. Useless. I don’t know what to do. Her body shakes so hard. She looks for me. Locks in on my eyes. I wrap my arms around her neck and sob into her fur.
The technician comes back in with paperwork. I hadn’t noticed her leave. I wipe my eyes and read. I’m consenting to an overdose. I’d hadn’t actually thought about how they’d do it. I’ve never put an animal down before. It makes sense, but reading the words is almost too much. I drop my head. But I sign. I have to. I leave the pen on the table and walk back over to my dog. I wrap my arms around her neck again, my body now shaking as hard as hers. “I’m so sorry, Maggie,” I cry into her fur.
The vet enters. Quietly and solemn. She offers a small, understanding moment of silence. She strokes Maggie’s fur and softly goes over the last few years of Maggie’s declining health. All of the things we tried. Everything we did. She tells me that I’m doing the right thing, and explains how the process will work.
Two shots. The first will sedate her and after a few minutes lull her into sleep. The other will put her down.
Whenever I’m ready.
I nod. I can’t speak. I keep my arms around Maggie’s neck as they inject the first shot, whispering what a good girl she is. The vet tells me it will take a few minutes and they’ll check back shortly. I hear them leave. My body is too heavy to turn and watch them go. Instead I keep rubbing Maggie’s face, her head, her back.
She looks at me one more time, and then turns away and puts her head down. Her shaking stops. Mine accelerates. Her breathing becomes slow and even. Mine becomes erratic. My friend puts an arm around me.
The door opens and the tech peeks in. She signals to the vet. They enter. As the vet administers the second shot, she talks quietly about Maggie’s life. I’m so surprised by this I almost laugh. A eulogy? Really? It’s absurd. The whole thing is absurd. That I’m such a mess is absurd. She’s a dog. A dog.
She’s somehow so much more than just a dog that I can’t stop weeping and nodding along with everything the vet says. She did live a good life. She was a wonderful dog. And this was the right thing to do.
And then it’s over. Just like that. Done. The room feels empty. The vet tells me she’s gone and encourages me to take as much time as I need. She and the tech leave the room. I stand there for a moment. A little dazed. I can’t find my purse. My keys. My friend holds them up. Right.
We leave the office. It’s really bright. The air feels weird. My friend drives me home. I have to focus. I have to pick up my kids. I have to plan the rest of the day. And for the first time in almost 14 years, I’ll have to walk through the front door to a silent reception.
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