We recently had to put one of our dogs down. Old age, heart failure and bad kidneys for Rocco, a 12-year-old Boston Terrier. Bostons have a 12-to-15-year life expectancy, so it wasn't a surprise per se, but we had hoped his passing would have been more gentle.
It's not a good place to be when you're the one handing off your pet to go to the great beyond. There's something inherently disconcerting about making the decision, as if you want to crawl under a rock and hide because of your personal power to end the life of an animal. At the same time, however, you realize it's also an act of mercy.
Easy choice, but a tough call all the same.
There were other circumstances surrounding putting down Rocco that threw me. The first was how upset I was over his passing, when, as I've said, I knew it was coming. He was old for his breed. His black hair filled with white, and he'd been breathing heavier for almost a year. I also wasn't the biggest fan of his. I loved him, sure, but he wasn't the easiest dog to own.
Even up to the end, he'd give us this look when we gave him a command, "You talking to me? Really? I don't care. I'm going to leave a present for you on the carpet."
He chewed through nearly everything the first few years, and he never managed to warm up to the kids. In fact, I distinctly remember him giving us his back for three days straight when we brought our second child home from the hospital. "Another one? Bark."
Both my husband and I have pasts riddled with moves that said goodbye to pets, as well as having parents who weren't as committed to keeping pets as much as we wanted them to be. This is why we were determined to get a dog as a married couple and keep him. Come what may.
Thus, despite the fact that Rocco had at one time chewed through the husband's original "Star Wars" collection, his Bible, and -- the world undone -- his remote control, we kept Rocco.
Even though he was borderline indifferent to our kids and acted as if we betrayed him by birthing them, we kept Rocco. Even though he'd do unthinkable things in the backyard, we kept Rocco because we made a commitment to him and the commitment stood.
So yes, I cried. I blubbered. My eyes turned red and swelled because I was heartbroken. Even when it's not the easiest, dedicating yourself to someone or something equates to love, and love is all that matters when you say goodbye.
The other surprising turn was how the rest of the family responded. My older son overreacted by telling me I had scared him for life, and my younger son underreacted by asking to play with my iPhone at the vet's. It was only when we got into the car, without Rocco, that he had a major meltdown, finally understanding what happened. Inevitably, they both looked at me as if I should have done more, waved a magic wand, I suppose.
Then, my husband's paramount concern was that we were sending the kids the wrong message by letting them hear the decision to put Rocco to sleep; Charles was fearful that when we're old and having trouble breathing ourselves, the kids would want to do the same thing to us.
However, our vet, a woman who can only be considered a hero in these circumstances, took care of that concern. Dr. Ann Hamilton of Affordable Pet Hospital, with tears in her eyes, took the time on an otherwise slammed appointment day to tell my children why we had to put Rocco down and how I had made the right choice. She also summarized what was customary to do to humans when they were in that condition, how it was different for dogs, and how it's not feasible to treat the two life forms the same.
Now my husband can once again envision his golden years without the threat of one of his sons injecting him with sleepy-time juice, and my children no longer look at me as if I'm some sort of dog killer. I also told the boys I'd get them a new puppy, which definitely put a spring back into their step.
At first, I hesitated even thinking about getting another animal, because surely, I'm aware of all the frustration, ruined carpet, and pain of goodbye that comes with every pet. Yet, the good will outweigh the bad. Besides, any critter in my house will inevitably demonstrate a lack of decorum, which always makes for a good column.
Email contributing columnist Heather Ijames at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her work appears here every third Thursday; the views expressed are her own.