Well we’re more than half way through 2015 and I’m still struggling with my resolution to stop writing 2014 on all my checks. I don’t usually make resolutions because if I really want to make a change, I don’t wait until January 1st, I IMMEDIATELY start obsessing until it’s no longer something I can change, but a personal flaw that will live with me forever.
2014 ended in an interesting way. We had to say goodbye to our beloved family dog, our dachshund, Benny. Calling that an “interesting” end sounds heartless but there’s no other way to describe it. It was interesting and odd. But also heartbreaking.
Benny had been in our family for almost 20 years. He more recently became blind and deaf which was kind of more adorable than upsetting. He hadn’t lost his instinct to protect us and would still get into a low attack stance, ready to lunge at any intruder. But more often than not he would be wedged into a corner of the house, growling at a harmless wall. He might have been trying to make us feel safe and prove that he was still as needed as a younger dog. Or maybe, just maybe, there was a ghost in that wall.
Benny loved to eat, something that stayed with him to the end. He once woke us up in the middle of the night with his barking because he’d knocked over an empty bowl of ice cream only to have it land upside down, making it impossible for him to lick clean. And, I mean, I GET IT, that sounds really frustrating. He’d unzip my backpack and eat my gum. He’d eat chapstick and glue sticks. He’d chew through my underwear. We were late-night regulars at the animal emergency room because of his binges on chocolate and inedibles. It’s actually kind of amazing that old age is what finally did him in.
I was in third grade when we brought Benny home so I grew up with him. He was there for all my phases and changes, which was probably unfortunate for him at times. I dressed him up as a woman – not just a female dog but a human woman – and made him (her) get married or testify in court depending on whether I was in my hopeless romantic or criminal law phase.
I made him star in the ‘Shiloh’ remake I wrote and filmed in the Colorado prairie when I was 10, during my Steven Spielberg phase.
When I moved to LA, he filled the empty nest syndrome brewing inside of my mother. She bought him a dog car seat and made my brother and I sit in the back when we’d come home for visits.
He never growled or bit, he’d roll over onto his back at any indication of confrontation and was an expert at using his tiny T-Rex paws to guide your hands when you scratched his belly. He could somehow pin me down and lick my face until tears ran down my face from laughing. He was big and soft and round and I do think in human form he would be a lovable, overweight Southern housewife. And I know everyone says this about their dog but he was the best. So it wasn’t easy to say goodbye to him. Especially since I had to do it twice.
When my brother and I landed in Colorado for Christmas, my mom told us we’d have to say goodbye to Benny on this trip. My brother and I both knew it was coming, it had been a long time since Benny could walk up the stairs or sleep through the night. When we got home from the airport, Benny couldn’t stand up. He looked confused and resigned and there was all of a sudden an unspoken understanding between my mom, brother and I that we would be putting Benny down that day. Tears were a-flowin’. Like… so many tears. And snot. And gasps for air. And hugs. We shared muffled stories between sobs and passed Benny around like a sweet, cute, loveable doobie.
When we got to the vet the technician took Benny to the back room and had us wait while she got him ready. My stomach was turning and knotting, we were all sobbing and were in the middle of a three-way hug when the vet came in.
“He’s fine back there.” she said chipperly, gesturing to the back room. “He’s just walkin’ around. Ya know, just bein’ Ben.”
We stared at her.
You know that cheesy kid’s trick where you smile really big and then run your hand down in front of your face and reveal a huge frown. That’s how quickly our faces changed from ugly cry faces to what the fuck faces. Because I mean, what THE fuck. We did what every animal owner or lover dreads. We had come to terms with putting him down, with saying goodbye and this woman wants to jump into our mourning room and tell us “he’s just bein’ Ben”? Who are you? His best friend Lesley? (inside joke from the Miley Cyrus song “See You Again”)
She put her hands up in defense, and assured us we could still go through with our “plan” but she just “wanted to let us know, he’s doing just fine in the back.” If making us feel like murderers wasn’t unprofessional enough, she took us back to see Benny and “Turn Down for What” by Lil Jon was playing at maximum volume. I was party central back there, no wonder Benny perked up. Have you HEARD “Turn Down For What”??
A technician slowly lowered the volume, subtly trying to fit the abrupt vibe change we were bringing. Turns out “distressed family who, after a lot of thought and pain, reluctantly decides to put their beloved dog to sleep, is then labeled as heartless murderers” doesn’t match with lyrics like ‘fire up loud, another round of shots’ (spoiler alert: there aren’t any other lyrics to the song.)
The vet was right. Benny was standing and looking around and to his full abilities was alert and lively.
So what do ya do at that point? We put Benny back in the car, wiped off our dried tears and let the awkwardness of ‘sorry we almost killed you’ settle in the car as we drove home.
That vet was horrible and unprofessional. She made an impossible and heartwrenching family decision ten times worse. But I also got to spend one last Christmas with my little buddy.
My mom ended up putting Benny down a couple of days after my brother and I got back to LA. She took him in and the GOOD vet gathered up all the technicians and assistants who had worked with Benny over the last two decades (I can’t stress enough how much we were at that animal emergency). And after Benny pooped in my mom’s lap, they sent him off in a room full of love.