A woman came into the shelter this weekend to have her dog euthanized.
She spoke quickly and deliberately, and explained that the dog was ill, she had taken it to five different vets, they had each told her something different and nothing had helped, now he was starting to cough up blood and the latest vet said there was something wrong with all the dog's organs and he'd have to do x-rays but she'd spent all her money at the other vets already and... She needed to have him put to sleep, because there was nothing else she could do, and she didn't want him to keep suffering.
She signed the release just as quickly, almost dismissively. The shelter technician and I both looked at the dog and his shaking owner, then at each other, and I'm sure we both had the same expression - if not the same thought. He gently lifted the dog and carried him away. Since it was a busy day in the rest of the shelter, I was left alone with the woman.
She just stood there at the counter for about half a minute. Without looking at me, she asked, "I'm not going to see him again?" I told her no.
"It won't hurt, will it? What'll happen when they do it?"
I explained how the euthanasia injection worked - the dog would be given an anesthetic, just like if it were going into surgery. He'd fall asleep, and just not wake up again. And he wouldn't be hurting.
She nodded, then started crying. "It's all my fault. I should have done something else. I should have done more..."
Those words were very familiar. They were pretty much what I'd told myself, over and over again, when Buster died. But I knew how untrue those words were. She'd fought tooth and nail for her dog, and literally given that fight everything she had. In the shelter, she'd given him comfort and courage - and believe me, I know how hard it is to stay calm when your heart's breaking. She'd been brave enough to take on the pain of grief so her dog's pain would abate.
What more would her dog have asked of her?
I wish I could have put it more eloquently and completely, as the behavioral psychologist Patricia McConnell did on her blog, here. Sophie recently pointed this article out to me (under the heading of, "you really, really need to read this"). If you've ever lost a pet, and especially if you've ever had to have one euthanized, I highly reccommend it.
Just before she left, I told her the one thing she could have done - the one thing she still could do, in spite of everything: "Just try to always be the person your dog thinks you are."
I really hope she realizes how much she did for her dog. In time, when the sting of grief isn't as sharp, I hope she'll come to the shelter and adopt another companion. Because that will be one well-loved dog.