This was our Frankie. He was with us for six years. We saved him from the euthanasia list because he was a badly socialized dog. He was malnourished and was small, I feel, because his growth had been stunted by lack of food. The shelter said that he had been abandoned by a Chinese family with whom he had lived inside a closet (!). Up until the very last day, Frankie couldn’t stand it if you closed a door on him. But he was a fighter, a Braveheart– little body, determined spirit.
From the moment he came to our house, he was my shadow, following me everywhere and even, in the beginning, showing up in the bathroom if I had to take a leak at night. We fattened him up, and slowly, he came out of his shell, even though damaged dogs remain damaged in some way: He would cower, if you reached out to pet him and the first year, his tail would be firmly in between his legs as if he had never even learned how to wag his tail.
Our older doxie, Teddy, tolerated him– we think he considered him a little punk and having been an only dog for a long time, it was hard to share the spotlight.
In February, when Frankie was with a sitter, and we were abroad, he went into diabetic shock, and a clinic at Berkeley pulled him back from death’s door. It was touch and go but my little fighter pulled through and driving him home after a week of ICU care, he lay down next to me, but his eyes wouldn’t leave my face, as if he were afraid to be abandoned again at any moment.
Frankie’s diabetes was never fully under control. We had many more visits to the vet after that, but he continued to drink like a camel and was quite incontinent. His gait became more belabored as did his breathing, and his hair started falling out. He had a UTI for months. He had changed from a lively little rascal into a geriatric dog, sleeping most of the day and acting exhausted.
On Friday, Frankie took a turn for the worse. It almost seems as if he had had a stroke: his gait was unsteady, he fell over once or twice and he looked at me as if he had been smoking dope. He wouldn’t eat in the morning and lay in my arms like a drunken sailor. Teddy “inspected” him and did something I had never seen him do: He gently licked Frankie’s face.
I called the vet, fearing the end was near.
Going to the vet, Frankie perked up a bit, but after a conversation with the vet and the discussion of pain meds to add to the bazillion pills he was already taking, I decided to call it a day. There’s nothing nice about playing god or making that call. In fact, it made me feel guilty, like I was about to kill my dog at a point when he still might have had a few more good weeks or maybe months. It’s never the right time.
I felt torn. And heartbroken.
It went really fast– a more merciful death than most people sometimes get who linger in ICUs. He lay down and, after less than 20 seconds, his heart stopped beating. Out of his one eye, a little tear came rolling down. Do dogs cry?
Driving home, I felt like Dr. Kevorkian. Rationally, I had been ready. Emotionally, I was not. A friend of mine commented: “I know– why don’t they die in their sleep?”
I always thought the sanctity of life was for Christians and pro-life people, but the older I get, the more I feel conflicted about this sort of thing. As I age, life, these matters of life and death become more nuanced and complex, scarred as we become, seeing parents die, seeing our pets die and pondering our own mortality.
I was heartbroken about our little guy, because he had had such a rough life, living inside that closet and spending only six years with us. He shouldn’t be trusting people after what he had gone through but he trusted me… with his life.
The house felt strangely empty and I took Teddy in my arms and cried. And just as Teddy had been licking Frankie’s face, he now was licking mine. Our dogs offer us unconditional love, more than people, which is why it is so hard to let them go.
As I sat down at my desk, I missed little Frankie at my feet and for a weird, fleeting moment I felt a lick on my leg, but he was no longer there.
That night I couldn’t sleep. Multiple scenarios went through my head. Did we do everything we could have done for him? And dammit, I saw him die, many times over on that vet’s table.
When sleep finally did come, I woke up from a dog barking. It was Frankie’s distinct bark and I’m not sure, but I think it was his way of saying goodbye from wherever he is now.
Did I do the right thing? We never know. But it’s irreversible now.
Goodbye my little friend, my Braveheart, my little lion– your eyes burned a little hole in my soul, which won’t get patched up any time, soon.
It’s true, though, what a friend of my daughter’s said: All dogs go to heaven– they do, because in some ways, they’re so much better than humans.