best. dog. ever.
Growing up we had a Dalmatian by the name of Rebel. A liver-spotted, pure-bred with one blue eye and one brown eye. It’s cliché of course, but he was the best. dog. ever.
Growing up, if I was home sick, he’d lay by the couch, keeping watch over me. The way he smiled, yes, smiled, when we would come home from being gone. The way his tail would just wag all the time. He was friendly, patient, playful, loyal and protective.
Just after I went off to college, he fell while going down the stairs and slipped a disk in his spine. The disk itself basically shifted itself back into place, but the swelling was still putting pressure on his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed. It was decided to try cortisone shots to reduce the swelling. There was no guarantees it would be enough, but we had to try.
I went to visit him at the vets, not knowing if this would be the last time I would get to see him or not. Seeing him struggle to get up when he saw me approaching the kennels was kind of eerie. He had that funky smile of his, where his upper lip just kind of curled up a bit. But his eyes were glazed from the pain meds. His tail was uncharacteristically unmoving.
I spent close to an hour there, sort of half sitting, half laying next to his kennel, petting him. talking to him. To this day I’m not sure if I was trying to reassure him, or myself. He was soon struggling to stay awake. I’m sure the medications were making it tough for him to do so. So I said good bye, told him I’d be back for another visit and turned to go.
The sound he made, the wailing. I had never heard a sound like that before, not from Rebel, not anywhere. It’s a sound that honestly, still kind of haunts me. On a positive note, the cortisone shots reduced the swelling and he regained about 75-80% use of his back legs… and was back to his happy puppy self for a couple more years before he started losing control of his bladder and bowels, likely due to the spinal cord damage.
When it was time, nobody else in the family could bear themselves to bring him to the vet. All I could think of was those times as a kid when I was sick, and how he wouldn’t leave my side. I couldn’t not be there for him now.
I was kind of numb during the whole thing, to the point where while we were at the front desk checking in, I didn’t even notice how he peed right there, on my foot.
I know the vet and staff were saying stuff during the process, the only thing I really remember is them reassuring me, and that I could take as long as I needed. That, and just holding him as he “fell asleep”, choking on the tears. I don’t know how long I stood there before I slipped his collar off, and just sort of quietly walked out of the vet. I don’t even think I went back to my mom’s house.. I think I just went back to my apartment.
Over the 30+ years since then, I’ve had other pets who have meant a lot to me. I’ve thought it would be nice to have another dog. Heck, a part of me would love to have another Dalmatian. But in the mean time, I’ve got no shortage of wonderful memories of Rebel to keep me company.
This is a variation of something I first wrote for a composition class in college, and recently shared an abridged version of it on a reddit discussion where a 23YO shared he had just gone thru a similar experience in having to be the one to take his dog, the one he grew up with, to the vet for the last time all by himself, was was feeling down and lonely I wanted to try and show him that while he may have nobody there with him for this, he is not alone.