I’m okay with posting this now. I imagine, knowing me, a lot of people didn’t know exactly how I was doing during those last few weeks. I know I put on a show, and I did so consciously with good reason. I didn’t talk to anyone about what happened because it wouldn’t have helped me, or her, or anyone else. People always say you should open up to others when you’re hurt, but there’s something liberating in getting through it on your own.
Maya was a beagle. As a matter of fact, she was this beagle.
When I first met her she was a teeny wiggly puppy that could only just open its eyes. My mom actually picked her out of a litter – I wanted a different one, but she said ‘I really think we should get this one.’ So I dubbed her Maya, after the villain from The Witches of Eileanan series which I still enjoy reading to this day, and that was that. She was born on November 28th, 2004. We brought her home in the Spring.
I was a crappy trainer at first, always getting impatient, but I quickly learned that Maya was a very smart and very patient puppy, and she helped teach me to be a good pet owner. She was potty trained within days, and shortly after she was fully capable of basic tricks such as sitting, laying down, and coming when called. Eventually I was able to teach her other neat tricks like begging, laying her head on my lap, jumping into the air and rolling over. I haven’t met a smarter dog yet, but she was very food motivated and I would tell people that she would ‘recite the Constitution for a piece of bacon!’
I was so proud of her. She was there with me through so much – through anxiety and depression and breakups and even though you never want to show your feelings to people, don’t want them to see you hurt or weak, you don’t have to hide it from a dog. So I would hug her tight and cry into her fur when I needed her, and she would sit there very still until I was done, then she’d go chew on some cords or something. I couldn’t have gotten through some very tough situations without her. I wasn’t brave enough. She was always there, though, so I didn’t always need to be.
She was only five when a spot appeared on her eye. It was white and milky, and at first it was small, but then it began to grow. I was afraid she was going blind because that’s what it looked like, so finally we took her to the vet. That was my biggest fear, that she was going blind. I wondered if they’d have to remove the eye.
When we were at the vet, they poked around for a while until finally the vet said “Her lymph nodes are swollen, all of them.” They would have to run some tests. I knew what was coming then – I just knew. I didn’t know what she had, or even what lymph nodes were, but something in my gut told me that when those tests were done, the doctor was going to tell me my dog was going to die. I told my dad to go home. He did.
Lymphoma. I guess it’s a type of cancer in your lymph nodes. The vet’s assistant told me very sweetly, very nice, not uncaring or routine at all. Since I was alone, it was okay, and I cried. I wanted to believe that the six weeks she was given would, by some miracle, stretch into a year or two. That for that year or two, she’d still be healthy and happy and normal. I wanted it more than anything in the world. They said they could give her chemotherapy, and I asked her what Maya’s life expectancy would be. “A year if it works,” she told me. I knew it was a lot of money to prolong the inevitable. I knew chemo wasn’t fun. A year if it works.
My dad told me it was okay if I wanted to do the chemo, that he would pay for it. I chose not to, though. I didn’t want to do that to her. I didn’t want to do it to me. I’d be grieving in a year, anyway. I chose the six weeks with Maya at home. I wonder if I made the right decision.
I bought tons of wet dog food, you know, the kind you shouldn’t give your dog too much of because it’s bad for their teeth in the long term but it’s SO much tastier? That, and loads of treats, everything I could think of that she’d like. I wanted her to be happy. She loved the new food I got her. I knew she would, Maya was famous for eating anything, and all of it, very quickly. Her favorite was the Beneful Turkey wet food, so I bought all of it in the store.
But she got thinner. She had always been overweight, but suddenly she was at a healthy weight and going lower than that. One day, she started refusing the Beneful chicken dinners, would only sniff it and pick a little. She wouldn’t eat dry food at all. She would only eat the Lamb and Rice, the Turkey, and treats. Her eye completely clouded over and she lost sight in it. Her second eye began to whiten. One day she wouldn’t eat at all. I cried and begged her to eat, but she didn’t understand. All she knew is she felt sick. I don’t know if she knew she was dying. I gave her lots of treats and planned a vet visit soon.
One day, she woke up and stumbled out of the crate where she slept, looking around slowly. She tried to walk up to me, but her gait was wobbly, and she began walking into things. She walked into my dresser, my bed. I had to carry her downstairs to take her out. She walked into the couch. She was disoriented, couldn’t see, could barely feel he way around. I knew it was time.
The next day she was no better, so my mom and I went to the vet. I remember being determined to make sure Maya didn’t know why we were there. I was laughing and making awkward jokes for the entire time we were in the waiting room, petting Maya and playing with her like it was nothing. They gave her a drug to make her sleepy, and when she stumbled around and eventually laid down, eyes drooping, I teased her and petted her, smiling. The doctors expected me to be more sad, I think. I wonder if they thought I was callous. When they said they were going to give her the needle now, I said “Sure, that’s fine,” and held Maya in my arms. She only shivered a second or two before she stopped moving, stopped breathing. She looked like she was asleep except her lungs weren’t rising and falling anymore.
I remember waiting a moment, watching her chest to make sure she was dead, couldn’t see or hear me. Then I burst into tears, sobbing hysterically. I bet I scared the doctor, going from one extreme to the other. It was SO important Maya didn’t know. I didn’t want to scare her. My mom was there but I cried anyway, because I couldn’t hold back, not that time. I didn’t sob for more than fifteen seconds before, suddenly, I was done. I set my jaw firmly and wiped the tears away. The doctor gave me a cup of water I couldn’t drink and Maya’s collar. I knelt down and stroked her fur gently just once. She was still warm, like she was sleeping. I left as quickly as I could, not saying anything, not crying. I played ‘Touch Me’ by The Doors in the car as loud as I could on the way home. I sang the lyrics a little. I walked up the steps to my room, closed my door, and turned on the TV, no tears, no pain, not feeling anything, really. You know how emo kids say they feel ‘numb?’ That’s where I was. I had lost my best friend. I’d decided when she would die. There was nothing to feel.
When I cried, completely at random and at differing frequencies, I made sure I did it in the privacy of my room and the bathroom, quietly so no one could hear. I guess I’m just like that – I don’t usually like people to know I’m hurt, unless it’s so bad I really, truly need to be heard. Over time, I cried less and less. I stopped crying altogether after a few months, although sometimes I cry when I think about her. She’s here with me now, sort of. I mean, it’s in a red wood box, and she’s very ashy, but she’s here. I never figured out what to do with the ashes, so I just keep them around in a box. Eventually I’ll find a place for it. It hardly matters. My dog is gone. Ashes =/= a dog. Still, I don’t blame myself and never have. I believe I made the right decisions for her. I believe that I was strong and smart when it would have been easy to break down. That helps, a little.
I needed to post this because I needed her to be remembered. I needed people to know what I went through, to know me just a little bit better. I will never cry in front of you except in extreme circumstances. I won’t look you in the eye and share my pain, my struggles, my fears with you. For one reason or another, I can’t. But please don’t think I’m callous. What happened hurt me so much, I couldn’t describe it if I wanted to. For those of you out there who are like me, who struggled in secret with loss of the most unique and profound kind as the loss of your pet, you’re not alone. And if you keep his or her memory close to your heart and never forget the warmth and happiness your animal brought you, you never will be.