Sometime late this morning, Marta received a phone call from her mother. After she hung up, she came and told me that Marcel needed to be put down.
Marcel is — or was — her mother’s dog: a little black dog with short curly hair and snappy brown eyes and vile breath. He’d suffered from arthritis for years, and his hips were starting to displace painfully. The vet had prescribed pain pills, but they caused complications. In the last two weeks, Marcel had been in enough constant pain that he could not sleep. He would pace — movement seemed to ease his discomfort — until he was too tired to walk, then he’d lie down, only to jump up again in a few minutes. The last two days and nights he’d been screaming.
There’s a difference between howling and screaming. Howling expresses itself from the heart. Screaming is torn from the marrow.
This morning, Mamita decided it was time. She’d been thinking about it for the last month, putting off the inescapable decision.
I volunteered to go with her. No one should have to do something like this alone.
The pet clinic was in full swing by time we arrived. All breeds of dogs and cats, some old and well-known to the staff, some young and coming in for their first vaccinations. Happy people, irritated people, chatty and quiet people, all in the company of their good-natured pets who seemed unfazed by the crowded menagerie. No one else was there for our purpose.
When our turn came, Mamita explained the decision to the doctor. She offered less detail as I’ve given here — she wasn’t there to discuss options any longer. The doctor misjudged Mamita’s curtness, perhaps, and thought she was making a hasty decision: the doctor offered to keep Marcel for the weekend to see if they could “make him better.” I could hear the anger in Mamita’s voice when she replied. The doctor heard it, too, I think. She acquiesced.
The process itself was swift and painless: a single shot from a hypodermic full of something bright pink. They shaved Marcel’s leg to find a good vein, then injected the contents of the hypo while one of the assistants held him. I’ve never been able to read Marcel’s expressions well, but what I thought I saw in the next second or two was … surprise. Not horror, not elation, just a kind of astonishment. I could almost feel his spirit pass through the veil and say, “I was a dog?”
And then he stopped.
They laid his body down to listen for a heartbeat, and the doctor injected another shot and listened some more. The assistant listened. Then they left us alone to grieve.
Less than a minute passed from shaving the leg to sitting with the still-warm body of Mamita’s closest companion. Mamita cried, and I held her. She is spending the night with us, tonight, and the cat is curled up on her bed.