May 1, 2021
I look at the time on my cell phone. Holly’s veterinary appointment was scheduled for fifteen minutes ago and we actually arrived early, an unusual feat for me, ask anyone. Our vet is still operating under the COVID-19 restrictions, so Holly and I wait in the car outside their clinic. Micron is with us for joy ride purposes. And he’s the golden child, so he’s enjoying the privilege.
A car pulls in next to us to park. I see a large hound dog in the front passenger seat and turn around to look at my two dogs.
“Pretty special stuff, getting to ride shotgun,” I tell my dogs. “Too bad you’re relegated to the back. Sorry, not sorry.”
They just look at me. Nothing I just said sounded like “cookie”, so they move their attention to something more interesting.
I see one of the vet receptionists moving from car to car, stopping to talk with the pet parents inside each vehicle.
“I’m so sorry about your wait,” she says when she reaches my car window. She then lowers her voice.
“We have two euthanasias,” she continues. “Back to back.”
Her eyes flit to the car on my left. The Shotgun Dog.
I tilt my head, “That one?,” I ask.
“You know what,” I say. “You guys take whatever time you need to make it right. We’re in no hurry, ok?”
We talked a bit about how hard it is when this day comes. I try to hold back the tears that are wavering on my lower eyelids for people and dogs I don’t even know. But I lose the battle and the world goes blurry.
A vet tech comes out to get Shotgun Dog. The owner stays in his car. Meanwhile, another couple emerges from the side door of the clinic, the woman opening sobbing. I start crying again. I don’t know if they had a dog, cat, or whatever. But he or she was part of their life and now gone forever. I recognize this pain and I fear when it will be me again. Because, of course, my turn will be before I’m ready. That’s how it always goes.
The front desk calls me to ask a few questions about Holly’s visit, merely some vaccination boosters and a nail trim. I can hear Shotgun Dog in the background. He has a croupy sounding cough that I heard earlier from the car parked next to me. I’m having trouble focusing on the questions. Yes, I feed this particular dog food. No, she’s been really healthy. Sure yeah, sometimes she eats grass and vomits. No, we’re good on heartworm and flea and tick preventives.
After a few minutes, Shotgun Dog’s owner starts his car and backs out of the parking lot. I want to judge his decision, but his choice wasn’t mine to make. I feel sure he loved his old hound dog, my assumption from the interactions when the vet tech came to escort the dog inside. I understand the level of pain that comes with this kind of final goodbye.
As pet owners, we have an incredible responsibility to do the right thing. And it’s more than some can bear.
Everything I witness this morning is through the windows of my Toyota in the parking lot. A macabre theater, of sorts, I guess. I don’t mean to watch, really. But it’s all just right there.
One of the vet techs brings Holly back to my car. The young woman is upbeat and friendly and I appreciate the opportunity to bring me out of this emotional spiral.
At seven years old, my Holly girl is healthy, she says. No problems and what a good dog she is.
I look back at my two dogs in the back seat and count my blessings for today. Taking a tissue from the console, I wipe my eyes and blow my nose in that order.
“You still don’t get to ride shotgun,” I tell them. “Sorry, not sorry.”
And we, the three of us, go home.