I find myself sitting on the couch ,watching "Celebrity Rehab with Dr.Drew" and blubbering like a fool. Like Chili's and Us Weekly, it is one of my not so secret vices that I indulge weekly thanks to TIVO. This season is particularly compelling, and I am embarrassed to admit that I feel emotionally drained at the end of each episode. One might expect the show to move the audience to tears with the tragic circumstances of each participant.They are some broken people who may never be whole, but that isn't what made me cry.As with some unexpected flatulence,I blame the dog.
One of the more tragic of the celebs had to put her dog,Max, to sleep in the middle of her rehab stint. Watching her crouched on the floor in the vet's office,feeding her blind, emaciated ancient pug his last meal, a pint of Haagen Daz, the pug that she'd kept alive for months by sheer will, brought me back to every experience I have had like that. Granted, I am lucky that I haven't experienced the shock of unexpected human death, so I have nothing to compare it to. I do know that putting pets to sleep is the worst thing I have ever had to do.
I had my first experience with it in my early twenties. Long story short, we had decided to take the day off and have one of the magic brownies in the freezer for breakfast. By noon everything was appropriately fuzzy wuzzy, except the barking dog, Pirate, next door. Unbeknownst to us, his barking had also irked our cat, Shirley.She was trying to find some peace and quiet and tried to jump in through what she thought was an open kitchen window. She hit the glass and fell into the cement recess below,probably ten feet.I saw it happen and watched her run away. I actually thought something stupid like "wow, they really do land on their feet" and stumbled inside.She didn't look like she was hurt and made no noise to indicate that anything was wrong. She and must have hit her head on the edge of the recess as she went down because, about twenty minutes later, she came crawling in the half open front door, yowling frantically and dragging her back half behind her. We were still very high, but we managed to put her in the car and rush her to the local vet. He looked just like Freddie Mercury.He knew that we were high. He examined her and told us that she had a fractured skull. He said we could spend two grand for a hospital stay that would surely become six or seven grand, and leave us with a brain damaged cat, or we could put her to sleep. We chose the latter. Cost aside, Shirley barely liked to be touched, so being strapped down and inserted with tubes didn't seem like a very nice option for her. My friend left the room, and I was charged with signing the paper that gave them permisission to kill Shirley.My hand shook violently as I carefully scrawled my signature, the one I had practiced for all the autographs I would have to sign when I made it in Hollywood. As the tears dripped on to the form,I remember thinking what an awful responsibility is was to sign away a life, and yet how grateful I was to be able to choose it, for all parties involved .At least we weren't relegated to smashing her with rocks to put her out of her misery. She got to die quickly and hopefully didn't suffer too much while her stoned caretakers frantically searched for the car keys.
A few months later, I was taking out the trash.I saw the smallest kitten I had ever seen foraging in the compost pile in the back lot next door. I got some food and water and coaxed him toward our back porch. He was very timid and not too bright. He always ran when I would try to watch him eat,but after awhile he started growing so I knew he was going to be okay.We named him something cutesy that I can't remember like Wally.He brought a friend home that we named Scooter and installed a cat door so they could come in and out.We had no idea that racoons and every cat for a four blocks would also join us for meals,or that Wally and Scooter would slowly work their way into the bedrooms while we were out.We would come home and find filthy little hairy imprints on the comforter where two naughty cats had just been napping.The spots were still warm.
Months passed and I didn't see Wally. Scooter came and went and seemed fine. I figured Wally had found a better set up and moved on. One morning I went into the kitchen and there was Wally, lying down in the middle of the kitchen floor.He was emaciated and a little matted,and he grown up so much in those months he was gone. I gingerly walked by him, thinking he would bolt, but he just sat. In fact, he sat there all morning just watching me. I almost tripped over him many times in going about my daily business, and he never flinched.He even let me pet him. I was thrilled that he had come around but also knew that something wasn't right.I gave him food, but he wasn't hungry.This went on for a week until I decided to take him to the vet. I went to see Dr. Reina on Melrose. Handsome and passionate, he was like the vet from a romance novel. Dark chin length hair,smoldeirng dark eyes and a slight speech impediment that made him stutter ever so slightly. He couldn't hold eye contact for very long.He struck me as someone who was comfortable with animals and dealt with people out of sheer necessity. I was instantly smitten. He took one look at Wally and said that it was probably Leukemia. He did a blood test.It came back positive. Wally had to be put down, right then. He asked if I wanted to be in the room, and though the idea of being alone in a room with my fantasy vet was appealing, I just couldn't. He nodded,pursed his is big beautiful lips and patted my shoulder reassuringly.He took Wally,who was too tired to protest and went into the next room.It was so unexpected and probably the biggest regret I have to date. I fled in tears and drove away while Wally died in the arms of some wonderful handsome stranger that day. Scooter also tested postive for Leukemia and I took him to the same vet. He was feral so they had to take care of his demise privately.
The next one happened three years later.I was living with my sister in West LA, and we found a cat on the roof of our parking structure.He was asleep in the sun, but he looked so beat up,we thought he was dead. He wasn't and, after some coaxing, gladly followed us upstairs to our apartment. We named him Bob. He was a scrawny mess, with one tooth, exposed skin and matted chocolate brown hair.His tongue was perpetually stuck between his lips. We had two other cats at the time, and I tried to incorporate him into the mix to get him back to some sort of healthy state. My sister said that, for the cats, it was probably like taking in a wretched old homeless guy. He was sloppy and smelly and didn't flush properly.At mealtimes, he tried to eat all three dishes of food at once and would run from one dish to the next pushing the other cats out of the way.To my surprise, my twleve pound bruiser, Claude, anxiously watched him eat up all the food and did nothing.Bob was also a loud licker and was always chewing furiously on some part of his anatomy. Within a week, it became clear that he was not long for this world.He started pooping uncontrollably and bumping into everyting.The Westside Animal Hospital vet took one look at him and said it was his time to go. She said Bob appeared to have lived a very hard life and was lucky to have spent his last days under our roof.This time, I stayed. They put in the i.v and taped it to his gnarled front leg. She gave me a few minutes with him. I petted him and told him that he was a good boy and that he was loved. He meowed his crusty old dude meow and butted his patchy balding head into my trembling hand.The vet returned, ready to give him the injection.Bob was still pushing his head into my hand and purring like a buzz saw.I patted his back and tried to seem cheery. The vet pushed in the plunger, and Bob was gone .He just fell over dead.No struggle, no whimpering, no longing looks- boom, dead. She asked if I wanted the ashes, and I declined. I took home the empty carrier feeling awful.The other cats were happy to have things back to normal, but little did they know that their time would also come soon enough.
Ten hairy,vomit filled, cat litter strewn years later, Claude was fourteen or so and Sweet P, my fluffy spaced out kitty was probably ten. I had just gotten engaged and was also about three months pregnant.Claude had been getting skinny, and I took him to the vet.Dr. Baum said it was the early stages of kidney failure. He lasted a month and a half with medication and subcutaneous fluids.Two days before he died, he stopped eating and stopped getting up. I called a few mobile vets who could come to the house and do it in the comfort of our home. I chose the least expensive one because the others had offered satin lined,poetry inscribed,gold plated urn options that I just didn't want. The moblie vet that I chose only cost three hundred dollars. Dr.Jordan was a bespectacled African American guy who arrived with his nurse.They both wore white uniforms. They had a box and an instrument bag and wore compassionate faces.It happened pretty much the way it had with Bob, and Claude went just as quickly.After he was officially dead,the vet gently wrapped Claude up in the towel he had been lying on and put him in the cardboard box. He packed up his things and casually asked me if I liked music.Fighting hysteria at the loss of my fur child of thirteen years, I nodded,lower lip trembling. It seemed an odd question and, before I knew it, he handed me a sheet of paper with information about dealing with the death of a pet and a cd. On the cover of the cd was a picture of two guys playing instruments. One of them was the Dr. Jordan. I looked up at him and was at a loss for words.He was networking between lethal injections. I was stunned but also gratfeul and thanked him for the cd. They took Claude's body and cremated it.I curled up on the couch and sobbed. Finding Nemo was on and I fell asleep to the sound of Albert Brooks' voice. I picked it up his ashes a week later.They have been sitting on my dresser ever since. I have yet to listen to the cd.
The last experience was with Sweet P, which was almost three years ago. It was March.I was about to have child number two.She got old quickly in the year after Claude died, and one Wednesday started acting like Wally, sitting in odd places despite the chaos of a small child and a busy house.I called a mobile vet,Brian, who came out and said that she was probably dehydrated.The next day she was outright lethargic.I called a different vet, suspecting that the first guy had missed something.He was to come at nine am on Saturday. Sweet P had a stroke in the middle of the night.I woke at six a.m. to find her spasming next to her litter box,unable to walk.Her eyes were blood red and one pupil was enlarged.She was in terrible shape so I called the mobile vet again, waking him up, and asked him to come right away. He came immediately and put her to sleep as the sun rose. Eight hundred dollars later, she was gone. My husband and I stood clinging to each other sobbing while Big sang nursery rhymes in the other room.
Each time I have had to do this,it has cut me to the bone. I look at our cat,Milo, who has twelve more years to go, if he is lucky, and wonder how he will leave this world. It will likely be in the office of Dr. Reina, my fantasy vet, who is just as handsome these twenty years later, but a little more grey. I get to look forward to our yearly check ups and odd colds so I can spend three minutes in the presence of someone who is truly gifted with animals. If Milo has to be put to sleep, I hope mine will be the last face he sees.
I also think of how ludicrous it is that, in a country where half of us own a cat or a dog we consider to be part of our family, countless numbers of healthy adoptable animals get euthanized every day.I think of the poor souls whose job it is to round up the meowing and barking frightened masses and herd them into cages to be gassed or smothered or injected with poison, all for simply existing. I vow to change this in some way before my time is up.