I killed my dog on Monday. To be more precise, I suppose, I told a vet to kill him. I wasn’t the trigger puller, or in this case the plunger-pusher, but it felt like it.
Late Sunday night Mojo pissed himself, on his bed, and then couldn’t stand up to move out of the mess. For almost 18 hours his pulse rate was at a drug-influenced 170-200 beats per minute, but uninhibited it raced to 300. It should have been a steady 110. On the way back to the clinic Monday evening, the cardiologist told me he had collapsed once again, and though when his heart was pulsating in the lower range of that 170-300 frame he was literally pulling the vet techs around the hospital floor, they had to give him drugs more and more frequently and his lows were causing him more and more distress. Three of the four valves of his heart were paper thin. “It is not a bad thing,” she said, “to put down an 11 ½ year old Great Dane.”
I know this, I told her. Most Great Danes live 8-10 years, frequently have hip and heart problems, and lug around significantly less than 180 pounds. But this was my friend, a dog who has been, with the exception of his several brief stays with the Jenks’ and two long ones with my mom, my roommate and companion for the last eleven years. That’s almost 30% of my life. It’s 73% of the time I have been in the army. It would be 15% of my entire time on earth should I live to my 74th birthday, the average age of an American male. Euthanizing an 11 1/2 year old Great Dane might not be a bad thing, but it is certainly not a good one.
In his younger years Mojo was, in the most emphatic sense of the word, a beast. He would pull me on my mountain bike, on a dead-on sprint, for almost two miles. More than once he pulled me off of it. He inadvertently broke my mother’s forearm in a game of tag. He could play touch rugby for hours, was a decent hiker but a terrible swimmer (distances were limited to however far he had to go to drape himself over me floating on my pool chair). He was in a few fist-fights and liked being around fringe characters. He possessed a pair of the biggest testicles you ever saw, and didn’t mind me showing them off. He was a great roommate. Though he didn’t bark much, and would never bite anyone, if he was home I never needed to close (let alone lock) a back door when I was at work for the day. He was house-trained so quickly and so well that I once mistakenly blamed one of my friends for drunkenly wetting my bed when I was out of town for a weekend. And if he did make a mistake, he always told me so, usually as soon as I walked in the door. He could be rough around the edges, I will grant you. His breath was atrocious. He sometimes picked on smaller dogs, leaving me feeling like the guy who shows up at parties with the belligerent frat boy no one really likes but pretends to. He was never accused of being brilliant; his sheer dumbness, in fact, may have been his most endearing quality. But his drawbacks became nothing but background noise when he leaned against you or dropped his enormous head into your lap and stared at you with his slightly crossed eyes.
Mojo had taken well to our Capital Hill neighborhood, and no one had perfected pretentiousness better than he. I would leave him in the front yard while I sat on the porch, reading and smoking a cigar, my view of Mojo obstructed by a hedge row but knowing exactly how he was sitting: front legs stretched out, head up and nose elevated slightly above parallel, hind quarters off to his left. Sphinx-like, were the Sphinx dressed in business casual. One could not walk by without noticing Mojo, sitting in the sun, a Zen dog in an ambitious city. People would, more often than not, talk to him.
“You are huge.”
“You are a horse.”
“Oh. My. God. You are beautiful.”
Not once in two years did Mojo rise from his position to meet a dog-less person (and those with dogs usually moved along quickly). He rarely bothered to even make eye contact, and would frequently shift his gaze further away from whomever was standing in front of him, his answer to all compliments uniform: “I know this. Now please move along so I can ignore someone else.”
But now here we sit, facing one another, him on a lowered stainless steel cart, me on the floor with my legs under him, one arm around his neck and the other scratching his belly. He looks sad, but I don’t know if it’s because he is, in fact, sad, or if it’s a product of me bawling childishly. I know we can’t sit here all night long, but I’m not sure what else to do. I impulsively take a picture of him with my cell phone and immediately regret it. The picture is stygian, his face long and skinny and cartoonish like a Pat Oliphant sculpture. A few friends are here with me, and I ask them to step outside so I can I tell my dog, in private, how much I love him and how thankful I am to have had him as a friend for so long. I hug him once for my mom and once for me. He barely raises his head. And then death knocks on the door.
Death, oddly, looks an awful lot like a thirty-something Connie Chung. She carries in her hand three syringes: one large filled with a milky fluid, one large filled with something appearing to be watered-down Pepto Bismol, and one small. The first shot, death/Connie Chung tells me, is anesthesia, which will put Mojo to sleep so he feels no pain or discomfort. The second, and I think the third – I’m not really listening at this point and so I don’t know what she said – induce cardiac arrest. What I do know is that there is asleep and there is dead. Asleep feels like Mojo asleep. I can see his chest heaving, still feel his heart racing. My own heart races; I want to stop this.
“Hey! Ha Ha! Just kidding! Sometimes Mojo and I like to play jokes on each other! He licks my face when I’m asleep, I pretend I’m going to euthanize him!”
But Connie Chung is quick, and the second syringe is emptied and then the third. And though I am familiar with my dog asleep, dead is another matter. I feel the full weight of his anvil-sized head, see and hear his last breath, feel the cart move as his 180 pound body, for the first and only time muscleless, fully relents to gravity. A forearm slips off the table.
I am, probably, Godless. But I love life, and karma, and symmetry, and existentialism is a pretty cool concept and maybe just maybe Elysium is a real place. I like to think so. And sometimes life gives us those little reminders that we all come and go, and good often replaces bad, and trees grow in dirt, and being with is usually a better thing than being without. If you’re lucky, the timing of these reminders is such that it’s harder to write it off as mere happenstance when it is so obviously and joyously karma or symmetry or, if you prefer, God. Such is my Mojo-less ride home, when I call my good friend Patrick, waking him because he’s been up all night with his wife Andrea helping her to deliver their new daughter. I had previously suggested they name her Patandrea, but they’ve gone instead with Fiona. I jokingly tell Pat that Fiona’s and Mojo’s spirits have passed one another in the other-world, and we should hope Mojo’s spirit hasn’t inserted itself into Fiona’s body.
Pat says she could do a lot worse.