“Daddy, I need your help,” my nineteen-year-old daughter wept into the phone.
Taking a deep breath, I gripped the receiver and steeled myself for what might come from the Redhead nearly an hour away. “What’s wrong?”
“Ditto has cancer and diabetes and they say I have to put her down this week,” she sobbed, referring to her black Labrador retriever. “I just can’t do it by myself because everybody else has something else to do. They want to burn her, and I’m not going to let them, but and I can’t bury her alone, either.”
Through the years, I’ve faced that same dilemma and knew the hard path ahead of her. “I’ll be there for you,” I said. “That’s a dad’s job. We’ll bury her with Molly.” We talked for a while, when her sobbing had subsided, and worked out the details of scheduling the doctor’s visit into our busy schedules.
Then we spent the remainder of the conversation preparing her for what she had to do. “It’s the price you have to pay when you get a puppy,” I said.
I could barely understand her through the pain. “But it’s so hard.”
As it is with these types of life experiences, she had to spend the next few days dreading Friday’s appointment with the vet.
Friday morning dawned cold and gray. The Redhead and I drove to her mother’s house to pick up the dog. I parked on the street and the Redhead sat there for a long moment before getting out. “She’s going to be so excited to see me,” she said tearfully.
“And then we’re going to go kill her.”
“No, she’s dying now. You’ve made a hard decision to do what’s right. She’s lived with the diabetes for quite awhile and now the cancer has spread all over her body. It’s time to show her you love her by not making her go through this any longer.”
She went in and came out with Ditto on the leash. I could tell she was barely holding herself together. Because of the diabetes, the eight-year-old lab immediately sniffed out a place to relieve herself, as she had to do every fifteen to twenty minutes.
Sick but excited to be going somewhere, she needed the Redhead’s assistance to get into the truck. I declined her attempts to lap my face, and with my daughter holding her big dog around the neck, we drove to the vet.
The folks there knew the score, and were understanding. They allowed us a room to be alone and the Redhead sat in the floor, weeping and rubbing her dog every time she made a slow, painful loop around the room.
The receptionist came in and hugged the Redhead and whispered to her for almost a full minute. Then she hugged Ditto. “They’re waiting breakfast in Heaven this morning Ditto,” she said with tears in her eyes.
She left and the Redhead fed a treat to her dog and scratched the Good Place on her hip while Ditto rolled her eyes and grinned at the brief glory of the moment.
“She looks so happy.”
“I know. She’s happy to be with you. That’s how good dogs are.”
The solemn vet came in and explained the process while the Redhead soaked tissue after tissue. “Are you ready?” she asked my daughter.
No words. Just a nod.
“We’ll be right back,” the vet led Ditto into another room for the first injection. The anesthetic worked fast, and Ditto staggered when they returned to the examining room.
It was uncontrollable sobs then. “Daddy, she can’t walk.”
“I know. She’s just going to sleep now. Hold her.”
Ditto laid her head in my daughter’s lap and sighed.
“She’s calm now. The angels are here with her.”
“Do you believe that, Dad?”
“I sure do.”
Only a minute later Ditto was deeply asleep. The vet, her assistant and I lifted the sixty-pound lab onto the examining table, and while the Redhead rubbed her dog’s head and whispered to her, they administered the final injection.
They left and I held my daughter for many minutes while she sobbed uncontrollably. “It hurts, Daddy.”
I blew my nose. “I know.”
When it was finally over, we wrapped Ditto’s body in a blanket and I carried her to the truck. “We can talk, or we can just ride along quietly,” I said. She didn’t say anything, so for a while we drove in silence.
After a few minutes, I told her about other dogs in my life and how I’d dealt with their loss.
“It’s never easy,” I said, knowing this was one of the hardest things she’d ever been forced to do.
I’d earlier asked Grandpa if we could bury Ditto not far from his house, beside Molly, a little black cocker that we’d had years ago. He agreed and met us there on the cold January morning.
While I dug a hole large enough for a full-grown lab, he and I traded stories of other dogs, other burials, and other such tribulations. It was just one more a long list of graves I’ve dug for good dogs, because all dogs are good.
The ground was hard, and an hour and a half later of steady digging, I put down the shovel. “Let’s go get her,” I said. I think the Redhead was numb by then. I carried Ditto to the spot beside the little branch, and lowered her into the hole. The tears were almost over. Filling the little grave seemed to bring closure. We thanked Grandpa and he hugged the Redhead and told he she did a good job. We drove quietly home, while I tried to find the right words.
“I know this was tough.” I had to stop and steady my voice. “But this is the only way to handle something like this. You just have to meet it head on no matter how hard it is, and know that you’re being responsible. You could have waited for another month or two, but she would have been hurting pretty bad and she wouldn’t have understood why.”
I looked across the truck and she just nodded and finally cried one last time. No parent wants to see their children burdened with that kind of deep sadness, and I knew she had a lifetime of periodic sadness, as we all do. “You did good,” I said again. There isn’t much more to say.
“Thanks for being there for me, Daddy. I needed you.”
“I know, andt I’ll always be there when you need me.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat, thought about the ten six-week-old puppies at Doc’s house and how much joy and heartaches they will bring someone. We drove home leaving another Life lesson sleeping under the hackberry and elm trees alongside little Molly.