The Life and Death of Dogs

A few weeks ago, we took Puddin on her last car ride. Her cries had become more frequent, and most nights, she’d cry all night. She shuffled from the bedroom to her dog bed out in the hall every 30 minutes in an attempt to get comfortable. She’d scream out in pain as she collapsed on her bed. She couldn’t even lower herself down, she’d just position herself as best she could standing, and then drop like a rock. Every day we hoped she’d improve, but every night, we would end up drugging her so she could get some sleep.

The vet was giving us some pretty strong medication. Usually, they are very careful because they don’t want to destroy the dog’s intestinal tract. But the vet knew. We weren’t counting on her being alive long enough for it to matter. It was just a matter of how comfortable could we make her on a given day.

We got Puddin from a greyhound rescue in March 2013. Dave wanted a dog for his own. We already had two yorkies, but they are both so closely bonded with me, Dave felt like an outsider. He wanted a dog that was all his, that followed him around the way the yorkies follow me. Our neighbor had a beautiful brindle greyhound, and from the moment he first saw that dog, he wanted one like it. He admired the elegance of them, how they could be so gentle and quiet inside, but outside, how entertaining they are to watch tear around.

Dave contacted the greyhound rescue, Virginia Greyhound Adoption, and they searched for him. Most of the time, the greyhounds come right off the track in Florida and go to their new homes. But they found a dog in a different situation that needed a home. She had already been adopted, but sadly her owners were moving into a retirement home and couldn’t take her with them. She was quiet, didn’t like to run around, and already trained. On the next shipment of racing dogs, they brought her up to us.


Puddin was shy when she met us. But it turned out, she actually did like to run. In her first week here it snowed, and she had never seen snow before. She raced around in it, having a blast.

She had a few odd quirks. She wouldn’t come into certain rooms. Eventually, she got over her fear of the kitchen, but she was never comfortable in the living room. A few times she darted through it frantically, as though afraid of being caught. At first, she wouldn’t eat unless her dish was held for her. She got over that quick, although we the issue did come up again later.

She was incredibly gentle. She was sweet to everyone and everything, including Poffins who would randomly attack her. On several occasions, Poffins bit Puddin in the side, and dangled from her, like a huge tick. Puddin, surprisingly, would tolerate this behavior, and never fought back.

Puddin with the weiner dogs. The brown one, Nickel, was also in love with Puddin.
Puddin with the weiner dogs. The brown one, Nickel, was also in love with Puddin.

To make up for Poffins’ random boughts of anger, Paxton loved Puddin. He would go up to her and lick her muzzle happily. She was surprisingly less tolerant of this than she was of being attacked. Other dogs loved Puddin, too, to the point of excess. She would tolerate small dogs climbing on her, and loving her for a while, but eventually she’d grow sick of their affection and bark at them. She didn’t bark often, but when she did, it was loud.

One day, this past spring, she had a limp. That in itself wasn’t out of the ordinary. Puddin had broken her leg while racing, and sometimes it still bothered her. She’d sometimes take a bad step, but recover quickly on her own. This time, she didn’t recover. After two weeks, we realized she wasn’t getting better, and took her to the vet. We were expecting something minor, “She sprained a tendon, rest and here’s some medicine.”

Instead, she was given the diagnostic of bone cancer, with three months to live.

We went through a few stages after that. First, we thought, that explains why she sometimes doesn’t feel right. Maybe this is what happened to the beautiful brindle next door, too. She became horribly lame, and had to be put down. Next, it was no, the vet must be wrong, it’s not that bad. She’ll be better soon, and that’ll show them. Puddin was diagnosed using X-rays. It’s not possible to completely confirm bone cancer without a biopsy, which both us and the vet thought would be too much for Puddin. It would basically amount to surgery on an old dog. The lack of the biopsy gave us hope that the vet was wrong.

After going to the vet, Puddin quickly got worse. We went through anger. Puddin wasn’t nearly this bad before going to the vet, maybe they hurt her when they were manipulating her for the X-Rays. Surely a follow up would prove that it wasn’t actually cancer, it was a dislocated shoulder.

It turned out there was a very good reason why Puddin seemed to get bad. As Dave and Puddin were leaving the vet, Dave had to open the hatch in the back to put her in. He realized the car was still locked, so he paused to unlock it. Puddin decided she didn’t need to wait and made a leap for the window in the door. Since it wasn’t open, she just whacked it and fell to the ground. After we discussed this with the vet, we all theorized that she probably fractured her shoulder that day, as bone cancer makes the bones very frail, but at the time, we didn’t realize it. She didn’t act like she was in any pain that day, and we had thought it was just kind of funny she had tried to leap through the hatchback.

The months went by, now with with regular vet visits. Puddin continued to get worse. At first, she would just cry when she stood up, but that developed into crying every time she shifted position. She didn’t want to move to go outside. She had to be convinced to go outside, and then she’d lose her balance as she did her business.

She became very picky about her food. I had to convince her to eat every morning, and every evening. It took anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes to get her to eat. Sometimes, she still wouldn’t eat, and we’d have to shove some down her throat so she could take her medicine. Through it all, she was as gentle and sweet as she had always been. She just loved being with us.

She just loved being with us. Her soft brown eyes would watch us, move around, and sometimes she would bring herself to a yelping standing position to come put her head on our knee. She would wobble and teeter, but she would stand there as long as we stroked her. To get her to lay back down, we’d have to go sit ourselves in her dog bed and invite her back over to lay down with us.


She grew worse. Every week, we tried to decide if that would be the week to put her down. Every week, we convinced ourselves that maybe she would get better this week. We didn’t want to make a decision we would regret.

Eventually, we had to do it. She was in so much pain, she was losing so much weight, we couldn’t let her keep suffering. We made the appointment and went in. Even while sitting there in the room, we had doubts. We weren’t sure if this was really the right thing to do. The vet came in and talked with us, and that’s when we discussed the possible fracture. Most of the time, bone cancer in dogs is diagnosed because the dog broke its bone. The owner just thinks the dog has a broken bone, but upon x-raying it, they discover the bone cancer that has been weakening the bone.

Now that we figured out why Puddin had gone down hill so fast, we had the added guilt of prolonging her suffering for so long. It’s terrible suffering for the dog to live with fractured or broken bones that will never heal. We knew we couldn’t let her live like this.

The vet gave us the option of staying for the whole procedure or just leaving after the first tranquilizer. Dave didn’t want to watch the whole thing, so we decided to go after the tranquilizer set in. Throughout the whole discussion, Puddin had been standing with her head resting on my knee. We convinced her to lay down on the dog bed we had brought, and sat with her. 20 minutes after the first shot, she seemed sleepy, and it was time to go. She had laid her head down, but the second we stood, she turned and watched us go. Her bright, trusting eyes staring at me was the last I saw of her.

I regret leaving her. It was not fair of me to leave her at her most confusing and terrifying moment because of my feelings. I didn’t want to see the light leave her eyes, but how could I just walk out and leave her to fend for herself with strangers? She didn’t know what was going on, and she just wanted to be with her people. Throughout it all, she just wanted to be with her people.

I wish I could go back, and be there for her. I should have comforted her in her last moments, petted her and let her know she was loved.

When we had told someone that Puddin would eventually have to be put down, they had said that it wasn’t that bad. I don’t know if they meant for them, or for the dog, but they are wrong on so many levels. Our dogs love us and trust us to take care of them. They don’t understand the complexities of what’s going on, or why they hurt, they just want to be with us. I don’t think they understand that we can make them better, or when we can’t. Their motivation to be with their people and to be loved. Even if they are in pain, they just want their people nearby.

After the initial vet visit. Her shaved shoulder is where the cancer was.

If we kept Puddin alive, she might be in pain, she might be in even worse pain, but she’d be with her people. She’d be loved. She trusted us to take care of her, and we took her to her death.

Her eyes still haunt me. Why couldn’t I have just stayed for a few more minutes and been there for her? Even though it’s totally illogical, I feel like because I didn’t see it happen, maybe she’s still alive. She’s been at the vet’s office this whole time, why haven’t I gone to pick her up?

This is the first time I’ve had an animal put down. Every other animal has died of natural causes, whether old age, or because a predator got them. Granted, I haven’t experienced many pet deaths. I had one dog growing up, she died of old age and was buried on the farm. I had a few hamsters that died of old age, they got little ceremonies in the backyard, complete with tiny cardboard coffins. When the chickens died, at first I dug graves for them, planted flowers on top, and said a few words. More recently, I say a few words, shed a few tears, and then toss the bodies in the woods. I thought I was a hardened farm girl, able to handle things like this.

It’s different when it’s a pet that lived in the house with you, that you spent so much time with, and that trusted you to do the right thing for them. Now that she’s gone, I wonder why I didn’t take more photos. Why didn’t I spend more time with her?

It’s not fair that dogs get such a short time with us. They are here, and then they are gone in a flash. We make them members of our family, they do their best to fulfill the role, but then it’s over. I could get another dog to try to fill the hole in my heart, but it’s not the same. It’s not her, it will never be her, and I’ll never forget how I left her in her most vulnerable moment because of my own selfish feelings.

I have my two yorkies that I have owned since they were puppies. They are 8 years old now, and seem to be in good health, but eventually, a moment like this will come for them. No matter when it happens, it will be too soon. And if I’m this broken up about a dog I knew for just over three years, I can’t imagine how I’ll be when the companions of most of my adult life will be gone.

All I can do now is appreciate the time I do have with them. I’m crawling around on the floor, playing with Paxton more. Poffins is not a team player, but she’s spending a lot more time sitting on my lap. When the time does come, I won’t leave them in their vulnerable moment. I will be there for them because it’s the right thing to do for the dogs that love me.

But doing the right thing in the future will never make up for doing the wrong thing for Puddin.

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  1. As you know, we went through the same thing with Sampson in January. It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and I don’t blame you a bit for not being able to stay for the whole thing. Staying was HARD. We did end up burying him on the farm afterwards, which gave Jason and I both closure. I feel like I’d have the same “maybe he’s alive at the vet’s” delusions that you do if I were in your situation. Regardless of how that last day went, Puddin knew you guys loved her, and you were doing the right thing for her. It is so impossibly hard, but it unfortunately has to be done in certain situations. 🙁

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