Last Wednesday, my eight-year-old beagle, Jeter, was put to sleep.
Though I’ve never been particularly fond of the phrase ‘put to sleep’, it’s much easier to say than the alternatives. The most difficult part of this process has been the abruptness of everything: on Wednesday I was told he was undergoing tests and by that evening he was gone. I wasn’t there to say goodbye or to contribute anything to his passing. Instead I was over three thousand miles away, sobbing on my living room carpet.
We got Jeter in late summer 2005, the year I turned fourteen. He had come early from a breeder in South Carolina, which is why we said he always hated the cold – he was never meant to see snow. But in northern Pennsylvania he thrived, hunting rabbits and mice and groundhogs and developing a love for hiking and tracking. In the evenings he would sit in front of my grandparents’ oven, eager to sample whatever flavour cookie baked inside. When it rained, he spent the day curled up in his chair or on one of his many beds, with a navy fleece New York Yankees blanket covering him from nose to tail. On the occasions I slept on the couch or spent the night in my grandparents’ spare bedroom, he would find his way in, and I would awaken to him on my stomach or pushing to get under the blankets. He always found warmth, he always found love – when he needed it, he would let you know.
Jete’s passing has hit me as hard as any human’s would, almost as a child’s – we raised him from the time he was five weeks old, only able to sleep if he was nestled against a hot water bottle and a ticking alarm clock. I have been lucky to avoid experiencing a great deal of loss in my life and while I have gone through previous pets’ deaths, this one has been particularly difficult because of its lack of symptoms or signs. Through the course of the week I have made a good deal of progress, but coping is an ongoing ordeal.
On Friday, I sent a thank you card to the local veterinary office where Jeter spent his final moments. It was my way of being a part of the process, of being able to reach out. I have many things to thank them for, many that I didn’t even mention: the way they calmed him during his first shots, the way they cared for him when he had various ear infections, their advice when he needed to lose weight (too many treats), their concern when they found a growth in his throat, and their empathy when he had gone. They cared not only for my dog, but for my family – and I needed to thank them for that. It has helped me to find some level of closure in this situation.
Yesterday, my grandma picked up Jeter’s ashes. Although he will be kept in a special part of the house, I have asked that my grandpa take some of him on a walk in the woods, so he might always chase the bunnies.