It’s the end of summer, and I’m in the car riding home from a nice weekend with husband and dog. I need radio and turn on NPR. “Selected Shorts”? OK. Fine.
The story was Madame Lazarus, written by Maile Meloy, a brilliant writer.
Driving deep in the brilliant mountains of the Berkshires on a late August day, my radio brought me the story of a gentleman in Paris on the day he put his terrier, Madame Lazarus, to her final sleep.
While calming my own personal sobs as I listened to the story, I glanced at my husband behind the wheel. Tears were streaming down his face.
The short story is brilliant and made this veterinarian come to terms, once again, with the hardest thing we have to do: helping people through their final day with their beloved friend.
Facing the Next Day
Vets see ailing and geriatric pets and help them through their last years or months of life until the big decision is made. Some days I say to myself, “Could I just schedule all happy puppies and healthy pets for once?” But that’s ridiculous. A big part of my job is to diagnose and help the sick geriatric pets and help people with dying pets.
After our car trip, tear fest and nose blow-a-thon Sunday (thanks, NPR), I get back to my hospital and see that 2 of my oldest patients are scheduled for euthanasia the following day. These pets are both 16 years old.
I’ve known these people for a very long time, and they’ve done everything that I and specialists have asked them to do. No lack of care, just lack of quality of life for these aging pets. Like for Madame Lazarus, it was time.
The wonderful old Labrador, Decker, came in at 5 p.m. with his people that I have known for more than 20 years. Decker is tired. He cannot walk anymore.
The office was busy. In these situations, everyone needs some private time. Decker and his family moved to our “staff room.” It’s cozy with food smells and personal belongings. Decker sniffed all the staff handbags and wagged his tail but needed to lie on the big comforters we’d provided.
His parents and I are also of a certain age, but we all decided to get on the floor with Decker. He passed peacefully.
We stayed on the floor for quite a while with Decker, now gone. Decker’s mom, Kathy, and I talked about our soft shoes and our bunions as we cried and laughed. Decker’s dad talked about how our political views could not be more different, yet we remain Facebook friends. And I said, in New England, if politics is a problem, just talk about the Red Sox.
“Red Sox?” he said. “I’m a Yankees fan.”
Oh boy. My family is from New York and they hate the Yankees. Little did I know, my husband, the practice manager at the front desk and Decker’s dad had been talking baseball for 20 years.
Small talk about bunions and shoes and baseball teams. It eased the pain.
The next euthanasia was a different story. Socrates, my elderly, demented and severely ill cat, was with his special person, a widow, in the next room. It was time. There was no question.
His final moments were also peaceful. We sat and petted the little body, once 11 pounds but now 6, a shadow of himself. But Socrates’s person did not have a companion or a house full of pets at home. She was going home to an empty house. The Madame Lazarus story was rewriting itself in my head.
So we talked. “Remember 16 years ago, when my husband and I brought Plato, Aristotle and Socrates in as kittens?” she said.
“Yes, I do.”
“At the front desk,” she said, “I was asked if we were philosophers because of their names.”
“And what did you say?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “We are simply Greek.”
We talked for a bit more. I cautiously asked her if she would consider getting another cat.
“Oh, of course,” she said. “It will be very soon.”
And then we went over other Greek names that would be suitable for the new addition.
“What about Apollo?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I think I will find my Apollo. When I’m ready.”
“All in due time. All in due time. And remember,” I said cautiously, not wanting to sound philosophical, “no pet is ever replaced. The new pets are unique lives that benefit from you. And you benefit from them.”