Archive for July, 2014

Dear Evan: Goodbye, sweet Gus

July 21st, 2014

Dear Evan:

Yesterday Gus, our sweet, dumb, gassy golden retriever, left us.

“Left us” is a weak euphemism. We put him to sleep, a less weak euphemism but still somewhat heartless. He was mostly unable to work his back legs; he lost almost all control of his bladder; he was losing what little mental faculties he had. He was in pain, panting constantly, up most nights unable to get comfortable or to slake his thirst or because he still tried to get outside to pee or poop. His right eye drooped and was somewhat sunken after what we think was a stroke. He had cancerous growths on his tongue and neck and belly.

And yet he still had a sparkle, still occasionally rolled onto his back and kicked his legs in the air, his version of playing. So we held on until the bad times clearly outweighed the good.

I will write later about Gus’ awful early life, how he was found and rescued by your mom and Aunt Rachel, how his name was your first word. I can’t do it now. I can barely write this without bawling.

On his last few weeks, we indulged Gus more and more. We fed him scraps, something he repaid by gassing us liberally. We played and let him sleep (something he did a lot lately, often not waking until we shook him) and petted him until our hands were tired.

We put off the decision again and again until we couldn’t without acknowledging it was for us, not him. He was hurting. So we made an appointment with the vet that had seen him regularly the past few years.

On his last morning, we took Gus to a local taco shop, got him a big plate of brisket and bacon. I forked it out in smaller segments, so quickly did he wolf it down. He got tortillas, too, and half of my burrito. I wasn’t really hungry. We cried, there at the outdoor patio. I’d spent the night before dreaming that we got word he was fine, that it wasn’t cancer, that we could help his joints. I hate those dreams now. Hate them.

We took him to the vet. Once in the holding room, Gus got nervous, as he always did. He hid his head between my legs; your mom and I just petted him, over and over and over, until I said, “Okay” and she poked her head through and called the vet. Gus was led in back, given a catheter, and brought again to us. We laid him some towels on the floor and sat with him, petting him, crying our fool eyes out (as I am doing now), and the vet gave him one shot — he relaxed almost immediately, and his head drooped to the floor, and the harsh panting he’d had for months eased.

Another shot, then, and he slowed, and I wept, hiccoughing, unphotogenically. The vet listened through a stethoscope, and just when I thought I’d gone dry, she said quietly, “He’s gone.” And he was. And I wasn’t dry of tears after all.

We petted him for a long time after that. He had one paw reached out, touching my foot, as he did every day I worked in my home office, every weekend morning when I sat at my desk and watched movies or played video games or wrote. I refused to move my foot from his paw, even as I felt it lose its warmth. We’d brought his favorite plastic bone; we couldn’t afford to have Gus cremated, so I asked that they take his bone wherever he wound up. We got a lock of his tailfeathers, and asked that they make a pawprint as well. I don’t know that I can ever look at that, though.

And that’s it. We left. We went across the street to a bar and began drinking before noon. I wrote sunglasses inside, like some celebrity, but we explained to the bartender and she understood. And then life moved on.

We’ll get a pup to replace Gus, but not soon, not just yet. I hoped beyond hope last night, the night of his last day, that I’d wake to hear his panting, or leave the room to see his dark outline on the cool tile just outside the back door, like some fantastic story. But no.

You’ve asked, of course, and we’ve read you the tale of the Rainbow Bridge and all sorts of niceties. I suspect you won’t remember Gus other than as a smelly golden blur. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you will. And maybe I’m wrong about other things, and he will be waiting for me somewhere, someday. Maybe.

I love you,