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Family & Relationships

The Long Tail Wag Goodbye

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The house is just so quiet.

That’s my first thought, the day after I said goodbye to our Lucille. Part German shepherd, part heeler and 100 percent hyperactive, I swear, for a second, I can hear her metronome-of-a-tail wagging, as it has every day for the last seven years.

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 Lucille with author Kate Silver, after the pup graduated obedience school in 2010.

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Lucille at a rented home in Michigan in spring 2015, where she spent her last weekend basking in the sun.

Reality dawns slowly, in the form of a list of “no mores”:

- No more laughing as she leans, almost destructively, into chairs and human legs and walls, her tail whacking lines of erosion into paint.
- No more lumbering downstairs at the sounds of our voices; or the mailman; or the UPS truck; or a dog passing by; or a dog barking in a house three, seven, 10 blocks away.
- No more rawhide bones offered, as a sacrifice, to the cat god, Suzanne.
- No more sweet puppy eyes watching us, out the window, as we leave for the day.

I used to say she was the lowest of the low, Lucille, plucked with such love from a Las Vegas animal shelter, where, at 6 months old, she’d been adopted and returned already, for not playing well with others. Her energy was off the charts from the moment I took her home. In her DNA was stamped a herding mentality and she was obsessed with humans, always wanting in on the action. Totally mellow by herself, or with just one person, she was a nervous wreck if you added an additional body to the equation, much less three or more. She’d pace back and forth, trying to be involved in a conversation, licking someone until she was, in fact, involved in that conversation.

The seemingly endless licking has, in fact, ended.

I found two lumps on her throat and she was diagnosed with canine lymphoma, given a matter of months. Despite being the perpetually bubbly, happiest dog in the world, it didn’t take long to see she wasn’t feeling so well.

When the lumps spread to her belly, and she started looking vacant, I rented a house in Michigan with a huge backyard—a big change from our Chicago apartment—and we spent the whole weekend outside. She’d lost interest in her dog food, but was happy to eat as much rotisserie chicken as I’d give her. She was so enthusiastic about burying a rawhide bone that she rubbed part of her poor little schnoz off and was bleeding. But she didn’t care.

On the drive home, John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders” came on the radio. “If I had a gift that I could give you, I’d give to you a day just like today.” Glancing in the rear view, Lucille was fast asleep in back, too exhausted to notice my weeping.

When I got home, I knew it was time. Between tsunamis of tears, my boyfriend and I called an in-home pet euthanasia service. Within two hours, a warm-faced woman, who was the kindest, most caring and thoughtful vet ever, came to our apartment. She hugged us, tearing up, herself, even though we’d never met. And together we sat with Lucille, petting her, loving her, talking to her peacefully. Until the vet gave her two injections and she was gone.  

I never thought I’d describe such a heartbreaking experience as beautiful. But being able to watch an animal I love so dearly leave this world, without suffering—it’s sacred. Being there, in that split second, it's so visceral—actually feeling her transition from the soulful being that I cherish to something inanimate, heavy, there-but-not-there. I felt all of that.

And then there I was. There, but not there, at least at first, until things slowly started to get better. Or at least more distant.

But then there’s the quiet. Even two months later, the house still feels so quiet.

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