Goodbye, Toby

I asked our vet this morning whether she thought our pets somehow understood that we thought we were doing them a kindness when we brought them into the vet to be euthanized. I thought it was mostly a rhetorical question at the time, a way of stalling, a way to avoid crying, which I hadn’t thought I was going to do but did anyway, and a way, maybe, to beg for absolution.

After all, there was the same old perkiness in his step this morning, the same tugging-on-the-leash excitement he always had at going on a road trip, the same unquestioning loyalty and snuggliness, and even though he could no longer get into the car himself like he could just the year before, he gave every appearance of having a great ol’ time. Every bit of him this morning belied what I knew to be true, that the seizures were coming more and more often, that they twisted his little body into impossible contortions that would have done Linda Blair proud, and that each time wrenched a howl from him that broke my heart when I heard it, even jarring me from a sound sleep with only the memory of it in my ears and the dread knowledge of what it had meant.

I wasn’t expecting a real answer from the vet, but she surprised me by taking a couple minutes to answer fully and thoughtfully what she believed our pets—and hers—comprehended of what was going on in their final moments, and to state firmly and unequivocally that they sensed the caring and concern of their owners. And in this case, no doubt, the caring of the attending vet as well. I love my vet, not just for the year-round care, but because she never shirks from this last responsibility or tries to guilt me into expensive and pointless tests and treatments, though she lets me know when these might be a realistic option. She knows she has two patients in the room this final time, and manages to give us both what we need.

Goodbye, Toby. You were our “rescue dog,” a nine-year-old Shih Tzu given to us by a family who no longer had room in their lives for you but needed to find you another good home. You were the sweetest dog I’ve known, even if you did like the guys best. You hated the cold outside, and loved finding the warmest thing you could snuggle up to, even if it meant begging to be lifted up onto the chair. It was a privilege knowing and caring for you. If there is a doggie-heaven, look up Sam and Bridget and have a good romp. Then snuggle down between them; they’ll keep you toasty warm.

Heather Rosa is a former small-town mayor. She’s not remotely qualified to be vice president.

19 Responses to “Goodbye, Toby”

  1. February 19th, 2009 at 6:41 am

    Lorax says:

    We lost a german shepherd dog to epilepsy many years ago. Dealing with an episode is heartbreaking, but nothing compared to that trip home from the vets. You have my condolences.

  2. February 19th, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Stacy says:

    🙁 I’m sure Toby was happy to have your family in his life.

  3. February 19th, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Paul says:

    My heart goes out to you. I know how difficult it is to lose a pet; having to put one down makes the event much harder emotionally. Take comfort in knowing that Toby’s pain has ended.

  4. February 19th, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Steven Rhodes says:

    Several years ago we had to let our first cat, Tippy, go. It was following a battle with renal failure.
    Nothing could have really prepared me for the pain and reality of the moment. But in one sense my only real comfort was that we were there for her.
    We have our now 16+ y/o dog Walter, who has seemed to age rapidly the past year. I don’t know how much longer he will remain relatively healthy, happy, and comfortable. But regardless of how devastatingly painful it is to have to do and witness, I know that I will be there for every moment for him… and I agree that nothing could comfort him more.
    I’m sure your presence did Toby as well. Thank you for sharing his story with us.

  5. February 19th, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Uzza says:

    Thanks to Toby for being with us.
    Appreciation for your vet’s wisdom.
    Wishes that religious people in general would think these things through as much, and show as much love.

  6. February 19th, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Russ Cross says:

    I’m so very sorry for your loss. I know that Toby will still be with you in your heart and in your memories.

  7. February 19th, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    khan says:

    Several years ago I had to put down 5 cats in 5 years (complications from old age).
    I can only judge my decisions on what I would want for myself.
    I miss all of them. They are only memories. They had good lives.

  8. February 19th, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    khan says:

    Added: I did cry a bit for all of them.

  9. February 19th, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Silver Fox says:

    I had to give an older dog away once, and I hope she ended up in a home as good as yours. I still miss her…

  10. February 20th, 2009 at 12:09 am

    RBH says:

    After 60 years of having dogs you’d think I’d smarten up and not get so attached to them. Never happen. Toby was a lucky pup, and I’m certain he ‘knew’ you cared for him right up to (and through) the end.

    And one misses them, even though new ones come along. Pat and Schatze and Beau and Benito and Friskie and Lacey are still in my head. Now Sherlock and Watson play outside in the big run with the apple trees and chestnuts and viburnums in it, not knowing they’re playing with four-legged memories out there.

  11. February 20th, 2009 at 1:53 am

    Azkyroth says:


    I sympathize. My childhood dog, who unfortunately I don’t see as much as I should since the apartment doesn’t allow pets, who now lives with my parents, has an inoperable tumor and has an indeterminate amount of time to live. I’ve been trying to see and pet her when I can, and I’ve been listening to this quite a bit. I recommend it.

  12. February 20th, 2009 at 4:44 am

    embertine says:

    Hi, a new reader to your blog here. I had to put my cat down at Christmas (the first time I’ve had to do it) and although I don’t believe she knew that she was dying, I agree with your vet that the animal will be comforted by your affection. I know that my cat went instantly calm when I held her, and remained so even when the jab went in.

    I think it’s the last duty that we can do for a beloved friend when they’re suffering too much. I hope someone does it for me when my time comes.

  13. February 22nd, 2009 at 3:42 am

    the real me says:

    When I was young, owning 35 cats or more on a northern Ill. farmette, it would have been unfathomable to imagine cat world as I do today. Dad cats ar good cats. Mee poligizes for da metphor, butz…

    It was a farmer–maybe Elwood or an Eldon, no: it was citified, country come lately, retired New York Italian Max who explained to me: “the cats kill the songbirds,” and th buterflies, and that was enough for me. Enough to remember my mom, bagging up litters o’ cute kitt-ays in burlap feed bags and taking them to the creek.

    Get yer f#cking cats spayd and neutered folks. Sure, you might get fewer pity me parties thrown for you when some come-uppant cooz/cock notices how ‘caring, loving, and sensitive’ you are as you fondl your adopted non-spayd feral puss-is, but really, honestly, the world has no cat shortage, but inner-city bee-bee gun privileges are a threatened pastime.

  14. February 22nd, 2009 at 3:43 am

    the real me says:


  15. February 23rd, 2009 at 7:18 am

    Heather Rosa says:

    My daughter asked me if she could post my farewell to Toby. No problem. Whatever. Then she tells me I’m getting comments and need to respond. Who knew? I’m a geezer, not a blogger. I never even knew that she blogged, nevermind what the protocols are. But here goes:

    I appreciate most of the comments. While I am not continuing to grieve for Toby, it is a good feeling to know that others have loved their pets and faced difficult choices in their care. I hope others feel some measure of comfort from what I wrote. The loss of a loved personality is always worthy of some measure of grief, and being the cause of that loss – thinking it out, following through, watching it happen – brings out complicated and deep feelings in the most human of us. Those properly cause us to reflect on our actions.

    I do find it curious that for some it is a cue to stand up on their unrelated soapbox and harrangue the rest of us. I love my cats too. They have been a comfort, including at this time, though I would never remotely consider 35. That many cannot possible be properly cared for, and drowning kittens in a creek is barbaric. Perhaps it is your own sense of grief and responsibility, “real me”, that you are having trouble facing.

    Yes, my cats do love the birds, which is why the extra-wide ledge sits just under the picture window with a great close view of the bird feeders. And when the cats start to suffer, like Queenie with cancer a few years back, they also go to the vet for that final nap, and I’m there with them, too.

    I think Spider Robinson said it best, though I’m not sure he said it first. Pain when shared lessens, and joy when shared increases. Maybe that explains blogging.

  16. February 23rd, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    the real me says:

    Heather Rosa: sorry if I came across as an un-spayed, insensitive prick.
    I can’t help it, its wut I is…tha cat that pees in yer guraj, and leaves poop-dropinz on the pea gravel…eats all of your garbij and then pukes furry puke on your stoop…”can’t somebody love the humans?” who are every bit as gravelly and scrappy as dem catz?

    And it is NOT an unrelated soap-box at all, as the world is one big huge web of inter-related/ relational beings and structures; infinite in its capabilities, and limited only by our inabilities to understand the relationships….

    However, your reflections on grieving are interesting–I for one would like to hear more about that. Grieving for the humans, and methods of coping.

    Having died a few times in my own life, and having watched a prized pet ( a chicken killing, child munching blood thirsty great dane) put down grievously, I share your thoughts about using animals as surrogates to discuss our own emotional reactions to contemplations of death, but the human part, for me at least –sans animal makes for more interesting reading.

    And I like your proverbial “Pain when shared lessens, and joy when shared increases.” My cat grave yard in the near-side woods during my youth was a testament to that, though it made me seem odd to my family and peers.

    Maybe I’m just over it too…

  17. February 24th, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Heather Rosa says:

    Well. actually, no. I would never have thought of any prick, insensitive or otherwise, as un-spayed.

  18. February 25th, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Greg Laden says:

    Like daughter like mother.

  19. February 25th, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    the real me says:

    Heather: Yup…that’s the joke 😉 Now put th–tho-thoSE clippers away!
    Now where did I put my garlic necklace…oh, yeah: I ate it, then puked it up all over the house…..

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