Thursday, June 8, 2023

Sleep well, sweet Belle

Our sweet Belle is gone.

So is a huge part of our hearts and a key piece of this family. It's been about a month and the hurt is the same as the day the vet showed up at our front door to end her life. 

I keep trying to remember every detail of that day just to have something to hold on to. The suddenness of it all stands out the most — it took forever for the doctor to show up, but it was over before we could even grasp what was happening. I thought about telling him to stop, that we changed our minds and wanted her to be here a little longer, but I knew it was too late, and in my heart I knew it was time. 

I can still hear the yipe she let out when he gave her the first shot to relax her. She hardly ever yiped. It’s the last sound she ever made. About five minutes later the second shot stopped the beat of her erratic heart. We both put an ear to her chest just to make sure, wrapped her in her favorite blanket, told her we loved her, and it was done. One minute she was here, the next, gone and not coming back.    

I’ll never forget the lifeless weight of her limp body when I picked her up to carry her out to the vet's waiting car, her head flopped over my arm. He opened the back hatch, I gently set her down trying not to hurt her, gave her a kiss on the side of her furry face, and said one last goodbye, realizing we'd never see her again. We couldn’t watch the car drive away, so we both just walked back into the house, said nothing, sat down and cried for a while. 

My overthinking brain thought it needed to know things I didn’t need to know, and I made the mistake of asking questions I didn’t want the answers to. We were told, in a caring but clinical voice, that since it was a Friday, Belle would spend the weekend in a freezer until being cremated the following Tuesday. The thought of her cold and alone ate at us for days. The last thing we wanted was for her to think we’d abandoned her. We knew it didn't make sense. But it's what we felt. 

She’s home now, in a decorated wooden box on top of the cabinet in the dining room, surrounded by a few of her best head shots (she was quite photogenic to say the least) and the only toy she ever played with, aka “Baby.” We stop by several times a day to check in, let her know we’re here, and get her up to speed on the latest neighborhood dog news. If talking to a wooden box means you’re crazy, we’re certifiable.  

The house feels emptier and quiet. The stillness that hung in the air for a few days after she was gone has faded, but it’s still there. I’d give anything to hear the clickity-clack of her paws on the floor one more time. And I’d be more than happy to be annoyed by one of her nose jabs to my leg letting me know it’s time to get off my butt and get her some food. I miss her. We miss her. Everybody who knew her, misses her. 

I never had kids of my own. Not that I didn't want any, it's just the way life played out. Choices, chance, and circumstance, or something like that. But I love Belle like I assume most parents love their kids. Some might think that's weird, other’s totally get it. Some might say "it's just a dog, get over it." I choose to not hang out with those people. 

Belle gave me a sense of responsibility. She counted on us to take care of her, protect her, feed her, take her on 20 walks a day. I loved being counted on and I loved keeping her safe. The way she needed me gave me purpose. Some of my purpose went away when she went away. 

Melanie rescued Belle back in 2012. She was a stray found wandering the streets of Milwaukee, hence her scrappiness. Since the first day I met her on my second date with my now wife in January of 2014, I knew we’d be best buddies. In our almost ten years together we built a bond that’ll never break. 

Belle taught us both so much and made us better humans. Funny how a dog can do that without even trying. 

She never looked past each day. It was always only right now. Every walk around the block was her first walk around the block. It didn't matter that it was probably the thousandth time she'd been down that same sidewalk, there were new smells to be sniffed and new things to pee on. Nothing else mattered. 

She was accepting of everyone. If she didn't like you, you probably weren't very likable. This amicable approach didn’t make her much of a watchdog but thankfully her home-protection skills were never put to the test. Any thief with a pocketful of bacon could’ve walked in through the front door and cleaned us out. 

She never complained, even when she was falling apart. If it got to be too much for her she’d wander off to our bedroom and hide under the bed. I think she wanted to get out of the way so she wouldn’t be a burden. 

She was so patient and tolerant. Whether it was getting a bath, taking her daily collection of medicines, or having to wear a doggy diaper near the end, she did what she had to do and dealt with it. No questions asked. 

She was tough as nails. Her innocent face and button eyes were a disguise for her grit and resilience. Bigger dogs didn’t phase her. Gophers didn’t stand a chance. Lyme’s Disease was just an inconvenience. And her blindness never slowed her down. She figured out her routes and stuck to them. Sure, she banged her head into the furniture here and there, but always shook it off and carried on. 

Everything she did, she did for us. I think she held on longer than she needed to because she thought we needed her to. 

Her health started to decline about two years ago. Cataracts took away her eyes and heart failure robbed her of her enthusiasm. But she never turned down a walk, even when she could only make it halfway around the block. And her personality stayed the same through it all. She got tired and frustrated as she got older, but never ornery or mean. 

Heart failure shuts down the entire respiratory system, so she was exhausted, a lot. And the fluids that collected in her belly made her move like a Weeble Wobble. We had the fluids drained twice, but she didn’t bounce back as well the second time, and the bloating just kept coming back anyway, so we decided there wouldn’t be a third time. We couldn't do that to her again. She was ready to be done. 

Maybe we held on too long, but it’s so hard to make that final decision. Death is forever, and forever is a long time. We didn’t want to rob her, or us, of any remaining days. The only thing that makes any of this even remotely bearable is knowing how hard the last few months were on her, and us. Seeing someone you care about struggle, takes a toll. 

I have no clue what happens when we die. None of us do. We all have our beliefs, and that's cool, but whatever we choose to believe, there’s no way to know for sure. The older I get the more I realize some of the things we believe probably exist just to help us get through the reality of existing in the first place. Sure, I hope there's more than this, but if there's not, I’ll never know. And yes, I hope Belle is somewhere peaceful right now with eyes that can see for miles and a heart that beats like new, chasing gophers in a field filled with flowers made of turkey bites. But if she’s not, she'll never know. 

What I do know for sure is that Belle is alive and well in both of us, right down to the soul. And if that's what life after death means, I can live with that. Because I have to. 

We miss you, Bellezee. You made being here better just by being here. My only hope is you know just how much you’ll always be loved. 

You can rest now, girly dog, you’ve earned it. Maybe we’ll get to see you again someday. I’ll bring the turkey bites. 


P.S. I miss you too, Patch. 

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