My family had to say goodbye to another furry loved one this week. My mom’s dog, Kirby, was set free from pain and suffering Wednesday morning. I say it was my mom’s dog, because although my parents have 2 dogs, Kirby always seemed to be the special, late-in-life child of my mother. He was her buddy, and followed her everywhere. It is a painful loss. Pets are family, to us.
Kirby came to our family through a series of strange events that I’d be tempted to disbelieve if I hadn’t lived them. Scott and I were living in Minnesota back then, had been married just a few years, and had just built and bought our first house in Sartell, across the river and a bit south of where my parents’ house was. We started building in November, finishing in January. Scott knew I was desperate to have a puppy, and while we had agreed it would be wisest to wait until spring break to get one so we could spend time with it when it first arrived at home, we saw an ad at the PetCo for Shih Tzu puppies, and I fell instantly in love. I had to have one.
We went to the seller’s home in Clearwater, and it turned out that the child of the seller had been one of Scott’s students a year or two before. There were two puppies left from a litter of maybe 12, a little girl, who was the runt, and a little boy who had an eye problem. We chose the little girl, mostly because I was completely delighted by the way the black spot on her little behind bobbed as she ran away from me. The seller told us they referred to her as “the peanut” because she was tiny, even for a Shih Tzu puppy. I snuggled her within my down coat as we stepped out into the cold February day, and the name stuck.
When Grandma came over to meet her new granddogter, she was instantly smitten. Who wouldn’t be? Peanut was adorable. My folks still had our dog Scruffy, though he was quite aged and riddled with cancer, and she wasn’t in the market for a new dog. But after Scruffy passed that spring, and she was ready, she determined that she wanted a Shih Tzu, too.
One day that July, she saw an ad in the paper for someone selling a 7-month-old Shih Tzu for $100, which was a deal. She asked me if I wanted to drive up and check him out. I did, so we hit the road and headed to some small town on the way to Little Falls, and it was there we met Kirby. He was very cute, with big eyes that looked like he was wearing mascara, and he had the heart-burstingly adorable habit of begging by wagging both paws up and down at you. His owners had other dogs that had been bullying him, and they were about to have a new baby, and couldn’t deal with it all. Kirby went home with us that day.
When we got to my mom’s house, I looked through the paperwork they’d given us, and when I got to his immunization record, I realized it looked just like the one I got for Peanut. And then I read the birthdate and place of birth, and I realized that Kirby and Peanut were, in fact, littermates. Months apart and from two different cities, my mother and I had managed to get brother and sister.
Peanut and Kirby took to each other immediately, and we always wondered if somehow they remembered each other despite their separation. They would race through the house and pound on each other for hours on end, pausing now and again for a rest, and to flick a half-hearted paw at each other even when they were in a temporary truce. They unrolled the toilet paper from my mother’s bathroom into her living room on a regular basis. And they sang together if you hit just the right note to get them started; anyone witnessing the spectacle would dissolve in hysterical laughter at their round little mouths, like the kids on the Charlie Brown Christmas special singing carols. It was remembrances of these two that made Scott and me sure we wanted a pair from the same litter next time, and Rocky and Athena are all the trouble and hilarity we expected and hoped for; (we just can’t get them to sing.)
While Peanut was always a cat in a dog’s body, Kirby was all dog, and lived to love you and be loved. He was affectionate, doing the begging move to get your attention, which I found irresistible. And he liked to hide under beds, but he’d go in head-first and leave his tail out in plain sight. The game was to say “Where’s Kirby?” and his tail would wag madly, but he wouldn’t come out. He was sure he was very sneaky.
When Peanut’s Congestive Heart Failure became too advanced to surmount and we had to let her go 2 years ago, I took some small comfort in the fact that Kirby was still with us, and, after a short health scare a couple of years ago, reasonably healthy. But all of that changed very quickly last week, and it was determined that he, too, was suffering from CHF. Things went from bad to terrible in 5 short days, and on Wednesday, after a bad night, my folks made the call that every pet owner dreads but knows they will probably have to make some day.
That’s the deal you make. When you’re the parent of furry kids, you know that it’s 99.9% certain that not only will you have to bury your children, but you will probably be the one to sign the death warrant. And yet we have them anyway, and love them, as long as we may. With Peanut, we got 10 years; Kirb was 12 years old. I often wonder what insanity it is that makes me volunteer for this, knowing what’s in store; but I cannot imagine my life without my dogs, either. They are my kids, and frequently, my unmitigated joy. Even when I’m mad at them, I can’t be that mad.
To me, dogs are the embodiment of unconditional love. They love you every single day. There is no one who is happier to see you come home than your dog; not even your spouse can match their enthusiasm when you walk in the door. They love you even when you yell at them, or forget to fill their food dish, or leave them alone for 8 hours at a stretch. They love you when you poke them for a blood sample repeatedly for 13 hours straight. They love you when you “torture” them with baths. They love you when no one else does. They love you even when you don’t deserve it; maybe especially then. And they read your moods, and will come sit next to you quietly if that’s what you need, but they’re always ready to play, and to remind you that happiness might be just as simple as a snack, a belly rub, and a nap.
It seems so wrong to me that such paragons of love should have to suffer. I’d say the same thing about human beings, and for the most part, it’s true, but I’ve never met a mean dog; I’ve met plenty of mean people. To make a being that is nothing but innocent love hurt and suffer is just wrong. Death is a cruel thing. It could be a switch, and when it’s your time, you could just go. But more often, it bats you around, dragging out the inevitable with pain and suffering and misery, until you pray for death. And when you’re a dog, all you can do is hope your owner will look into your eyes and see there what you cannot say, and do the thing that is absolutely counter to everything they’ve done for you up until that point. It’s a terrible day when the wrongest thing you know is the right thing to do.
I hate that my folks had to make that call again; when it was my turn, I wanted to call my mom to make the decision so I didn’t have to. It’s awful, even if you know it’s time. In the end, you know that you’re going to suffer either way, by your dog’s death, or by watching him suffer to the bitterest and inevitable end. If you’re going to suffer regardless, the least you can do is set your furbaby free. But it still sucks beyond measure.
Kirby was such a good boy, a sweet boy, and if anyone deserves a heaven, he, and Peanut, and all their canine brethren do.
Dog-speed, Kirby-Lou. We’ll miss you. And we’ll be looking for you at the Rainbow Bridge some day.