Daisy, a pretty petite pittie, was the first shelter dog I walked who was euthanized. She was a good dog, but shelter life — with its constant noise, overpowering smells, and irregular schedule — was too much for her. Daisy often spent the entire day jumping and spinning uninterrupted, and her hyper, erratic behavior was trying at best. Some people thought Daisy behaved this way because she was housebroken and could not hold it a second longer; or perhaps she hated the cage and was desperate; perhaps she became overexcited when someone walked by her cage. It was hard to see her that way. It was hard to look at her always covered in her own poop, because she had endless diarrhea that she constantly paced in. It was hard to be in her kennel when she was raking your back with her nails and muzzle punching your nose. I didn’t necessarily want to be with her when she was frenzied. It is difficult to share space with anyone who is in a constant state of anxiety. I started making myself walk her every shift, and soon I started coming in on weekends for her.
Daisy was agile and athletic. She was people-oriented and food-motivated. She was daring and cheeky. Daisy was the kind of dog who gave 150% to everything. Daisy would be the type of champion who won despite a broken bone. These characteristics were intoxicating to me, because I could teach her so many things. When I put the time in with her, she started to respond, and Daisy was lovely. Once I understood the part of her that loved living still existed, I reached for it every time we were together. She threw herself into whatever activity I chose. I loved when she trotted ahead of me on her tiptoes, her little tush swaying left and right. She would toss me a look when I squeezed her butt then trot, trot, trot. She had expressive little eyebrows, and a sideways glance meant she was going to do something silly. It was summer and after a long workout, we would sit on the grass together. As hot as we were, she always leaned her body against mine. Her body was the same length as my thigh. Sometimes she rested her head on my kneecap, and I would run two fingers back and forth from the tip of her nose to a spot between her eyes. Sometimes she rested her head in my lap, and I patted her butt. My favorite times were when she sat next to me and nuzzled in the crook of my arm. This meant her head was resting against my shoulder, and we could feel each other’s hearts. She would look up and place her wet nose under my jaw. She would wiggle closer to nibble my ear and kiss my cheeks and mouth. I thought we were communicating. I thought I was helping her to adjust, to be more adoptable. I thought I was seeing Daisy improve. Now I think I was just refusing to see her decline.
There is no way to really know what eventually broke her, so I punish myself by listing all the ways I contributed to her demise. I was the last living being to walk her, and I didn’t tell the staff how well she did; I thought there would be time to do this later. I ran Daisy through the agility course when I should have been holding her, reassuring her, offering her some sort of comfort. I can’t remember saying good-bye to her after that last walk, which means I just walked out on her; I left her alone. I hope Daisy is at peace and can forgive me.
It is many years and many dogs since Daisy. All the dogs have been equally important and equally loved by me. I may not have volunteered if I really knew what was at stake for the dogs. I certainly didn’t know my heart was going to be ripped out over and over. I would not have believed I could lose so many dogs, sacrifice so much of myself, and continue to function as wounded as I am. There have definitely been more happy endings than not, and they are easier to let go. I continue to hold on to Daisy and the others who died. I grieve for each of them as if they were my own. If they had been mine, I would have stayed with them through the whole process. I would have walked them to the back, stroked their heads, and laid my face next to theirs on the steel table well past the time it was over. But they were not mine, and I could not be with them.