I'm on a cold slab of concrete petting my big, black lab who is about to die. She's breathing stubbornly, looking at me for permission to let go. I'm telling her in every way I can it's okay with me for her to leave that cancerous body all full of pain and tumors.
"It's okay, Bellah. I'll be okay, Belle."
I sneeze. The concrete is littered with stubborn left-over hairs from the last dogs who died here this evening. Some white and some red hairs remained after the last sweep-up in this clinic. Bellah was dropping several of her own brown and black hairs now. She seems ready to drop the whole furry body she's been stuck in.
(This is a situation where one waits until the last possible moment to go to an emergency pet clinic for emergency euthenasia.)
It is actually perfect in many ways. It is so late that it's like being partly sedated by sleep deprivation. It is so rushed that I forget to grieve until moments before and then all the long, forever moments after that fatal injection.
The vet leans down and asks if I'm ready. A conduit for the lethal dose was already installed, and they'd given me plenty of time to say goodbye. Bellah needed to say goodbye as well, though some would say I project this onto her. Some would say I am not really listening to life but giving a line reading to all my living things, while pretending to be listening. My view is that animals are more conscious than we admit or perceive or understand. Bellah knew she was dying, on some level, and seemed to want to hear and see me give her the release command to move on.
It's not science. It's just my personal take on it.
"Yes. We're ready," I tell the vet. Bellah has been blinking these long, slow-motion blinks that seem to say:
"I'm ready, master. Please let me go!"
She sniffs at me a great deal at the end. She licks me a bit. But her gaze is dull and unfocused, seeming to slowly inspect the corners of the room and then blankly facing the throw rug the doctor pushed under us to comfort our last minutes.
It was a newly cleaned rug, thick enough to add a gentle layer of cushion for an otherwise completely uncomfortable moment.
The doctor administered the injection, and Bellah's eyes found mine immediately, locked on and opened wide.
I let out a little startled sound, because I am suddenly terrified she is hurting from the shot. She collapses right after letting out a huge sigh. No more breath, just a last twitch or two.
I stay on the floor for a while, holding her huge, limp, furry frame like a life raft in a rapids. Later I surrender her to the vet's choice of cremation company, and I receive the ashes the next day or so. Her ashes are distributed in several spots: across a favorite garden, into the ocean where she loved to splash, and strewn across her favorite stopping spots beside the Fryman trail.
And that's how Bellah ended.
Did I drop her off? No. I stayed. Did I hold her during the injection? Yes. I needed to hold her and see the dying breath. Did I have her cremated? Yes, and I paid for the ashes and a receptacle.
There are many choices people can make. This is part of a series of pieces exploring the options for handling pet death that people in Studio City and Sherman Oaks and North Hollywood have. To give some color to this topic, I asked Joey Pants (Joe Pantoliano, actor known best for his work in Sopranos and many other fine feature performances, recent author of his memoir called 'Assylum,' which is his second book) and actor, Tony Denison (The Closer and Major Crimes) to share their experiences and choices with how to handle dead animals.
We gather in the Apple Store, where Joe is having emergency work done on his iPhone, while we discuss the actors' experiences with pets, death, families, feelings and the choices they decided to make as their pets died.
(A note for the video: Joe is talking about dogs, mostly, though he mentions briefly a cat. Tony is a long-time cat lover, and his line of loved pets is featured in an upcoming tribute later in this series.)