It’s New Year’s Eve and Billy is dying.
Someone nearby is setting off fireworks, each one making me wince. My head hurts from crying all day.
I am not ready for my sweet dog to die. I like dogs so, so, so much more than most people. I wish I could choose some human to die in his place. See ya, Mitch McConnell!
Billy’s skeletal at this point, frail in a way that leaves us marveling how he’s still mobile and coherent. And he is. He hasn’t eaten in ten days. He’s weaker, sure, and wobblier, but his eyes are still shiny. He still responds to his name. He’s the dog having the least accidents in the house. But it’s almost time.
I often find Edward pressed up against him, one paw on Billy, or his head resting on him. He knows.
When we went to choose our dachshund puppy, I wanted Edward because he was so big and strong. Matthew couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Billy, the runt, behind. So both dogs came home with us to our little Boston apartment. They’ve never been apart. Not even a night.
Callum, who has spent nearly every therapy appointment for 8 years bringing up the question of what will he do when one of our dogs dies is calm and accepting. I’m crying quietly to myself as I make him dinner. He comes and takes the food out of my hands and hugs me. My baby boy towers over me, at 6’1”, and holds me tight while I sob. Later he sits in bed with me, petting a sleeping Billy. “We’ve been crying over him all day,” I say. “Even dad?” Callum asks, amazed. “Of course,” I say. “Wow. He never cries.”
We keep poking Billy, lifting him, waking him. He’s probably quite annoyed. He’s spent years perfecting an existence that we’ve long called “undead.” He’s been a picky eater for years, often going a few days without eating. He has mastered some sort of breathing routine that makes him breathe half as much as real fully alive dogs. I place my hands on him and wait, my breath held, and think, this is it—he’s gone. Then he takes a big shuddering breath. Nervous Edward, the caretaker dog, the nanny dog, doesn’t know what to, so he just keeps nervously cleaning his dogs.
It’s New Year’s Day now and my dog is still dying. Did you know sometimes dying can take a long time? I spend the day reading a book written by one of my best friends. It’s comforting because I can hear her voice and feel her by me. I think about when my dad died and how she flew in to be with me. I keep thinking about my dad during this time with Billy and about my grandma. I didn’t get to say goodbye to either of them. I’m getting the world’s longest goodbye with Billy. I’m not sure it’s a better option. My Simmons gang keeps texting that they’re there for me, that they’re here with me. Twitter floods my feed with love for Billy and support for us. My best friend Kelly texts me every day to check in, but my report is always the same. We are waiting.
It’s January 2 and my dog is still dying. He’s on day 12 of no food. He is some kind of miracle, a stubborn little doxie who just won’t let go. I’d gotten up at 4 with him. He was panting and limp and I thought, so here we are. It’s happening.
It wasn’t happening.
His breathing returns to normal, he gets a drink of water, goes outside for potty, and goes back to sleep. I keep holding him and telling him it’s okay to go now. I don’t believe anything happens after we die, but I still tell him stories of all the family dachshunds that will be waiting for him. He will get to see Mitzi, Ludwig, Gus, and Henry. He just gives me his little doxie side-eye, irritated that I keep waking him and crying all over him.
The day seems good, then bad. We cry and cry, but also laugh over all the funny Billy stories from over his long life. After more than a week of not throwing up, and 12 days of not eating, he throws up black tar that smells like sewage. We plead with him to please just let go. We don’t want to do it for him. I put an air mattress on the main floor so I can sleep with Billy and so can his brothers. The last thing I want is to be cleaning puke from my bed or carpet. We leave the fire on for him—there’s nothing he likes better than toasting himself in front of the fire. Edward frets a bit about why a bed is on the main floor and why we’re not heading upstairs, but eventually settles in next to Billy on the big dog bed. Oscar doesn’t care what’s happening as long as I’m there.
I don’t sleep really. Oscar stays right next to me, something he usually doesn’t do when sleeping, and Edward stays on the dog bed with Billy. I read, scroll on my phone, watch some shows, and wait. Sometime around 3, Billy climbs from his bed onto mine. I hold him tight until we get up. He throws up again and all I can think is that I hate this SO MUCH.
I hate this. I HATE it.
I think about him as a tiny puppy, too scared to cross thresholds into rooms and needing a little lift. I think about him being best buds with my mom. I think about all the times he managed to get stuck in the arm of a sweatshirt that he found abandoned on a bed. I think about him playing his version of ball—grab the toy and never let go, but run like mad. I think about the long, good life he has had.
It’s January 3 and my god, my dog is still dying. He is the toughest little dachshund, the toughest runt, to ever live. We look online and find sites that are like, some dogs can live 3-5 days without food. Billy’s like, day 13, bitches! Billy does what Billy wants! Matthew and I discuss intervening and making a choice for Billy. But he doesn’t appear to be suffering. We want him to go on his own if he can. We try to figure out if we’re being selfish, if we’re doing the right things. And we wait. Even in the best case scenario, even with the most insignificant of things, I am terrible at waiting. I’m impatient. I’ve cleaned everything in my house. I can’t concentrate to read. I just pace, stop and stare to see if Billy is still breathing, and plead with him to stop being such a strong little guy. Dachshunds—stubborn to the end.
I set up my little bed area again on the main floor for the world’s saddest sleepover. Billy sleeps in front of the fire, wrapped in my precious baby blanket, and I sleep with my head up by him. Edward and Oscar sleep pressed against me. Billy gets up repeatedly in the night to do his little loop around the downstairs. I trail behind him in the dark, wondering how on earth this tiny guy has the energy to move like this. We wake up on Monday, January 4, day 14 of Billy not eating, and oh dear god, this dog is still alive. His eyes pop open when I move, and when I come in from taking the other two outside, he’s making his way to the door for his turn. He’s got to be down to 3 pounds or so.
In the afternoon, we are SURE the time is finally here. We all spend about 2 hours holding him, sobbing, telling him it’s okay to go. Eventually Callum, worn out, goes back downstairs. Even later, Matthew and I decide we need to eat something. We put Billy with his brothers in front of the fire. A few more hours pass. Billy wakes up, sits up, does his best Monty Python “I’m not dead yet!” and walks to his water. Soon after this I start laughing hysterically and then sob hysterically. I haven’t slept much for these past two weeks. I’m exhausted. If he’s not suffering, if he’s not out of it, we want him to go on his own time, at home. But when? Every day, every hour, nearly every minute, I think, maybe now, just be done. Billy has never liked being told what to do. Billy will do this when Billy is ready.
But Billy can’t do it on his own. We’re on day 15 now. He seems relatively okay, but cannot be. We make the hard choice. We make the call. We go, we do the horrible, hard thing. And just like that, it’s over. One minute here with us, then suddenly, gone.
Goodbye, sweet Billy. You were such a good boy.