We have always been, at minimum, a two-dachshund family. Siblings Edward and Billy joined us in 2004, then rescue Oscar came along in 2017. Three dogs, while a lot of work, was the ideal number for me. I needed them. Then Billy died earlier this year. I was devastated, obviously, but eventually adjusted to “just” having two dogs. I could do that.
In the early part of this summer, Oscar began to fade away. He was such a tough little doxie who survived so much. He was found tied up outside a shelter, having maybe spent some time living on the street, or was freshly abandoned there, or fell to earth from whatever planet grows toothless little weirdos with hearts of gold. An angry little man with lots of defensive walls built up, he was deemed unadoptable and set to be euthanized. Thankfully, a rescue group swooped in and saved him. He then spent 8 months going to weekly adoption events, snarling and snapping at everyone who tried to even look at him.
Meanwhile, I was at my house looking at dogs on the internet. Here’s a game my brain plays with me:
Brain: Psst. If you go online and look at old dogs who need homes, I’ll make a little serotonin for you, as a treat.
Me, every time: Okay. *looks, then starts sobbing at all the sweet old dogs needing homes*
Brain: Ha ha, you fell for it again! Now you’re even sadder than you were five minutes ago! *pauses* Oh my god! I have the best idea for us! Look up “disabled dogs that need homes!” No—it’ll be heartwarming! Just try it!
Me: *does it and sobs forever*
So that’s the state I’m in when Matthew finds me at my computer. I show him Oscar, weeping, telling him that that’s my dog. Somehow, MY dog is on the internet and needs a home. Matthew, who is kind and patient and understands how much I NEED this dog, simply says, “Let’s go get him.” So, we do. And you all know the rest of the story. Either you’ve read the blog posts. Or you’ve met him. Or you follow me on Twitter. But you know all about Oscar. His little act of “I will KILL all of you” dropped the second he got in our car. He was, hands down, the very best boy a person could want.
So back to earlier this summer. He starts to get scrawny. We know he has a bad liver, a bad heart, and IVDD, the disc disease that so many dachshunds suffer from. Still, he slips and slides all around the house, his back legs no longer working, to follow me everywhere. He eats, monitors every thing that happens in the house, and, despite his weakened back half, has very few accidents. At some point, he loses the strength to constantly launch himself off the couch or wherever I’ve set him. He stops being able to use his strong front legs to haul himself around. He becomes nothing but bones. Petting him is traumatic—bump, bump, bump.
We buy him a little cart and see if we can help him get up and moving again. It doesn’t go well and, per use, becomes the most expensive thing we own. We keep him in his stroller, I sit and handfeed him his meals, he requires us to hold him to his water dish for drinks and to hold him outside to go potty. He can’t do anything on his own. Before we leave for vacation, I start to feel like I’m carrying around a dead dog. But I’m not ready. And, more importantly, he’s not ready. I know this.
We go to Colorado for the week and leave him in the capable hands of my mother. I beg him not to die while we’re gone. I will not be able to handle it, because of his actual death and because of the tsunami of trauma and grief it will trigger in me by stirring up all the other deaths I didn’t get a goodbye with. We come home and he’s alive! But he’s done. I know it.
The things happening are too grim to detail. I tell myself that I won’t make the call for a day or two. Maybe he can go on his own. But, like Billy, Henry, and Chester before him (god, has it been a shit year), he can’t. I come home from the gym on Sunday morning, and I know he’s done. He needs our help.
I call the vet, sobbing, and ask if our favorite vet tech is working. They put me on the phone with her and she sets us up. Oscar will be with her and our favorite vet, the two who were with Billy. A., our favorite vet tech, has the kindest heart. She loves our dogs so much. I know I’m making the right call. We spend the day holding Oscar, who barely opens his eyes. I cry and cry and cry. Like with Billy, Edward wants nothing to do with this stage. He keeps his distance, reluctantly giving Oscar one little lick when I force him to be close to him. I pet Oscar, his bony back, his poky hips, the deep ridges along his skull. There is nothing left. I keep one hand on his chest the whole time to make sure he’s still in there. He is, but he’s not. At the vet, sweet A. gets him set up with his IV and comes back after a bit with him, saying she took so long because she needed to snuggle him and was crying. I hold him the whole time, telling him he was the best little dog anyone could ever want. And then, he’s gone.
I come home to just one dog. I’ve never had just one dog. I am a wreck. Callum puts the stroller and cart down in the storage room so I don’t have to look at them. Edward sniffs the blanket we had Oscar in, nosing around in it to look for him, like, “I know he was tiny, but good lord, where is he in here?” Edward side-eyes me, knowing I am the Dachshund Angel of Death, knowing in the past many months I have put four dachshunds in the car, gone to vet, and come home alone. I sob to the point that I think I’m going to throw up and eventually Edward takes pity on me and curls up with me.
Three, then two, now one. Each dog leaves and takes a little piece of me with him. I worry that soon there will be nothing left. I like dogs way more than I like people. The grief is the searing, uncomplicated kind that comes from losing someone who was only ever 100% loving, the uncomplicated kind that often cannot come with losing a person, because people have faults and dogs do not.
I’m writing this with Edward sleeping alone on his dog bed. He has never been alone. He has never been an only. We are in this new landscape together. And I have to say, I hate it here.
Thank you for four wonderful years, sweet Oscar, little space goblin, canine love of my life. I hope you’re back on your home planet now, able to run again, tongue flapping in the wind as you chase the other weird little goblins.