I got my cat when I was 14 and discovered I was allergic to her when I came home from college for the first time. For me, living with Bella was a constant cycle of snuggles, sneezes and snot. I spent more time bent at the waist sneezing than doing anything else. I can’t count how many times I told my parents that coming home wasn’t worth it.
But it was worth it, because I was head over heels in love with her and she allowed me to be. Encouraged me, even. And she loved me back unconditionally, sneezes and all.
Which is why when Bella got sick with cancer and I was told she had six months, I knew I didn’t want her to die in a vet’s office.
I came home one afternoon in October to find her asleep in the chair that she wasn’t allowed in. This wasn’t out of the ordinary, but the way she was sleeping was. She was tense, as though she was trying to keep the stomach she so loved to have rubbed away from the cushion.
Something was wrong.
I put her effortlessly into a crate – another telltale sign that something was off – and booked it to the animal hospital, where we waited together in silence under harsh fluorescent lighting in uncomfortable chairs. Two hours later, she was put on a ventilator to steady her breathing, and an hour and a half later, I was told that it was pneumonia.
“We can keep her here overnight, hook her up to an IV with fluids,” they said. “But that would essentially be like putting a band-aid over a bigger problem.”
I made the choice to turn down the band-aid and the harder one to end her suffering altogether. They let me into a room that looked not unlike a waiting room, complete with motivational poster, and she was curled up on the stiff couch the same way she was the chair before: like it would hurt to relax.
A nurse popped her head in to ask if I was ready.
“A few more minutes,” I requested.
“Sure,” she said. “Would you like to pay now?”
I handed over my credit card and it hit me hard: this wasn’t a goodbye, this was a transaction.
She popped in a few minutes later to ask if I was ready.
“A few more minutes,” I requested again.
When she knocked the third time, I knew I couldn’t say no.
We said our goodbyes, and Bella drifted off in my lap.
Afterward, we went through the same cycle half a dozen more times: the doctor asking if I was ready to hand her over, and me, asking for a few more minutes.
While I know I wasn’t looked at as an inconvenience, I was acutely aware that I was taking up a room and time that could be better used otherwise; I also knew beyond a doubt that my case was nothing special. This was done daily. It was a transaction.
At home that night, after devouring an entire Brixx pizza, I curled up next to my dog and promised him we wouldn’t put him through that.
Buddy’s time came two weeks later. At 14, my big, old lab mix was useless in the best way: deaf with hip problems and a joke of a guard dog, but his heart was in it. I mean in. it.
Buddy loved to be outside, and in his old age, I spent most warm afternoons sitting on the front porch while he laid in the driveway and smelled the air. Despite the fact that he couldn’t get back up the steps most days, he’d almost always follow you out.
People were his favorite thing. If you walked in, regardless of how much pain he may or may not have been in, his little ears went back and his tail thumped. He practically smiled as he turned on his side for a scratch, even though he spent the last few years in wind-up pain.
And, despite giving it all back more often than not, he was a faithful plate cleaner every night after dinner.
It seemed that no matter how old he was going to get – and I truly think he could have lived forever – he was always going to try.
Until he couldn’t. After a string of bad days, it seemed inhumane to ask him to try anymore, and we called Lap of Love.
Lap of Love is a service that provides in-home euthanasia to pets that can’t leave their humans on their own. They helped Buddy, but moreover, they helped my family.
The hardest part of the process was deciding if it was truly time, and they were there every step of the way. The doctor showed up at 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon and took time to dissect every angle of the situation. She answered every question and even offered her own advice. At 6 p.m., the decision was made.
We gathered around Buddy in his favorite room of the house while the doctor made her way to another room to give us space. There was no rush. No constant check-ins, asking if we were ready. Instead, she sat with us, telling us how lucky Buddy was to have had us, asking us about his life.
Everything was on our terms.
We said our goodbyes while he slept more soundly than we’d ever seen him do before, and stayed with him long after he finally gave in.
It wasn’t easy, but it was easier. More peaceful. Warmer. We felt special, as though we truly mattered to the doctor, and that she wanted to be there every step of the way. I think she would have held my hand, had I asked. In a word, it was different than my experience with Bella.
I’ve never been without a dog. It’s weird to come home and not see a water bowl in the corner or have to get off the couch when Buddy decided he was going to take my spot for the night. All I have now is an urn and a cast of his front right paw that the doctor helped us make.
Buddy was by my side for 14 years through the good and the bad. He came to us at a time when we had no idea how desperately we needed him. Two grandparents died within four days of each other, a cat the week before that, and a slew of other problems had created a dark, looming, never-ending cloud above the Moore household. Somehow Buddy lifted it.
He gave me some of the best times of my life; the least I could do for him was help him go in comfort, away from the place that stressed him out the most and out from under the glare of fluorescent lights and metal tables.
I don’t write this to gain pity votes or a round of “sorrys.” I write this simply because I want Charlotte to know there’s another choice. The doctor from Lap of Love told us that there is such a thing as waiting too long and letting it turn into an emergency situation, and that’s exactly what I did with Bella. Don’t make my same mistake.
There’s always another choice.