Reflection: Putting Down My Dog, Spreading Her Ashes

Ashes aren’t really ash. They look different than I imagined, not black and fine but grey and stoney, dusty.

I brought the cremated remains of Belle, my English Springer Spaniel, to Texas this weekend, so I could spread them in her favorite swimming hole.

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Here’s a moment: Town Lake alive on Easter Sunday. Your ashes are in a tin can tucked under my arm like a lap puppy in a pink purse. I walk down the sandy hill toward the water. This is the place you ran, when your legs still worked and you could fly down that hill, squealing with happiness, so eager to enter the water and fetch a stick. Today, there is a German Shepard retrieving. I remember the purr of your breath as you swam, the calmness, the perfect strokes of your tiny paws. I sit on the edge of the water on a log, your ashes pebble-like, not as I imagined. The water is cool but not cold, brown before it turns green, I let you go, there in the air that I breath, there in the air and then a splash as you hit the water, a sound I did not expect, a sound that makes it seems as if you are still here, you are matter. You still exist in those stones, in that dust, in the cloud of dust now in the river, dusty until settled on the sandy floor and then you are there with the rocks and shells and twigs.

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When I moved to Texas in August of 2005 to attend graduate school, I brought Belle with me. Belle was my parents’ dog, but she had grown attached to me in recent years, sleeping in bed with me when I’d go home to visit, crying by my car when I’d leave. Belle became my baby, someone who loved me unconditionally, tail wagging to greet me at the door — always. She was my companion when no one else was, when I was homesick for Chicago, and felt lost in a small house in a small town in Texas. I lived in Kyle — 20 miles south of Austin and 10 miles north of San Marcos, where I went to school. The house was on an acre of land, where Belle would run and chase squirrels and eat pecans that had fall from the trees. Occasionally, there were run-ins with larger animals — raccoons, foxes, opossums.

I took her swimming a lot. Because I could. Because Texas was so hot it took your breath away. Because water (rivers and lakes) was everywhere. Because she was so happy when she was swimming. After Mike moved to Texas and we got married, all of us moved to Austin. It was here where I would take her swimming in Town Lake, after a walk around it.

Today, as I take the path we always took, your red leash in my hand as you tugged at me, always racing to get there, I spot an English Springer Spaniel, liver and white like you. I ask its owner, “May I pet your Springer Spaniel.” I pet Elliot, thinking it’s fitting that the first dog I see is your breed, a sign that this is right, that this is the right place to put you to rest, the happiness Texas brought you, how Texas brought you to me.

The day before I put Belle down, Noah and I drove her to Lake Michigan for a final swim. “Born to Run” was on the radio, and I thought this is the reason we are putting you down — because you were Born to Run and now you can’t, because your legs won’t let you.

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We chose to have Belle put down at home instead of taking her to the vet. An amazing traveling vet, who a friend recommended, came to our house on September 23, 2011.

Belle is lying in her bed in our sun room; I am lying next to her, stroking her soft, soft ears. The vet gives one shot to calm her down, then the shot to stop her heart, she is breathing and then she takes one last breath and she is gone. Not breathing. She is still, she is Belle but she is not Belle. She will not move again.

Then I’m not breathing, my tears so hard I can’t. I’m in my car, driving to daycare to pick up Noah. How do you explain death to the 2 year old? I don’t. I say we had to say “good-bye.” She was old and sick. Say goodbye Belle, I said earlier that morning, Noah in his moose pajamas. “Bye,” he says and hugs her. I’m thinking of this moment, as I stop at a red light, eyes blurry with hot tears. To be strong for Noah.

I can’t go home after. I can’t face the silence in that house. Without her. I can’t look at the place she once was breathing then not breathing. I can’t watch Noah play with his dinosaurs in that room, sunlight through the window. We go to my sister’s house to avoid the silence. To distract us from what we soon must face.

Mike isn’t home yet. He will come home to a home with her. He will open the door and her tail won’t wag. I will open the door to silence. We will eat dinner without barking. We will put food on the counter without jumping, without stealing. We will drop crumbs on the floor without picking up. We will sleep without snoring and shoving and waking up.

These are the moments you realize your dog is gone. All the things she did to annoy you are not there to be annoyed by. All the greetings, so excited to have you home. They love us more than we love ourselves. Our dogs. Our babies before babies. Our loves.

To spread her ashes in the place that she loved was important to me. I want to imagine her there forever — brown water before it becomes green, part of this place where other dogs fetch sticks, where she can rest and find peace.

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22 thoughts on “Reflection: Putting Down My Dog, Spreading Her Ashes

  1. Evelyn, Your account of Belle’s death touched me. It sounds like she was with you through a lot, and I can tell how special your relationship was. Sometimes I think I’m crazy for how deeply I miss my cat, but I know you understand. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Rachel, thank you for this comment. The loss of any pet is so difficult. I know your loss is fresh. Don’t feel crazy. As I say in the post, pets are our babies. I believe that.

  2. Immediately, one can see how difficult this was for you to write. I hope giving Belle her peace helped give you a small piece of your own as well.

    In September of 2010, my parents put down Brandy when she was 16. She was a beagle mix whose hips betrayed her. Even with my own sleeping dog in my lap, I still miss her terribly and always will. Dogs are love.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. You’ve written it beautifully, capturing in both word and images one of life’s events that is at once terrible and beautiful. As I read it I thought back to a time when I experienced something similar. The grief overpowered me, to my great surprise, and then, after a few days, it was gone. I wish I had been wise enough to write my way through it.

    • Thank you, Gary. My grief lasted a little longer but I know what you mean about it fading. I was lucky that I had a little boy and another one on his way to distract me.

  4. Beautiful and poignant. Thank you for expressing what we all feel at the loss of our special friends. We remember Belle, and Mandy, and all the others.
    Your recollections brought back our Buttons and the joy we had when he lived, and the emptiness when he was gone. Your words are most meaningful. Love, Anna and Dickie

    • Thank you, both. Buttons was a great dog, too. And with Mandy and Windy, I remember buttons as one of my childhood dogs.

  5. Love it. Love that you saw a springer there at that moment. Of course. The final photo with the ashes in the water almost appears as though she IS swimming below the surface. She was a good girl and I feel fortunate that I got to see her that day, to pet her and pick up her poops (as odd as that sounds), before you put her down.

  6. Evelyn, I’m so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to your sweet Belle, to spread her ashes in the place she was the happiest. Josie shared this post because I lost my little love, Jojo a few years ago. Your post touched me. It’s so nice to have little reminders, like you beautifully wrote, of the love we have for these amazing animals. Sometimes I feel like Jojo passed away ages ago, because of how busy I am with my three little guys, but this was a beautiful reminder to me. Like you said perfectly- our dogs. our babies before babies. our loves.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  7. I finally decided to read this post, and I’m typing this comment through tears. This week has been especially hard for some reason–I’m missing Q like crazy. It’s been four months since we had to put him down, and him not being here anymore still hurts so much.

    This is such a wonderful post, Evelyn. And I can relate to so much of it. As I think I already told you, we’re also planning to take Q’s ashes to Texas and spreading them in the San Marcos river–his favorite swimming place.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. It made me feel peaceful somehow, and now I imagine Belle and Q running and swimming somewhere together.

    • Tina, it was peaceful in such a profound way that it makes me happy to think about. That said, I’m glad a waited a year and a half from her death to spread the ashes, or I’m sure it would have been much more difficult.

  8. This is the first time I’ve read this. Truthfully, I’ve avoided it. I don’t know why, but I read it tonight. I feel like Belle and my Freckles are the same dog…the swimming (my husband Mike calls her a tuna…can’t get her out of the water once she’s in, even when she’s really tired), the barking, the counter surfing, etc. I’m sitting here crying (thank you, again) because Matthew absolutely adores her and she’s already 10. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be in the same position you were in with Belle in the next 2-3 years. Frecks’ legs are already starting to fail her at times. It already breaks my heart to think of Matthew not having his puppy dog. Of course, he probably won’t remember her.

    • Springers are the best! We talk about Belle all the time still, because I’m trying to make Noah remember her. We will get another day some day, and she/he will be Noah’s dog. I’ve had Springers my whole life. My childhood dog was named Mandy; she died when I was 13. She was 13. We grew up together. I want Noah to have a dog like that, as I’m sure you want Matthew to. A boy and his dog. Nothing better.

  9. Evelyn, I’ve cried many times over the loss of my 2 childhood dogs. Sunshine, our German Shepard, whom I found dead one morning before one of my college writing classes and Jazmine, our Rottweiler, who was put down because she was longer getting blood flow to her legs-all of them. I was away for Jazmine’s death but the emotional toll it took on me was ruthless. I drove home from the college I was away at and felt like I had lost all control of life. I am devastated for your loss. Truly. The strength it takes to lose an animal family member is almost if not as hard as a human because you’re losing that unconditional love and adoration. I couldn’t have put my feelings any better into words than you did. Thank you for continuously showing me how important life and words are.

    • Jenn, thanks for reading and for this lovely comment. Your graduating class was so important to me as a teacher and writer. You all inspired me and continue to. Dog are with us for too short a time. What a tragic story about your Sunshine.

  10. Evelyn — I stumbled across this today and found myself reliving the grief and sorrow of losing my much loved Lab, Kita, last summer. It’s almost been a year to the day since we had to put her down. She was a lover of life and made me smile every day. I miss her terribly but am glad for the ache that reminds me of the place she had in my life for 14 years. Thanks for this wonderful story about love and loss.

    • Thanks so much! I totally relate to your emotions. Dogs are so much a part of our families. Sorry for your loss.

  11. Evelyn, I lost my 12 yr old maltese yesterday. Had to put her to sleep as she was suffering. She died in my arm and the feeling is really devasting. The way you describe your lost totally touched my heart. I am not sure how long I will take to get over her. But she will always be a gem in my life.

    • So sorry to hear about your loss. Putting down Belle was the most difficult moment of my life but also the most peaceful. I was lucky that I had the distraction of my son and another one on the way. I still think of her almost every day, especially now as AJ, my youngest, is in love with dogs. I wish he knew her. I wish you a peaceful period of loss. I feel your pain.

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