Humbleness is cruel in the death of a dog, and the generosity of it while they die is a slow-release torture.
Nala was feeling like a failure, not because life was everything for her, but because her love for me was beyond everything. As a puppy, she’d been sure she’d defend my family forever, and throughout the years, her adult heart became even surer and more committed to this vow. But the “foreverness” of her love was transformed overnight for her, and despite her, into borrowed time. She was already old, and from one day to the next her body acquired an erratic behavior of its, no longer responding to her. Something grotesque and gratuitous had changed everything, something that before her beloved devotion, the most valuable pledge she knew and lived for, was blind, heartless, but more powerful than her will. We’d got her back from a clinic where she was being treated with no success. Returning home, her yellowed and fugitive eyes told me she knew she was being claimed by the other side.
Dogs commit to unbreakable vows because they deal with absolutes, with what not only “is” but “should be”, period. They ignore hesitation and doubt, because the absoluteness of their love impedes them to be on the wall. They let their heart be a heart; be impeccable. What is sealed in it is eternal, even though they aren’t. Feeling her time was almost over, Nala’s eyes transmitted an excruciating apology for nothing she’d done wrong. She had signed her devotion with eternity and her physical condition not only betrayed her but made her feel like she herself was a betrayer. Her pupils were the most painful supplication of forgiveness, and shamed to no end, she deviated her gaze when I talked to her. When we brought her from the impotent clinic, we helped her lay down on a bench by the entrance door of our home, and I whispered in her ear that I was going to see her again, “You are going on a trip, girl, and I will see you there” I kept sugar talking her.
Nala’s mother was a Rottweiler, and like Rottweilers, Nala was a true guard dog. But she also had the sweetness of her father, who was a Shii Tzu. Her round eyes were honey colored and a bit slanted, like those of a mountain lion. Sometimes, when she was at rest and slightly closed them, she was invested with the majesty of big cats in contemplation. Living in Boulder, I used to call her my mountain lion. I’d also call her by the names of the first dolls I had when I was a child: Little Buddie, Linda Bell, Bela Amie, Chiquita Bacana.
Nala could see God. She taught me dogs are capable of being in awe. The few times her eyes revealed it to me they were seeing the Beyond; the Beyond in me. She would look and look at me with adoration, compassion, and gratitude at the same time, showing me to myself as someone anointed and barely believable. The magnitude of what her generous canine face expressed in those moments made me sense I knew Nala from another life, or another dimension. To feel her warmth in a hug transmitted to me a wordless understanding that was out of this world. It transmitted the depth of intensity, the forever alive.
On the couch by the door, waiting for the service of vets that would send her to heaven, she was superhuman enough to feel responsible, and being entirely innocent of the sinister conspiracy of facts that determined those moments to be the last grains of sand trickling down her hourglass, she was begging a pardon she never needed. It was me that had often been hasty with her, it was me who left her when traveling without even questioning whether she understood I would return, it was me that fell short of her. But her guilt and desolation before the breaking of her pact of love told me this love itself was unbreakable and will keep going beyond the last beat of her heart. The sadness in the apology her confused eyes were begging for her dying, for being let down by the finitude of her body, indicated this finitude wasn’t definitive. It messaged Nala’s twisted search for and right to a reassurance that does not depend on this world. The right to being pained and disappointed with this one. Nala’s eyes made me feel this reassurance in my own heart and in the beyond, where all hearts can be rejoined.
I decided to fetch Nala from the gigantic, sinister-looking clinic where we’d taken her to be treated because they were not only unable to make her improve but could not even know the cause of her condition. They’d given her transfusions and medicines to no avail but kept telling me that although they didn’t know what made her system keep destroying her red cells, she should still have a fifty percent chance of surviving if we left her there another two weeks. Besides, we should be ready to keep her on steroids for the rest of her life, should she make it back home. Different vets kept phoning me with a bombardment of reports about their plans to treat her and the price of each item they mentioned. They spoke very fast and with an edge, as if intent on making more nervous and confused whichever desperate dog owner heard them. I informed the last one I talked to that Nala was half a Rottweiler and was already eleven, the age limit of this breed. He still retorted that her other half could well be in her favor and repeated the thing about her having 50% of chances to live if we left her there longer. That is, if we spent more on “his”” clinic, “but you are a brave person to be already talking about the end of your dog’s life span” he went on with a tone of reproach, and I hated him. My Nala, who’d always been so upbeat and fit, and who loved the outdoors, should not drag herself to the end in a compromised, decadent aging. Hating the vets and their guilt-inspiring strategy, their machine gun’s incisive and condescending shots of explanations, pushed me to free Nala from a clinic where, due to covid, we couldn’t even enter to see her. A clinic that was nothing but sordid by preying on people’s vulnerability during their pet’s call of death. I had to yell to interrupt that vet’s insistence and tell him I was getting Nala back.
I was instructed to call from the parking lot the moment I arrived to fetch her. My daughter and I drove there with a friend, and when I phoned, as instructed, that same vet was called to talk to me. He dared repeating the whole story of Nala’s having a 50% chance to survive if she stayed there “only one more week”, which was then half the time he’d first told me she should, the crook. I hung up the phone on his face, and a staff member brought Nala to the door. My dog was very lethargic, and I carried her to the car, with my heart sinking deeper inside my chest with every step I took, supporting her and her body’s forty pounds. Our friend had contacted a service which comes to one’s house to euthanize the dog, and it didn’t take long to arrive after we were back with Nala.
We had to wrap her up in a blanket and take her to the lawn to get the shots that would send her away. She could still buck up like good old Nala, and when accommodated on the lawn, command her eyes to let us know she was ready. For whatever. She was ready for whatever we wanted and were going to do with her because she loved us and trusted us.
Your trust was above everything and made up for everything, sweet, beautiful Nala, and the last look of your honey-colored pupils talked of the eternal. And again, of your humbleness, your deference: If you hadn’t been able to be infallible, your trust in us was. If we couldn’t count on your guarding us forever, you could count on us to even kill you. You were the silence of love, and of the infinite distances love can travel. You knew it all.
I remember the feeling of your body when I lay by your side and hugged you. When they gave you the first injection, which was ketamine to calm you down, I thought I could feel your relief as you closed your eyes like taking off to some beautiful place above all suffering.
The vets walked away to give us fifteen minutes with Nala before coming back for the second shot. During that time, I repeated in her ear that she was going on a beautiful trip, and sprinkled champagne on her head. The lawn was very green around the orange tree by which she was laying. We had flowers, incense, and said prayers. Drinking some Champagne and being high on marijuana, I was doing my best to convey to her a festive goodbye because we’d see each other again. I did it this way because I believed it. But when she had the third, definitive shot, I almost threw up. Holding on to my dog’s front leg, I kissed her paw, the modesty of courage whose warmth I was retaining in my hands. No longer than three minutes later, one of the vets came near her and declared, after listening to her chest, that she was gone. I never thought hearing it would cause me so much revolt. The idea that Nala’s warmth was still caught in my hand, still “ours” after she left, was creepy and repulsive. The wish to look at her depart as a goodbye to a nice trip totally fell to pieces, and when they put her on a stretcher and tied her to it with belts, I did feel betrayed. Not by her, but I did. Betrayed by the colors of that afternoon, by the air all around, and even by the service we’d hired, which did what they’d been called to do. I should be prepared, but there is no being prepared for what is inconceivable. Our mind doesn’t fully grasp it and betrays itself by treating it like an abstraction and making plans around it. For although we think we “know” that everything we see is finite, the moment we love we only understand eternity. The face of death is revealed when those plans are fulfilled and the hollowness of its eyes sucks one’s soul. It is the price one pays by confronting the mightiness and mystery of what one manipulated like a disposable label. The price of having programmed the unknown.
When the vet announced you’d left, the all- of -a -sudden instant you were no longer one of us was an atrocious laugh on my face. You behaved like you were responsible for dying because you’d always been dignified. Even during those times you had to wear the “cone of shame”, you continued to be graceful and able to accommodate yourself on pillows and cushions with majesty. The feeling of your end shamed you because you were above all of us.
You taught me that there is nothing humbler and greater than the entitlement of a dog with the task of eternal faithfulness. The task against all odds. The infinite. Your right to suffer the temporal end of this task was the certainty that in your heart it continues to be infinite and will go on existing beyond the collapse of the flesh and the course of life. You don’t have to apologize anymore, lovely Nala. You no longer need to feel you lost some sort of insidious battle you had no idea of, and which was the pinnacle of injustice. You should no longer feel like a loser for knowing you were being claimed by the other side because of designs you had nothing to do with.
For loving infinitely and being finite.