I didn’t manage the tear-control I’d hoped for when I participated in BeeBee’s euthanasia yesterday, but I survived. It was pouring rain and the drive to the clinic was miserable with traffic slowed to a crawl where portions of the road were covered with water. Bee didn’t like rain under the best of circumstances and these were anything but.
As soon as I got home, I buried her with a favorite toy and the tags from her collar, then planted the pulmonaria on top of her amid a cairn of large rocks to deter curious critters. I knew the body would decay and nourish the plants around her over time, and soon their botanical transpiration (i.e., respiration) would cause them to give off oxygen that I, the other pets, and all animal beings in our environment would inhale, making her immortal in a way as well as part of all of us.
But those metal tags and her skeleton would last a lot longer. And if at some point far in the future someone happened to dig in the area, I like to think they would look at her skeleton and those tags the same way today’s archeologists look at certain ancient canine or feline remains and say, “This wasn’t some stray or feral animal who died here. This animal belonged to someone who cared.”
As a veterinarian first in medical practice and now in a behavioral/bond one who also has shared her life with a lot of animals, I’ve done a lot of grieving in my life. But this time it’s different. Regardless what others may choose to believe, I didn’t put Bee down for just behavioral problems, if for no other reason than that such don’t exist. I am completely aware of all the physiological and bond (both human and that with with members of other species) components of behavioral problems more than I’ve ever been in my life. Because of all of Bee’s hereditary and congenital problems, I had to know more about and be more aware of this interaction 24/7 day in and day out than with any other being of any species with whom I’ve ever lived. Because of this, I knew professionally, scientifically, and intuitively what most people only know intuitively: that it was time to let her go.
Because of that, I’m free of the guilt and doubt—my own and that which others would try to impose on me—that’s accompanied other losses. I’m free to experience the loss of Bee as a loss of Bee, and not the the loss of a symbol of someone or something else I may not even consciously acknowledge as real. I don’t feel obligated to feel repulsed because the other animals are visibly more relaxed and playful, although sometimes as confused as I am by all the changes in our routine. Ollie still waits at the top of the stairs for me to pick up Bee and descend first, and I still stop to do just that. I make twice as many trips up and down the stairs as I need to, once to transport any books, cups of tea, cleaning supplies or other paraphernalia, and a second to transport a dog incapable of climbing stairs who’s no longer there.
Even though I intellectually and intuitively recognized the inextricable relationship between health, behavior, and the bond, Bee’s many problems never permitted me of the luxury of denying this as is often possible in other animals. Whether I wanted to or not, I had to be aware of it because her life depended on it. But in the process of doing this, I learned to communicate in a way I’d never experienced with an animal before.
Bee couldn’t hear, her vision was impaired in ways I could never define to my satisfaction, she responded defensively to all but a narrow range of touch, her sense of smell was incredible, but only sometimes. Sometimes she was quite solidly here, but other times she was somewhere else. In short, the kinds of sensory perception that form the foundation of normal human-companion animal communication were unreliable or nonexistent. So we came up with something new. Not some special form I made up for my own convenience that I taught her using treats like I would have done years ago. This time I summoned the patience and dumped enough of my considerable human ego to let her teach me.
Now I look at the other dogs and know it’s time to play catch-up. Aside from the basic training I didn’t have time for—all I cared about was a reliable response to the come command—I want to rethink my ideas of quality interspecies communication with them as well as the cat. Because of Bee, I stopped being so verbal with them months ago and don’t rely nearly as much on visual cues either. But because they were so stable and reliably good, I never had to develop that—what? transcendent? —plane of communication with them that I did with Bee. I still don’t have to, but now and thanks to BeeBee, I want to.