On my way out of the shelter I saw something that just broke my heart. Walking in a single line heading into the shelter was a kennel worker with an old dog on a leash, following them was an elderly man and behind him and older lady carrying a blanket. The employee said goodbye to the man, the woman (with tears in her eyes) dropped the old blanket into the plastic trash bin in front of the shelter. I noticed the old dog looking back at the man and woman as they turned back toward their grey car. As the kennel worker walked the dog through the front door of the shelter he handed the leash off to another employee. That’s where I first met Indigo, a 16 year old dog who walked slowly but every so intently. I believe he knew what was to come before the girl ever uttered the words to me, “Indigo is a 16 year old dog dropped off for Owner Requested Euthanasia.”
I looked with despair at the dog walking along the cement sidewalk on this sunny day. He stopped along the way to take his last smell of the grass next to the walkaway that led to the last building he would see in this life. He marked the grass with one last long pee. I asked the employee if I could take a quick photo of Indigo and say hello – she complied.
His eyes were heavy as he turned to look at me, I snapped my picture and he was off. He didn’t pull on the leash, but didn’t lag behind either. He had spent 16 years on this earth, dedicated to (maybe more than) one family, maybe not. No one really knows his truths but him. He never gave up on his people but his people did. Last night he slept in a house probably on a bed or maybe just a comfortable corner of the room never knowing that today would be his last day and that he had just awoken from his last sleep. He went for a ride with the people he loved and those he grew to trust. It could have been a ride like any other but it wasn’t. This is a ride that only led one way for Indigo. Once he stepped out of that car he wouldn’t be stepping back in.
There were no goodbyes, no last petting, no kisses – just a handoff of the leash. Within minutes he would be alone in a room with people he’d never met before, but people he trusted just as well – because that’s the way dogs are. Someone would hold his leg and give him an injection, not like the ones he used to get at the vet, but a last injection. He would get sleepy and close his eyes for the very last time. His last vision would not be of the people that he shared his life with, but rather a cement wall in a shelter that was probably not too far from where he used to play and walk.
Within a few moments he would drift off and his body would become limp, as his spirit left his body the employees would take his body and discard it with all of the other animals that no one loved – in a barrel. Piled one on top of another; there was certainly a body under his and more than likely a few above him. Perhaps after passing along he looked down into the room with relief or maybe sadness thinking to himself “This is not the way it was supposed to be.”
For those of us that have mourned the sickness of a beloved pet or struggled with the decision to put a suffering animal down this may not make sense, but it is a sad reality for countless animals every day. I don’t know if there was great pain on the side of the people who dropped Indigo at the shelter, but I know the sadness and pain that Indigo must have felt – I saw it in his eyes. Alone, as an old man, walking through a place he’d never known with someone he’d never met, now his final steps without the loving hands he’d grown to trust.
This is a painful reality for people who work at the shelter who have no choice and an even more painful reality for a loving pet who has nowhere to turn
When the day comes to say goodbye won’t you please be there every step of the way for your beloved pet. Let his last sound be your voice, he last sight be your tear filled eyes and his last touch be the beating of your heart as his takes its last beat…
Godspeed Indigo…. See you on the other side!