I recently performed a story I wrote for So Say We All’s show, VAMP.
Here’s a link, possibly embed.
And if you prefer the written version, that’s below.
By J.M. Perkins
My dog died in May of 2021, a few months after my spouse left, a few weeks after my car’s alternator gave out in the middle of the desert somewhere. It was a time of my life when I really was living a country song. Except I don’t drive a Ford Truck and my dog wasn’t a music-video-ready German Shepherd but a one eyed, surly, snoring, grunting Boston Terrier prone to seizures and the kind of flatulence that could strip paint.
Mona was a good dog, 14 when she died. She had been a constant through so many life stages. My ex and I had gotten her, together, about a year into our marriage during a particularly hard time. After we had our daughter, I remember Mona trying to constantly clean the baby because clearly we weren’t licking our puppy enough. Mona had gone blind in her left eye a few years back as she didn’t produce enough tears on that side of her face. And then the year before her death, my then wife had come home to find her left eye gone, a bloody ruin — we think she’d scratched it out with her dew claw. The vet sewed it up, but from then on it seemed Mona was winking at us, no matter what was happening.
Here she is, with an advanced prosthetic.
Besides the loss of her eye, Mona’s seizures had gotten worse that last year too. They’d increased in frequency from once a year maybe, to monthly, to weekly, to worse. The CBD chews helped some, but it seemed like we -well it wasn’t we then, just I as Mona lived with me & my ex was just an occasional visitor to pickup my daughter- were just playing whack a mole with symptoms and ailments. Even if one issue was treated, another popped up.
I did what I thought of as dog hospice; she was so constipated I’d have to pull her along for miles on long walks, hoping to get things moving. She’d put on the brakes for the first quarter mile -she was old and tired- but I tugged her along anyway to try and loosen her up so she could finally poop. The proverbial droughts alternated with monsoons. In the weeks before the end, she would have explosive diarrhea, and there were days and days of cleaning shit off my floor, off the furniture, off the walls.
I remember laying with her on the floor (but not before I cleaned it really well), crying, telling her in the English she didn’t speak that it was ok if it was time for her to die, she didn’t have to stick around for me. Even if it meant I’d be alone like never before.
I talked to my former vet tech friend, about how I would know it was time. He said I would know once she lost her appetite, which reminded me of my Nana who had done her damndest to starve herself to an exit after the loss of her husband… even as her adult children did everything they could to get her to eat.
Mona lost her appetite.
I talked to my ex, I talked to my kid, and even though there were tears we agreed it was, finally, time. In so many ways, my dog had helped me raise my child. My daughter’s first word was ‘dog.’ My kid loves animals with love like a bludgeon, kinda like how Lenny from Mice & Men loves rabbits. It takes a while to learn that even animals, even at their tamest, are not stuffed toys but living beings that are communicating all the time though they never speak a word. But Mona had always been so patient with Ellie.
There were so many things my dog helped me teach my child -how to listen, how to play, how to hike. There were laughs and silliness and love. There were so many gifts of having a dog and having this pet while I was raising my daughter. And ultimately this included making her first acquaintanceship with death.
Mona died in her sleep the day before the at home euthanasia was scheduled. It was a last act of stubbornness, one last gift so I neither had to pay for her to be eased into death nor be nagged by guilt that I had somehow ‘killed’ her. She went out in her own way, at her own time, huddled by the door to my daughter’s room, her body still and weirdly stiff. Splattered across the door frame, like a fragrant Jackson Pollock, she had left one final spray of shit I had to clean.
We had a wake.
I put her body in a cardboard box, I bought donuts, my daughter and I picked hibiscus which we scattered about the body. I couldn’t get Mona’s eye to close, my ex took my daughter to her place and said goodbye, neighbors visited told stories and pet her fur and… And I sat with the corpse for a day, numb mostly, jamming out a deck building game on my Nintendo called Slay the Spire as I thought about life and death and what Mona had been to me and what was next and cried and glared at the TV trying to figure out how to get the damned Ironclad class from the game I was busily pouring most of my attention into to work right.
The whole time, from the corner of my eye, I kept expecting my dog to move. There was some small part of me that still thought this was all a mistake; that any second now Mona would start lapping, wagging,moving.
But she never did, the corpse stayed as it was, a dead body.
Sometime in the early afternoon I felt something like a seat belt unbuckling in my heart and there was a wind that moved through my apartment and my front door opened and closed. When that happened, I finally stopped holding my breath, because I was no longer waiting for Mona to stop holding hers.
The next day, I buried my dog illegally but not immorally in a secluded spot nestled in a canyon we used to hike, that I know but you wouldn’t. Her body goes back to the soil, and her breath has gone wherever the ancestors went.
Sometimes I visit her grave on my walks.
Life is many things, this singing of the blood in our veins. Life is at times feasting. Fucking. Fighting. Jockeying for status. Reveling wallowing thrumming bellowing thundering.
And even when we’re not flush and hot, even when we are as still as we can be each pulse of our heart, each breath is an affirmation of life… our lungs like bellows feeding a fire that lasts decades or even a century.
But not forever.
Because there’s the other side of being a beast, an animal… the other side to being alive. I don’t think it’s a price to be paid but instead the other part of this gift of being born.
The gift of having a time to die, to let go, for the cessation of pain and struggle as we understand such things.
Mona had a good death, one as free from pain as I could make it. She died in her sleep, with family, at home, mourned, with plenty of time for those who loved her to sit with her body and for the living to let go.
I wish this sort of death for everyone, when their time comes.
A few months back, I got a new puppy, a brindle mutt named Pringle that doesn’t have much in common with Mona save an equivalent stubbornness; apparently, I have a type. Pringle vibrates with intensity, runs and plays rough and jumps and can’t wait to get everything in her mouth. I’ll probably outlive her too.
But in the meantime there are scents on the wind. There is the taste of blood after losing another puppy tooth. There are games and fights and wounds to lick; triumphs and stories grand and small. Most days there is being chased around and chasing an active eight year old whose first word was dog, that begged for one for a year and a day till we finally found Pringle. And there’s all this until, she, like I, like us all, will give her body back to the soil and send her breath to wherever the ancestors went.
I suspect, when the time comes, it will feel like nothing so much as a seatbelt unfastening in my heart.