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Rest in peace, Boom Boom

May 16, 2011
Golden Retriever

Image by rkleine via Flickr

The May 21st Apocalypse is practically upon us, so I feel pressured to throw in at least a couple of points for Humanity this week.

The first one goes to Boom Boom, who taught my daughter a valuable lesson about life and love.

Boom Boom was a 14 year-old golden retriever who lived across the street. He was absolutely the heart and soul of my inner city neighborhood – he loved and was loved by everyone. And last week, his time came to an end. (If you have a dog you love, you may want to stop reading now.) After months of loving care and expensive veterinary treatment, his owner finally broke down and scheduled his final day. We were invited to drop by that evening before the vet arrived. Since my daughter’s most frequent question about our own dog is, “Mummy, how long can we keep Jack before he dies?”, I planned a quick five-minute goodbye.

When we got there, some neighbors had already arrived. We had all agreed beforehand that Chantal would need time alone with her dog, but she opened a bottle of wine and we started to talk. Another family with children joined us and she got out paper and stickers to entertain them. Before we realized it, we were swept up in an impromptu wake for a dog.

If you read even one of these posts, you will know that I am not the kind of person who could approach a wake for a dog without scathing ridicule. But there I was in this spontaneous gathering to celebrate the passing of a golden retriever. And it was beautiful. We told stories and we laughed. Every now and then someone broke down and cried. The children alternated between sitting on the floor petting the dog and running around the house. I watched my 8 year-old blink back tears, trying to be strong. And then the vet, Dr. Judith Weissmann, arrived.

I have to name the vet, because she is the most sensitive, caring health care professional I have ever met. I wish she treated humans too.

She arrived at 7:00. On a Friday. She took the time to greet everyone, to express her condolences, to get to know the kids. She waited patiently until Chantal was ready for her to prepare the injections. Chantal decided she didn’t want to go through the procedure alone, so we stayed. The children watched as Judith prepared the syringes and, sensing they needed to be part of it, she took the time to explain every step.

While this was going on, my girlfriend and I had to decide just how much our daughter could watch. She had never been exposed to death before and, as an adopted child, she has unconscious but deeply rooted memories of losing everyone in her life. We decided that it would be best for her to see and to understand, rather than having Boom Boom simply disappear.

We sat around the dog while Judith prepared to give him the anesthetic. We waited patiently while he went to sleep. Then, when Chantal was ready, Judith disinfected the site for the final injection – such an unnecessarily beautiful gesture – and gave Boom Boom a kiss on the nose. There was another long wait until Chantal was ready, and then the final injection. We sat silently while Judith let Chantal check that his heart had really stopped. And then the children cried.

Chantal had arranged for her dog to be cremated, so the vet stepped quietly outside to call Simon, who was waiting in his truck outside. When he came through the door, he took off his ball cap and held it over his heart, expressing his condolences with a silent nod. He wrapped Boom Boom in a blanket, gently lifted him on the stretcher, and he and Judith carried him down the stairs with the quiet dignity of pallbearers, the rest of us following behind. Chantal and the children said a final, sobbing goodbye, and the truck drove away. Then we all gathered at our house across the street to let the children play a little and to take care of Chantal.

This evening was an incredible gift for my daughter. She learned what is supposed to happen when someone dies. The community gathers. We tell stories, we laugh, and we cry. We make the passing as gentle as we can for those who are left behind, and we take the time to say goodbye.

I think Humanity deserves a point for that.

The Apocalypse: 29

Humanity: 22.5

  1. elah permalink

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I had to say goodbye to my own golden retrievers, Rory and Ginger ( who we later, due to her old-age halitosis, lovingly called Gingervitis). I was forever grateful to have been a part of the process and not having skipped it for fear of the overwhelming sadness and he unknown.
    Dr. Judith Wiseman, who I might add I trek sometimes 90 minutes on public transit with my cats to see, is absolutely the loveliest veterinarian and human. When I brought my cat, Merlin in for his final visit two years ago, she said ALL the right things. It was because of her that I have never had to fight myself over having made that decision that no one ever wishes to be faced with. Those who know me will understand that not fighting with myself over ANY decision is difficult for me, and that what Judith’s words that day were a very precious gift. I received a card later that week from her, signed by all the staff at the clinic, and punctuated by a print of Merlin’s paw, taken post injection, after I had left the room. For all the animals in my life who have taught me about love, even in death, and for people like Dr. Judith who remind us of the true meaning of humanity, I award two extra points to Humanity. Because I have absolutely no authority to do so. I expect to see the scores reflect my sentiments. I will be checking up….

    • I think your temporary point-awarding dispensation has gone to your head. Two points for Humanity? Seriously? Did you not see the Daily Show interview about how we are shipping asbestos to India? (If not, you should see it now. Worth all your time to hear the interviewer ask, “How do you say douchebag in French?”)

  2. Fucking hell. Add a point for making the stoic cry before seven am.

  3. There are angels who walk among us. Sounds like Dr. Judith is one of them. What a beautiful, bittersweet gift for all of you.

  4. Dr. Judith is amazing. Bittersweet gift sums it up nicely. I may steal that for the edit.

    • Steal away. It’s my pre-rapture gift to you.

      • You know that consorting with known atheist lesbians will make you ineligible for the rapture, right?

  5. I know I’ve got this reputation of being a cat-loving atheist and all, but *if* there’s a heaven I’d like to think Boom Boom is up there chasing felines and making little angel children happy.

  6. Nathalie permalink

    Damn. I don’t even like dogs. But this one got me. Thanks – I needed a good cry.

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