I Killed One Of My Best Friends Today

They said it was a kindness, but I’m not sure that’s true.

Woman holding her Shih Tzu crying Helena Lopes | Pexels

He hadn’t eaten more than a bite at a time all week. Three bites in total over the last seven days, to be exact. We’d been to the vet twice and received two different rounds of instructions as well as numerous bottles of medication. Some liquids, some pills. Each time I gave him his meds, he vomited them back up almost immediately. On the last morning, he vomited blood. I called the vet’s office for another appointment, but the office was booked solid. So we went to the veterinary emergency room.


Unable to stand on the scale, his legs splayed out from under him right there in the hallway. “His body temperature’s very low,” said the doctor. “And what’s going on with his teeth?”

“It's peanut butter,” I said. “I’ve been using it to get him to take his medicine.” “Oh, that makes sense,” the vet replied.

After a few minutes with the doctor and nurse, I was given the news. “What we have here is a very sick boy. Best case, he has an acute kidney problem. He might recover with some extensive work and hospitalization. Worse case, he’s telling us that he’s ready to go."


“And what do you think his odds of recovery might be with the extensive work and hospitalization?” I asked.

“Less than 25 percent.” I shook my head no. “Don’t do it. He’s had enough.”

I Killed One Of My Best Friends TodayPhoto: noelle / Unsplash 

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And then, the physician began to talk quickly, using words like euthanasia and comfort room. I became tearful right there in the triage room, with all kinds of people and pets surrounding me, and I wondered what was harder for the vet, dealing with me or having to put my dog down. I distracted myself by packing up all the medications I’d brought with me back into the brown paper shopping bag I’d brought them in.


The nurse carried my 12-year-old baby ahead of me, wrapped in a towel, and then she laid him in my lap. She told me to ring a doorbell when I was ready. How can I ring a doorbell to summon someone to kill my dog? This is bizarre, I thought.

I started crying before we even got to the comfort room, and I can tell you right now I was not comfortable in that room. Death room, I said to myself. This is where you bring your baby to die. It was an ordinary small room, maybe eight feet by eight feet. Vinyl loveseat, dorm-size fridge stocked with plastic cocktail cups full of cheese cubes, and on top of that some candy jars full of Hershey’s Kisses and Reese’s peanut butter cups. The jars were labeled, “Goodbye treats.” That made me cry harder. But I didn’t try to give my baby a goodbye treat. He’d never been very interested in food, and wouldn’t even eat the tiny bits of steak I’d tried to feed him several days earlier.

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His little eyes were barely open, and he did not indicate that he knew where he was, what was about to happen to him, or even that I was present. He just lay still in my lap. I’m no expert, but I think he was as close to death as a dog can be without actually being dead.


I sat on a black vinyl couch and stroked my baby’s soft little ear and told him what a good boy he was, that I would miss him, and that my children loved him so much. He had already been deaf for at least a year, so I’m not sure he understood anything at all. And then the doctor came in again, armed with his clinical words and his two tubes of poison: One for sleep and one for death. Two minutes later, my baby was gone. No sound, no movement, not even an exhale. “I think you’ve done the right thing, the kind thing,” said the physician.



They took him away and I sat in the comfort room for another half-hour trying to get myself together so I could leave the building without sobbing in the hallway. I failed. They offered to cremate his body — it was included in the fee, they said — but I wanted my children to have a place to say goodbye to him, so I opted to bring him home to bury him in the backyard.

I waited for them to put my baby in a white cardboard box with a dome shape, like a little paper coffin. One of the nurses brought him out to the car and placed him on the passenger side. Just an hour earlier, I had brought him into the clinic wrapped up in a towel and lying on the heated seat to stay warm.


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I’m not very good with death or dying or any of the rest of it. I never went to a funeral as a child because we lived far away from extended family; there was no occasion. I’ve been to less than ten funerals in my whole life. So as I was driving an hour home with a dead pet in the floorboard of the passenger side of my car, it was almost too much knowing that I had to bury him when I got home.

I got home, took the box out of the car, and put it on the workbench in the garage. Then I got a shovel from the tool shed. I googled, “How deep do I need to dig a hole to bury my pet?” and the answer came back, two to three feet deep. I’m not much of a gardener, and two to three feet deep in hard soil is hard digging. I got about two feet down but couldn’t make any more progress — I kept hitting tree roots at the bottom of my hole. And then I silently cursed my ex-husband yet again. I imagined him lounging around the pool at his new house while I bury the deaf, incontinent dog I’ve been caring for, for years. My dog used to be his dog, too.


I knew I needed someone stronger to help me dig, so I asked my dad for help. He said we’d have to take my baby out of his cardboard casket and bury him in a plastic bag. We’d never get past the roots in the hole, otherwise. And this thought had occurred to me, yes, but it seemed almost sacrilegious to take him out of the cardboard coffin. I couldn’t bring myself to have my hands that close to a dead body, even if it was “just an animal.” So my dad did it for me, and I didn’t watch. He filled in the grave with dirt and smoothed the ground back over, and my sweet baby was no more.

The office where I sit right now with my other sweet little Shih Tzu looks out over that grave. So as I work, I listen to her snore and wonder how long before I find myself in the comfort room again. They said it was a kindness, but I’m not so sure that’s true.

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Julie Cunningham is a content and copywriter as well as a freelance writing coach. Her work has been featured in Everyday Health, Eat This Not That!, diaTribe, Babylist, Taste of Home, and more.