Things were going as usual. I was cleaning the second round of eggs after breakfast and suddenly Andrew came rushing through the doorway into the tiny eggroom. He’d hit my old dog Javier as he was backing out of the driveway. Ran over him actually. I started bawling immediately, and was simultaneously livid. My husband has a way of not being very careful. Horrified, I screamed at him- how bad is it? What fucking happened? He screamed back in horror, asking what he should do. I said get the gun, you have to shoot him, you have to put him out of his misery.
Javier was about 14 years old. I don’t know what his age was exactly because when I picked him from legions of dogs at the Golden Valley Humane Society over 12 years ago, they guessed he was 2 then. He’d been to that shelter 4 times in his young life, because he’d been a naughty dog- chewing up couches and causing all sorts of problems, always being given up on and returned to the shelter. When I spotted him in the long line of kennels at the dog jail, I knew he was exactly what I was looking for- a big intimidating pooch. I was still living in Uptown Minneapolis, and I wanted a dog who would keep me safe from my freaky ex-boyfriend. I wanted a big dog who could transition with me from my apartment to my new place in the country.
This kenneled big black and tan stranger showed little interest in me or my gentle croons. He knew the drill. He stayed where he was in the back corner, laying on the cold cement, thinking, I’m sure, here we go again. Determined, I asked one of the staff if I could have some time with him in the “getting to know you” room. Smiling with giddiness, I followed the lady walking the beast, noting his noble stature and his adorable bowed legs, a testament to his rottweiler heritage. In the room, he acted extremely indifferent to me. I told him my plans and that I thought we might be made for each other. With a bit of encouragement, he jumped up on the bench and sat next to me and tolerated my pats, but then jumped back down to the floor, where he laid down again. The clincher for me deciding this was to be my dog was when after 10 minutes had passed, a family stood outside the window of my room, watching. As the handler, the dog and I left the room, i heard one of the kids say “Dad, isn’t that the dog WE were going to get?” I’ve never been too keen on kids, and so this little statement is what sealed the deal and brought Javi and I together for the rest of his life.
His kennel tag said he was a Rottweiler mix, and that his name was Bear, which I thought was too generic sounding. I christened him with a name I’d always loved, Javier, which if you speak the kind of Spanish I learned in Bolivia, you can hear the similarities to “bear.” Ja-bear. He rode on the bench seat of my truck as we drove home, looking fine and mighty. I told him he had to be real good for about a month in an apartment and then he’d get to be a real country dog.
My family had had a couple dogs, so I was sort of used to them, but not one this big. Scottie, the little-bit-too-big-for-a-Sheltie, was my childhood dog, docile and loveable, and snuggly as all get out. I remember one day my sister and I came home from school, and my Mom told us that Scottie had passed away, and there he was, laying in the hallway, covered in a sheet. Later in my teen years, we adopted a young and wild Golden Lab when we lived in suburbia, and we named her Ginger. She and I went through obedience training together, but it always irritated me that she would never heed my voice if my Dad was around. His deep voice got her attention EVERY TIME. Ginger had a penchant for running off, like really RUNNING off, which after several years wore the entire family down, and we found her a new home where she could run to her hearts desire.
When I moved from the apartment in Minneapolis to my new place in the “country” in Osceola, Javi had ridden there with my friend Heidi, sitting in the passenger seat, with his head on her shoulder the whole ride. He loved the freedom there and was generally trustworthy to let out to go pee, and then he’d come back inside. He slept in my bed with me, next to my feet. I felt safe with him around. I was working an early hours job receiving deliveries at the co-op at 4am, and I worried he’d be lonely, so I’d bring him with me to work, where he’d sit in my truck all morning. After he chewed on my truck bench seat, I knew that something had to change. So, I decided to get him a puppy for Christmas and the two of them could stay home together. I found Blue Heeler puppies for sale locally, and took Javi with to go take a look. There were 3 left, and the one who saw Javi and leapt on him came home with us.
As Andrew got the gun ready, I was sobbing hysterically, looking for a place to hide from the sound of the shot. I was sure what was going on outside was a horrible nightmare, and I just wanted it to be over. I didn’t want to go see, I wanted my dog to not suffer. Just end it. I went into the unlit walk-in cooler, crouching, plugging my ears, sobbing and crying out in a way I don’t remember doing since my mom died. I felt the vibration of the floor as Andrew came back in the house. Leave me alone, do NOT come in here, I thought. But he did. And he hadn’t done it yet, because Javi had sat up. He couldn’t get UP, but he wasn’t mauled or ripped apart like I’d feared. There was yelling and I pushed past to go out to see my old dog.
He looked at me with sad eyes, laying like he normally did. I got a towel to use as a lift, and I decided I’d be the one to take to the vet to put him down. I brought him a plate of lard to distract him. It wasn’t til I got to the clinic that I realized it was Sunday. I called Andrew, called the posted emergency number and was furious that the recording said they no longer handled emergencies. Andrew found a clinic 1/2 hour away where a veterinarian would come meet me, so I drove along Hwy 8 with Javi laying in the back , tears rolling down my cheeks, watching him in the rearview mirror. He seemed to not be suffering too much, but it was horribly sad to know what was happening. I texted Andrew to dig a grave by the firepit.
At the vet’s office, I opened the hatch for Javi to have one last soak of the suns rays, then I entered the front door of the clinic and a kind woman greeted me, explained what would happen, and soothed my sobs. She said he’d first be given a sedative, which would pretty much knock him out and then be given an injection that would stop his heart. I laid there next to him as she gave him the first injection, looking into his eyes, stroking his big head, telling him what a good boy he’d been. Within a minute, his head grew heavy and he laid it down for the last time. It was very peaceful. The vet came back, and administered the killing drug. She then took a full five minutes with her stethoscope to make sure his heart had indeed stopped.
I am not unfamiliar with death. I watched my Mom die. I witness the death of our animals when they are harvested for food. This death of Javi wasn’t hard because he was put down, it was hard because of how everything went down. I knew he was in his twilight year, he’d been unable to keep weight on, was absolutely terrified when storms would approach, and he had a tumor forming on his chest. I’d been contemplating putting him down before the winter hit, because he would have had a really hard time with the cold. But I’d put it off, which was irresponsible. I just kind of hoped one day we’d find him peacefully passed away in a pile of leaves. Many people have since shared stories of dogs they had, or similar stories of senior “suicidal” dogs doing this same thing- lying in the path of a car or truck, or beneath tires. It does make me feel better, but I really wish I had taken Javi to be put down before he had been run over. I forgive Andrew, but this was just such a hard experience, and Javier was such a wonderful dog. At least he had a great life.