We had our 16 year-old dog, snake, euthanized on April 22nd, 2016. We didn't realize until later that it was Earth Day.
She had been degrading for a while and we knew the day was coming soon, but we didn’t really plan for it to happen that day. We got up on a Saturday morning after Snake had a difficult night, looked at each other, and decided. Rich called our veterinarian to come to our house, something we had arranged years earlier. Snake have been deteriorating for a long time and her quality of life was really poor by that point. She had some good days. She had some bad days. Snake was incredibly athletic in her prime and incredibly smart. She was a sight to behold. But the bad days had begun to outnumber the good and she was having cognitive issues. We could have done it sooner. We could have waited longer. Because we knew the time was coming, Rich had been working for months on a beautiful wood casket which was suitable for a child.
I believe that when we make decisions out of love, there is no right time and there is no wrong time. We just have to follow our hearts and trust that we are alleviating or preventing suffering out of love. That if the roles were reversed, we would be shown the same mercy.
There are some events in life which can be described as Before and After events. You consider yourself one person before the event. You are different either immediately after the event or you become different afterwards through a process. For me, the loss of Snake was a Before and After event. The people closest to me would tell you that I was one person before. And that I became a different person after. I see this as having been a process which happened over time.
I did not cope particularly well after Snake left us. I knew we had made the right decision, but I just felt broken inside. If not for the support of my husband and our other dog, I'm not sure what would have happened to me. My focus was terrible. Even though I took a few days off of work because I could not stop crying, I still could not stop thinking about her after I returned to work. I know there were days when I drove to and from my office, but have no memory of having done so after I arrived. I’m lucky I didn’t cause an accident.
Snake was such a wonderful and unique creature that I felt the need to do something to honor our years with her. I told myself I would feel better if I could turn my tears into action. I began donating to the municipal animal shelter in the city where I work to turn my grief into something positive and to try to help other animals in Snake’s honor. It was as a result of this engagement with the shelter that I learned that healthy and treatable animals were being destroyed there not because there too many of them, but because that was what had been done for years without question. That knowledge led me to my tipping point which led me to educate myself on a variety of animal welfare issues, causing me to become an animal welfare advocate and (more specifically) a no kill advocate. I know exactly what euthanasia means. What happens to healthy and treatable animals in our nation’s shelters is not euthanasia. It is killing them and it has to stop.
Losing Snake turned me into a different person. Many who come to animal welfare advocacy through loss will tell you that there is no going back. You cannot “unknow” what you have learned. Some of us just live with the newfound knowledge. Some of us act on it. As I told Mike Fry of No Kill Learning during a recent visit related to his Boots on the Ground mini-documentary series, advocating for animals is a moral imperative for me. This is not just a matter of how tax dollars are spent related to animals. It’s a matter of values and ethics. I don’t want my money used to kill animals when that same money can be used to keep those animals alive. I am quite outspoken about this view in the area where I live and using this Paws4Change platform I developed in my early After days.
Today is Earth Day. Snake has been gone for thirteen years. In some ways it feels like forever. In other ways it seems like just a few years. I think of her every day. When my advocacy gets difficult or uncomfortable or puts me in conflict with others, I remind myself that there are so very many dogs just like Snake in our animal shelters today and most of them will not make it out alive. Which is the biggest tragedy of all.
The details of my story about losing Snake and my After related specifically to the city where I work is now set forth in my self-published book which is now available on Amazon. The book is called “Not Rocket Science: A Story of No Kill Animal Shelter Advocacy in Huntsville, Alabama.” I hope you will consider reading the book and that it helps you in some way. It is priced to print, which means I’m not making any money from the book. This is just part of my After as I continue to channel grief from losing Snake and later losing my parents.
Life is short and beautiful and tragic and magical and all of our days are numbered. I’m just trying to make the best use of my time here and I hope you will do the same.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson