The day after our son was born, I took the opportunity to go home to get some stuff for my wife back at the hospital, to rest a little, and to have a chat with my dogs.
"I want you to know," I said, "that nothing is going to change." I pat Buddy's head. He seemed to know something was happening. I continued: "Really. Nothing is going to change. We're going to love you when we bring Liam here just as much we love the two of you now, and just as much as we always have. Everything is going to be exactly the same!"
And I didn't just say that. I actually thought I was telling the truth. It was important for me to be truthful with my dogs, as funny as it sounds now, so I said what I said, not realizing everything was about to change.
What is love? Is it just about feeling needed? Our dogs had been the focus of our lives for years, so what happened there, the moment our baby came home? Did everything change because we had a baby who needed us to survive, and dogs that just needed a cup of food and an opened door to the fenced-in yard?
I know they needed more than that. They needed us. But after we brought our son home, we weren't there for them anymore.
Buddy and Gingee were Pit Bulls who were found tied to trees in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. They were fighting dogs that weren't needed anymore. Buddy was big and muscular. He had a lot of bruises on his head, which made us believe he was the bait that dog fighters were using to train other dogs. He was an amazing and beautiful dog, but we could never trust him 100%, and we never took our chances.
Gingee was smaller. She was probably a pure Pit Bull as well, but since she was a little smaller than average, the dog fighters got rid of her too, a year later. And that's how Buddy and Gingee became siblings.
We had a roommate when we lived in Brooklyn, and the dogs were his, but after his drug habit got out of control, we took over. I told him he would never see his dogs again, and he said, "Oh, really?"
He never saw the dogs again.
Buddy died nearly 3 years ago. He was 17, and for a year, he didn't go down the stairs to the backyard, and barely did anything other than lie on his bed. It was hard to see this giant, muscular beast getting old. Even though he no longer slept in our bed, even though he wasn't allowed to come to our room or to the kids' rooms anymore, and even though everything changed since we had kids, he was family, and when a family member is old, you just deal with it. You clean after him. You pat his head when you come home, and you watch his happy tongue come out for a second, before he goes back to sleep.
But eventually we made the call. He hated going to the vet, so we decided to get a vet to come to us. The name of the service is Peaceful Passage, and it's basically a small Orthodox Jewish woman, coming to the house, giving your dog one shot to make it sleepy, and another one a few minutes later, when it's asleep. And it's done.
We were patting Buddy while our kids were asleep. His life was ending. For a second there he looked like a puppy.
"He passed," the woman said.
That was nearly 3 years ago. On Sunday, I went to the website again and filled out a form. In the "Reason" section, I wrote that Gingee was 18 years old. She was blind and deaf. She could barely go down the stairs. She had a giant tumor on her back, and another one on her leg. It was her time.
Three years earlier, when the vet came for Buddy, we asked her if she had ever been called into a house to give a lethal shot to a healthy dog that didn't need it.
"The dogs are old and sick in 99% of the cases," she said.
But of course, now that it was Gingee's turn, we felt like we were the 1% who were killing their dogs because they wanted to be more comfortable.
And why not have a dog-hair-free house? Why not live in a house without dog pee in the kitchen? Why not be able to take a vacation without thinking about dog-related logistics? Did our betrayal come to this? Our betrayal that started the day we brought our son home, which relegated our dogs to a closed section of the house--did it now come to its logical conclusion: murder?
We didn't know until the very end if we were making the call for us or for Gingee.
I don't think anyone can ever know for sure. We can just live with our decision.
When the vet showed up on Monday night, though, she immediately found more tumors and very little blood circulation on her legs. Basically, every step was painful. And now, this once proud dog, who was blind, deaf, barely walking, and devastated by cancer, was about to stop suffering. Her pain was almost over, and all she needed at the end of her life was us, patting her, as if nothing happened, as if we'd never left her side.
And as she was giving in to the end of her suffering, we knew we did the right thing.
In her last moments, when her breathing got faster, and then slower, Gingee was no longer an old and sad dog. Just like Buddy transformed into a puppy in his last moments, I could see Gingee as our Brooklyn dog, running around in circles, happily jumping at anyone and anything. And I could see us, young and happy, living our wild years with her.
On those last few minutes, she was our constant. She was our Brooklyn wild years, and she was our Silver Spring. She was there when we were partying, and she was there when we were struggling.
And she was our Baltimore years. She was there when we got back on our feet. She was there when we started a family. She was there when friends came into our lives and she was there when friends left us. She was there when Buddy died. She was there to welcome us from the hospital, and from work, and from school... At first, jumping happily, and by the end, barely opening her eyes. But she was there. Our constant. And now there's a void.
Nothing will fill that void. There will not be another dog. I can't imagine going through that again. I love dogs, and I will always defend the reputation of Pit Bulls as the most loyal and loving creatures on Earth, but I can't do this again. I can't watch dogs get old again. I can't.
I was actually scared of dogs since I was a kid, when an off-leash puppy chased me around the neighborhood. Our roommate in Brooklyn had to cage Buddy and Gingee when he was at work, because I was afraid they were going to bite me.
One day, in an attempt to do a better job training his dogs, he decided to take them for a walk individually. He took Buddy first, and since Gingee was relatively small, I said she didn't have to be caged. When they left, she was confused, since her owner and her brother weren't there, so she stood next to me and cried.
"He'll be back soon," I said. That was the first time I talked to a dog. It made sense.
She continued to cry, so eventually I started patting her head.
She kept on crying, so I improvised, and started patting her under her chin.
And then, all of a sudden, she stopped crying.
Her tongue came out.
Her eyes closed.
Her tail was wagging.
And I was in love.