Peanut was the definition of a loyal dog. She followed me everywhere I went, snuggling in my lap when I sat down, curling up at my feet when I stood. I adopted her from the SPCA, and I think she knew I saved her life. So many times, I caught her looking at me—just staring with so much love in her bright brown eyes as she tilted her head slightly to the side and wagged her long, slender tail.
I got her when she was a puppy, and the vet said she’d weigh about forty pounds full-grown. She never got over twenty. She had sleek black fur that shined like a seal’s coat. Brown spots above her eyes and on her feet made her look like she had eyebrows and wore boots. Snowy white fur covered her chest and neck, like she always wore a little tuxedo.
She was full of life—always playing with my other dogs and running in the back yard. She pranced when we went on walks, running circles around her sisters.
The first sign something was wrong came right after we moved. We’d built our dream house, with hardwood floors and a swimming pool. Everyone was excited about the move, except for Peanut. First, her coat lost its sheen. She started shedding more than usual, clumps of fur coming out in my hand when I pet her.
Then her behavior changed. My once playful pup seemed anxious. She didn’t like running in our new backyard, and walks didn’t thrill her like they used to. I thought it was just stress from the move. Once she got used to the new house, she’d be happy again.
But she didn’t get better.
Two weeks went by with no improvement. In fact, she seemed to be getting worse. I could see her ribs through her dull, thinning fur. We were out for a walk one day, where she usually led the pack, but she fell behind. Her gait was awkward, her pace incredibly slow. Finally, she just lay down in the middle of the road. My other dogs rushed to her side, sniffing and licking her face. I scooped her up in my arms and walked home as quickly as I could to call the vet. An hour later, Peanut was on the exam table.
The doctor examined her, taking her temperature, looking in her ears and eyes. I cringed when she lifted Peanut’s lips to look at her teeth.
“That’s not what I’m looking at,” the doctor said. “Look at her gums. They’re white. Normal gums are pink from the blood vessels inside them. Peanut is dangerously anemic.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. “Wh…What does…What does that mean?” I finally stuttered.
“We need to take some blood and run some tests.” The doctor swiftly wrapped a tourniquet around her front leg and drew a vial of blood. “Wait here while we test this.”
I sat, cradling my frail, little dog in my arms as the doctor whisked her blood away to be tested. I don’t know how long we sat there. “I’m so sorry, Peanut,” I whispered in her ear. “I didn’t know you were sick. I thought you were just stressed. If I had known, I would have brought you sooner. Can you ever forgive me?”
She turned her sad, brown eyes toward me and licked my hand as if to say, “It’s okay, Mom. I understand.”
When the tests came back, I learned she had Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia—her immune system was destroying her own red blood cells. The doctor gave her four different prescriptions and sent us home.
“Don’t give up on her,” she said as I walked to the door. “Sometimes dogs can pull through this.”
That was a Friday. On Saturday morning, Peanut was too weak to stand. Her legs buckled beneath her when she tried to get up, and she refused to eat or drink. I knew something had to be done, or she wouldn’t make it through the weekend, so I took her to an emergency vet clinic.
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I clutched my dog to my chest and explained the diagnosis to the new doctor. I could tell from the look on her face the situation was grim.
“The only thing that might help her is a blood transfusion,” the doctor said. “And it will cost about a thousand dollars.”
I choked on a sob. I couldn’t afford it, but somehow I’d make it work. “Do it,” I said. “You have to save her.”
They kept her overnight, and thanks to a nurse’s dog’s generous donation, Peanut got the healthy blood she so direly needed.
For a few days, she was her old self again, wagging her tail and playing in the yard. But a few days was all it took for her immune system to destroy the newly acquired red blood cells. She stopped eating and drinking. She stumbled when she walked.
I took her back to the vet for another transfusion. Another thousand dollars, but who can put a price on life? This time, she was to come back every other day for an injection that was supposed to stop her body from destroying itself. She got three shots.
None of them worked.
On the day of the fourth scheduled shot, I came home to find her lying in a bed covered with urine and feces. She couldn’t get up. I knelt by her side and put my hand on her chest, the slight rise and fall of her ribs letting me know she was still alive. She lifted her head to look at me and collapsed back to the bed.
“It’s time, isn’t it?” With tears in my eyes, I cleaned her up, wrapped her in a blanket, and carefully placed her in my car. I pet her and talked to her the whole drive to the vet, though I can’t remember what I said. I could hardly look the receptionist in the eyes as I told her my decision.
She looked at me sorrowfully and said, “I’ll let the doctor know.”
I sat in the waiting room, cuddling my warm, little bundle of love and sobbing. She gazed up at me, her eyes full of affection and understanding. “It’s okay, Mom,” I imagined her saying. “I’m ready to go.”
The door to the exam room opened, and I slowly shuffled inside. A fuzzy, brown blanket covered the metal table, adding softness to the otherwise sterile room. I laid her on the blanket and pressed my forehead to hers, willing this to all be a dream.
“You can leave the room if you need to,” the doctor said.
“I want to stay.” How could I leave this precious creature, who brought me so much joy, alone in her final moments of existence? I’d been her person for her entire life. I wasn’t about to leave her now; I had to be there for her. “Will she feel any pain?”
The doctor filled a syringe with clear liquid. “No. It’s basically an overdose of a sedative. She’ll go to sleep, and just won’t wake up.”
My heart clenched when the needle went into her vein. I wanted to yell, “No! Stop! Don’t do it!” But I knew it needed to be done. I couldn’t stand for her to suffer any longer. “I love you, Peanut,” I said instead.
Her eyes slowly began close as the drug took effect. She took a few, final, peaceful breaths, and then she slipped away. No more pain. No more suffering.
“I’ll give you some time,” the doctor said as she stepped through the door.
I don’t know how long I stayed in that room, hugging and petting my dog. She was still warm, the soft doggy smell still in her fur. It really did seem like she was just sleeping. Though her heart no longer beat, and she would never again look at me with those loving, gentle eyes, I knew she was finally at peace.
It’s been two years since I lost her, and I still cry sometimes when I think about her. I still have to convince myself that stopping her heart was the right thing to do, because when she died, she took a piece of my heart with her.
Carrie Pulkinen has always been fascinated with the paranormal. Of course, when you grow up next door to a cemetery, the dead (and the undead) are hard to ignore. Pair that with her passion for writing, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an exciting storyteller. Carrie spent the first part of her professional life as a high school journalism and yearbook teacher. In her free time, Carrie likes to read, take pictures, and play with her kids. Her novel Reawakened will be released later this year.