She didn’t have the best life. I have a lot of resentment the way my dog Sheba grew up—family stuff I don’t need to get into, but she did not get enough attention at home. She was a big German Shepard who demanded more activity than our family could possibly give her. No one was home often enough, people rarely came over, and it was just in general not a good environment for a pet.
I never even wanted a dog, but as I grew older, I started—first out of pity, then genuine affection—to play with her, give her love, get to know her. She began to become “my dog.” Friends would say that when I took her places or left her in the car while I did something, she would watch me with a sense of ultimate loyalty, waiting for me to come back. When I’d come home from school, we’d run around together in the backyard. When I ate by myself, I would share a little bit of whatever I had with her.
But I was rarely home—there was a lot of fighting in my house growing up, and I would stay out as often as I could, distracting myself with school or friends.
So while there was love for Sheba, there was also neglect, and that neglect got to her. The energy she wasn’t displacing would manifest itself in squeals, cries, whenever anyone came over. People who came over could sense Sheba’s anxiety and loneliness, and I could too, but I was anxious and lonely myself, and young, and immature.
It’s a tragic irony, because in the last years of her life, Sheba developed muscular sclerosis. Day by day, a dog that always needed to move more lost her ability to move at all. I would come home from college and she would scramble up to see me, but she wouldn’t have the strength to do it. It was heartbreaking; I was watching my dog die before my eyes.
It was a fight to get her to be put down. I would think about Sheba, how she’d be in the house all day by herself, paralyzed, lonely, sad. How she had stopped eating, how she was losing her sight and hearing. I knew it was the right decision, and so did everyone else who saw her condition, but my dad didn’t want to let her go. There were horrible fights made about her welfare—me completely losing my temper and telling my dad that he didn’t want the dog put down because he didn’t want to be alone in life. Things I regret saying, things I don’t ever want to say again.
We finally made the appointment, but even the last day before we put her down, there was a horrible fight at home. Things being shattered, threats being made. I stood on the stairs and watched as my dog tried to limp away from the fighting. “Typical,” I thought, as my eyes started to sting with tears. So typical of my family. The last night my dog has on Earth we would have to pull some shit like this.
I sat down next to Sheba to console her. I was crying for a number of reasons. Sheba should have had a better life, my family shouldn’t be like this—things I couldn’t change but wish had turned out differently. But instead of me comforting her, she seemed to sense my sadness and started licking me. I leaned my face closer to hers and she smelled my face for a second, then licked it. It tickled and I laughed.
That last night, I spent a long time sitting next to Sheba. I held her and petted her and she licked my feet and hands over and over again. I whispered that no matter what, she was always going to be my dog, my #1, my favorite, forever. Her mouth cracked open and it looked like a smile, but I couldn’t tell. Her tail had long since given out, so I couldn’t tell if it was wagging or not. But she wasn’t squealing or crying anymore. She didn’t seem to be in pain. She laid her head down and closed her eyes as I rubbed her.
The next morning, my dad and I drove to the vet in silence. The words and conflict of last night were still very much in between us. Sheba sat in the backseat, watching the trees go by for the last time.
At the vet, they injected Sheba with a sedative and took all of us into a private room. We surrounded Sheba as she laid on a mat and looked sleepy. “You’re just going to take a little nap,” I said to her.
The vet took a syringe out and said that as soon as she was done injecting the overdose of anesthetic, it would be over. We all put a hand on Sheba. Her eyes glossed over and she laid her head on the ground. She looked tired. Her life hadn’t been the best, but she was finally going to sleep. She deserved the rest.
As the vet pushed down on the syringe, Sheba’s eyes grew heavier, her breathing slower. I watched as my dad held and rubbed her and I suddenly realized it was the way he used to hold me when I was a little kid. So full of love and affection. He started to sob. I put my hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay,” I said.
The vet finished the injection and checked Sheba’s heart rate. She whispered “It’s over.” We stayed there for a second. I’d never been around a dead body before, and it was hard to process. It seemed like if we just shook her or took out a treat, her eyes would open again. But death and time are irreversible, and we got up. We both gently touched her head and left.
When we got home, my dad lit a candle and said the Mourner’s Kaddish, as Jewish people do for the death of their loved ones. As he choked up on his words, I looked at him, really looked at him—and in that moment, he looked so old to me. My dad has had a hard life. Most everyone he’s ever been close to has died, and me—his only one son—and him have a really bad relationship. I know he loved my dog very much, almost like a third child, and this was one more thing, one more thing to make him feel more alone.
When he was done, I summoned up the courage and hugged him and told him I loved him. He seemed surprised and taken off-guard, and didn’t reply for a a second, like he had to process what I just said. But he told me he loved me too, and I heard him add at the end, a barely audible whisper—“Always.”
Sheba may have not had the best life for a dog with her personality and size. But like any life, there were moments she was really happy, and she died happy, or at least okay, surrounded by a brother and a father who loved her in the sometimes messed up ways that messed up people love.
But life goes on. Sheba’s death felt like the end of an era for me. She was the dog of my childhood, she grew up in the same house as me, and now it’s all over. I’m about to turn 20, I’ve moved out of my parent’s house, I’ve lost that anchor.
I don’t know if God or heaven exists, but I like to think that somewhere, Sheba is running in a field, with her legs and youth returned to her, her tail wagging once again, with unlimited peanut butter and treats everywhere. She’s never alone, and there are always people willing to play with her, pet her, tell her that they love her.
Even if there isn’t any afterlife, I know that Sheba’s in a better place, because she’s no longer suffering. She’s free. Life goes on, and we love in the ways we can, while we can, and learn for the future. Life goes on.