Farewell to Fido
I nodded, which was the signal to my veterinarian to go ahead. I watched as he pushed the plunger full of sodium thiopental into the I.V. in Fido’s leg. I held on as tight as I could and cried as I whispered into Fido’s ear, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!” Then, the doctor pulled Fido out of my arms and I collapsed onto the floor.
My heart hurts today, even though it happened six months ago. But today is Fido’s half birthday, and we celebrate half birthdays in our house. So I’m remembering him and feeling the pain of that dreadful morning all over again. I share it with you not for sympathy but because I know that it is in the telling of what hurts us that we can continue to heal. And I need a bit more healing. It’s only when we are open and raw that light and fresh air and comfort get in. It’s spring and the flowers are blooming and coming back to life, which is what I feel like my heart is doing just a tiny bit. We all made it through the winter. Fido would have been 9 1/2 today, if I hadn’t had to put him to sleep.
Fido made his way into our hearts and our lives and was a key part to many of my stories. He was fun and feisty and full of life. And putting him down last October was probably one of the most adult decisions I’ve ever had to make and without a doubt the most painful
So for past six months I’ve been healing. Slowly letting go of what I wanted Fido to be (and he couldn’t) and slowly accepting my decision. It’s been months of internal upheaval, which results in external acting out. When our insides are unsettled we do things like eat too much sugar and binge TV watch and try to find anything that will help sooth the pain we are experiencing or better yet, help us to mask the pain so we don’t feel it. And I’m always amazed when I realize that you can be so sad inside and yet still function and celebrate holidays and birthdays and even workout sometimes. Life goes on even when grief has moved in.
We got Fido just a few days before Christmas in 2005. After lying in my bed for two days straight, engulfed in pain from the news that the baby I was carrying would have Down syndrome, my husband Jim said he knew he had to do something drastic. “Desperate times call for desperate measures” he said. That evening, I heard him walk into my home office. “Merry Christmas” he said, and when I turned around he was holding a 5lb black and white Cocker Spaniel. “Lynn, this dog is going to be our constant reminder that life goes on,” he said. Wearing a red bow too big for his tiny neck, I held Fido for the first time. And that’s when I knew it. He would not be like our previous Cocker, Taffy, who was calm and sweet and gentle. Fido would be a feisty one. I told Jim my concern and he said, “Well, we have twenty-four hours to return him.” But how could I? I knew he wasn’t perfect… but send him back? I was already contemplating putting my unborn baby up for adoption. Could I do that to the dog too? Could I really be the person who gets rid of everything and everyone who is not perfect in my eyes? The truthful answer is yes, except for one tiny thing. The fact that people would know. My friends, my family, my acquaintances would know that I was ‘that’ mother. The one who gave away her special needs child and her slightly psychotic dog and the shame of being who I really was too painful.
Fido’s first two days in our house were like a shot of adrenaline and morphine and joy. (We quickly decided on the name Fido in honor of Jim’s grandmother LaVogne. She used to have a hard time remembering all the dogs names, so she made it easy on herself and would call all of them Fido.) Next came the rules. No begging. No furniture. No mouth kisses, which I only agreed too because I wanted a dog. If it were up to me, we’d have morning make-out sessions on the bed. I would say Jim is a dog lover, but not a dog LOVER. Slight difference.
So, because Fido wasn’t allowed on the furniture, I had to get out of bed – literally – to play with him. And Jim and I, both struggling with the news, could have easily retreated to separate corners of the house to deal with it individually, instead, we were drawn together by a tiny ball of fur. Fido saved me. He pulled me out of the darkness those first couple days when Down syndrome laid on me like a wet blanket.
Fido’s nickname quickly became “Homeless” as in “you’re going to be homeless if you don’t shape up.” I was right; he was feisty and a pain-in-the-ass and just flat out wired wrong. The man who delivered our new refrigerator that January, (after only spend a half hour around Fido) said, “I think that dog might be inbred” and in hindsight maybe he was right. But inbred or not, Fido was smart. Really smart. He quickly learned the names of over ten of his toys. And when James was about one-year-old we began using sign language in the house and Fido learned every sign first. Any time I put my fingers to my mouth to ask James if he wanted to ‘eat’ Fido would run to his bowl. He would play fetch 24/7 and mostly loved chasing his big red ball in the backyard.
But as the years went by Fido became more cat like and everything needed to be on his own terms. If he wanted to sit on your lap he would. If you tried to pick him up, well, we just never picked him up. We hired a dog trainer. We got a shock collar. I ate more chocolate. We learned to work around his quirks. Suffice it to say that Fido made the house difficult. When folks would come over we’d have to tell them in advance, “Don’t bend down to pet the dog because he will pee on your feet” which was the refrigerator deliveryman’s first clue. We had to make sure he couldn’t reach any food, except that which fell on the floor. We had to make sure the back gate was always closed. In my eyes, a small price to pay for all that Fido did for me and my depression.
As James got older, he started to antagonize Fido more. Like a sibling, he’d place his finger gently on his back, just to hear Fido growl. I started to worry that Fido might get out of line. One time when I was trying to remove a tick from Fido’s neck he tried to nip at me. Which is the watered down version of what really happened – he tried to bite my face off. And another time, while trying to get him untangled from his color, he went for my hands with such force I fell over.
I couldn’t seem to get James or Fido to understand the rules.
Trouble was a brewing.
And so it began. On my 49th birthday I felt the first nudge. I bent down to say goodbye to Fido and grabbed his face and unfortunately stepped on his toe at the same time. I must have scared him. He bit my lip. A visit to the emergency room, a plastic surgeon, five stitches (and Botox thrown in for good measure) I came home and pretended as much as I good that it didn’t happen or that it was my fault or that it wasn’t a big deal. But I knew in my heart it was. My brother Lenny called, “You need to do something Lynn, and you don’t want this to be your son.”
But just two short months later, it was. In June while I was in Poland performing, I got the text. “Fido bit James.” Again, my brother called, “Lynn, this was a small bit to his hand, and your second warning, when are you going to do something?”
By October I knew I was walking on thin ice. I had a special needs child and a special needs dog and neither of them knew how to behave around the other.
I took Fido in for his yearly exam and I joking asked my vet, Dr. Strang, if he could put Fido on Prozac. After explaining, (in the most light-hearted tone) the relationship and the events that occurred, the vibe in the room changed drastically. Before I finished the sentence, he looked at me in the gentlest yet stern way, “Lynn, I am a dog lover. I have four. I also have four kids. You need to know that this dog is a time bomb waiting to happen. I want your son and this dog separated immediately. Do you hear me? Like now. Not tomorrow, not the next day. Now.” I was shocked and appalled and scared. I instantly knew he was right and I felt his deep concern for James. He finished, “Separate them and lets talk about your options.” I started crying and said, “But you don’t understand, this dog saved my life, this dog came to me when I couldn’t get out of bed and he got me up and moving and,” he interrupted me. “Well then, it sounds like the dog has done what he came to do.”
I sobbed as I drove Fido to my in-laws. “Can you please keep Fido for the night? Dr. Strang says Fido and James shouldn’t be together.”
When James and I returned to the house after school, Fido safely at my in-laws, I went about the normal routine for the evening. Dinner, bath, iPad, chocolate. etc. Somewhere in the midst of the night I recognized something was missing. Something was missing other than Fido. And that something was fear. It was as if the pressure was lifted from my shoulders. For the first time in nine years I wasn’t worried about where James was or where the dog was or if they were alone or together. I wasn’t holding my breath. I wasn’t walking on eggshells. I wasn’t being a codependent. I realized that night that I had done the same thing that people do when they live with alcoholics or crazy people. You try to create an environment to keep everyone happy. You put your own needs and safety (and the safety of your kids) aside so that the alcoholic or psychotic dog can exist. I had done everything for nine years to make sure the house functioned so that Fido could continue to behave badly. And I put my son’s life at risk doing it. I wept with gratitude for the feeling of clarity and for the ability to see my codependency before something tragic happened.
For the next three days my friend Laura (who does Cocker rescue and fostering) helped me with options. Over drinks and sobbing and snot we talked about options, including adoption and more drugs. But I couldn’t get rid of the nagging thought that even though Fido wouldn’t be with me, he could still hurt another child. I also couldn’t come to grips with him wondering why I abandoned him.
Making the decision to put him down will no doubt spark controversy with some reading this. Fido was only nine. He had many years left to run in a yard and chase a ball and pee on feet. All I can say is that it was the right decision for me.
I would love to write that Fido went gracefully and peacefully. But just like his arrival and his time here on earth, he continued to feisty. It was a horrible heart-wrenching experience, which I’m not quite healed enough to share. (And for the spirit, ghost, energy people out there… someday I’ll share about his presence even after he’s been gone.)
To Dr. Strang – thank you for seeing past my simple request to mask the problem and for helping me recognize my responsibly. And to my dear friend Laura, thank you for walking through one of the darkest times of my life, holding my hand and wiping my tears. To my brother Lenny for nagging me and reminding me that three times could be a disaster. And to my husband Jim for recognizing the need for drastic measures.
James is safe and that’s been the thread that has comforted me through the sad times. And the scar on my lip will remind me to always be careful and tuned in to my codependent nature. Seems that my ability and desire to create and put up with crazy is still high.
This summer will be different without Fido. But I’m counting on God to replace the loss of him and the emptiness with something new. And I believe in a small way that Fido’s spirit lives on in me, because depression didn’t win.