We knew the time had come, yet it was still hard to make the decision to let her go. Ending the life of anything goes against the grain — death is final. That’s it. The end. No going back. So we kept putting it off, until we couldn’t avoid the inevitable. Our dog was telling us that she’d had enough — she was ready to go; her life was no longer worth it.
Mollie had come into our lives nearly sixteen years earlier, when we adopted her from the pound in Hobart. She was ten-months-old at the time, a russet-coloured terrier cross, frightened and trembling. She was scared of us and cars. A few treats cured her fear of us, but the car fear was a bit harder to treat. Paws down, she refused to move. I gave up in the end, and on busy streets I put her in the pram with our daughter and pushed the two of them along. Sometimes, our daughter climbed out, so I’d hold her hand and we’d push Mollie in the pram. A passer-by once commented, ‘Shouldn’t it be the other way around? The baby in the pram and the dog walking?’
Mollie was the perfect dog for our growing family. She let the kids do what they liked with her — pull her ears, walk her like a wheelbarrow, sit her in the doll’s stroller. She barked and leapt when excited, but was small enough that she didn’t knock them over. She did have a slight barking problem, which, on occasion, caused us to lose favour with our neighbours …
She seemed to forever be a pup, then suddenly, she aged. She became deaf, so we had to stand square in front of her before she noticed us. She had accidents on the doormat because she wasn’t quick enough to get outside. She did laps of the house, and we’d hear her nails clipping the floorboards as she walked, around and around, all day and all night. She began to look old – her eyes drooped, and her back legs sank lower and lower to the ground. She lost weight, stopped barking and became quiet.
Yet, every night when she saw me in the kitchen, over she came. She knew it was dinnertime. She even looked more sprightly. As long as she wants to eat, I thought, she wants to live.
We had chatted with our kids about Mollie growing old and sick and how, one day, the time would come when her life would be too miserable.
‘But we’ve always had Mollie,’ our youngest son said.
Of course: she’d been around for his entire life. None of our kids knew life without Mollie — she’d always been a part of our family. A few years ago, our youngest had asked me, ‘Mummy, did Mollie come out of your tummy, too?’ and didn’t understand why I laughed.
So we decided to get another dog and at least our family would not be dog-less when Mollie’s time came. Gretel the Golden Retriever joined us. Mollie was too old to care — Gretel even seemed to breathe some life into her for a while, until she started chewing her ears, literally …
By July, Mollie could barely stand, let alone walk. And when she did manage to haul herself up, she had to lean against the wall for support. She’d fall and, unable to move, she’d start crying. She was especially distressed of a night, when there was no one to hold her.
Then, she lost interest in her food. I set her by her bowl, but she couldn’t be bothered lowering her head. She just let herself fall backwards, then, because she couldn’t get back up, she cried.
I thought that she was telling us it was time.
I sat with the kids the next morning.
‘Mollie’s really old and sick,’ I said. ‘She’s miserable and crying, and I think if she could talk, she’d be saying, “I’ve had enough.”’
They nodded, through tears, but they still nodded. No one said, ‘No, don’t do it.’ They could see for themselves how weak and distressed she was, and, as upset as they were, they knew it was the fairest thing for Mollie.
We spent the day with her. She sat on our laps, skinny and limp. We took turns holding her, cuddling her, and taking photos.
Then we took her to the vet. They led us straight through, and the vet came in. She reassured us that we were making the right decision, and explained the procedure and that it would be painless and peaceful for Mollie. She left us alone with her, then, to say our final goodbyes. When she returned, she wrapped Mollie in a towel and bundled her in her arms. We kissed Mollie goodbye and they slipped out the door.
Mollie was gone.
I’ve never seen our kids so upset, all four of them. We stayed in the room, and I stretched my arms around them while they cried. I was so proud of them, I told them, for loving an animal so much.
‘But she’s not an animal,’ said the youngest. ‘She’s Mollie.’
We had Mollie cremated. When her ashes came back, we buried her in our garden, by the bird bath, and planted a rose-bush over her. We set the children’s garden seat nearby and called it ‘Mollie’s Corner’.
This post is in memory of MOLLIE
1.12.1996 – 15.7.2013
With our family from the beginning. Our little pound dog, who helped our children learn about loving and trusting, about jumping and playing, then about ageing and caring, and, finally, about dying and death.
Oh Louise…the pain, I feel it. Our beloved Rani is ageing so rapidly, it breaks my heart even thinking about her not being part of our family. Thank you so sharing your heartbreak…I had tears. x
Thanks, Mia. It’s funny how much they come to mean to your family. I still have to remind myself Mollie’s no longer with us, and it hits me with a pang again.
The kids were devastated at the time, but they bounced back, as kids do. As heartbreaking as it is, I think it is good for them to see it: they see the ageing process; they see caring for another living thing; they help with the care of another being; and they encounter death, which is an unavoidable part of life. Sam, our youngest, even said that at least it’s helped prepare him for when I die!
I totally agree Louise…the death of a pet is (hopefully) a child’s first and softest encounter with losing a loved one. We all cherish this time with our gorgeous dog but know it will end too soon. I would love to get a pup before that happens but I can’t seem to push it through!
Mia, I would highly recommend getting another dog. It made it so much easier when we had to say goodbye to the old one. Our home didn’t feel completely ’empty’ — we still had a dog to come home to.
Also, we left getting Gretel a bit late, I think, and poor old Mollie couldn’t cope with her playfulness. As Gretel grew, and Mollie could barely move, Gretel treated her like a stuffed toy — I caught her once dragging her around by the ear. In the end, we had to keep them separate, with Mollie inside, of course. Poor Gretel couldn’t understand why she was out of favour.
If I could do it over, I’d get the pup a year or two earlier than we did, while the old dog is better able to cope. Then, when they do get too old, the pup is already more mature.
It’s such agony to come to this stage with a beloved pet. What a lovely life you and your family gave Mollie, and she obviously gave you as much in return. Blessings to you all x
Thanks, Amanda. We did love her …
Lovely story. It’s been said many times before, but grief is the price of love.
Too true, Glen. And it’s worth the price.
Beautiful doggie. Sounds like she had a very happy life with your lovely family.
Thanks, Iris. I like to think that she knew she was loved.
Beautiful tribute to a lovely old girl.
Thanks, Carol. She was a lovely old girl!
A truly moving and beautiful tribute. It never fails to astonish me how important our pets become to us. How much we love them, and how much we miss them when they’re gone…even years later. Great blog Lousie. Thanks for sharing your story.
Thanks, Marlish. I’m always amazed, too, at how much they mean to us. On the one hand, you think they’re just animals, but they come to be part of what makes up your family, part of the daily routine. And they have personalities. Since we’ve had Gretel, my allergies have been playing up and I’m constantly on medication. The thought of swapping her for a short-haired dog occurred to me, albeit fleetingly — I couldn’t part with her. It’d be like giving one of the children away.
Oh, Louise, I’m so sorry to hear you lost a beloved family pet. It is a very sad time, especially the first time children experience it. You wrote about it so beautifully.
Thanks, Annabel. It is very sad and the kids were very sad. Utterly devastated, actually. However, they’ve bounced back and moved on and I’m the only one still grieving, I think. Oh, for the resilience of youth …
I think the fact that you got Gretel would make a big difference to their coping – their wouldn’t be such a glaring gap as there otherwise might be. Thinking of you x
You’re right. Gretel helped heaps — we were never dog-less. Thanks for your care. x
One of the saddest acts I have ever had to participate in was holding my dog along with my son and daughter-in-law while the vet euthanized Semper. However, the grief I felt for that beautiful and faithful dog was the catharsis that enabled me to finally shed the tears bottled up inside me, never shed before, when my loving husband died. The dog had helped me through that period in my life when I knew I wasn’t able to cope. He proved me wrong and loved me anyway. I feel your pain — letting go of part of your family. Your kids were right, Mollie was not an animal, she was Mollie.
Betty, what a beautifully written comment! And a beautiful story. These animals — they just know how to help us through dark times …
My most heartfelt condolences, Louise. You can judge the measure of a person by how they behave with animals, and I truly believe that dogs in particular enrich people’s lives. I wish you and your family well during this hard time.
Thanks for dropping by, Emily. I agree about animals enriching our lives. And we can learn a thing or two from them …
Louise, Beautifully written. I could hear Mollie’s toe nails clicking on the floor. I smiled at Mollie in her Halloween costume and at her painted nails and at her being read to. What a remarkable little girl she was.
I grew up with a Boxer named Gretchen. My mother got her at the Humane Society. She was around a year old when we got her. She was fawn with a white blase between her eyes that ended at her upturned nose. As I recall, we had to pass a home inspection and interview before we could adopt her. The ladies in charge of adoptions wanted to make sure she’d go to a good home, that she’d have plenty of room to run and play in. (This was back in the 1960’s.)
She was definitely a character. She would sit in the passenger side of our VW Beetle (car) and “drive” following every approaching car with her head.
She dug a hole once and buried a box turtle I found in the woods that I had planned to enter in a July 4th turtle race. We found the turtle alive and kicking but had missed the start of the turtle race.
Gretchen knew exactly where our yard ended and would chase every dog silly enough to enter our yard until they were out of her territory.
I have so many stories about her. Stories I’d forgotten until your blog brought them to mind.
I’m smiling as I think of Gretchen. Though my adult brain tells me Gretchen was special because she was the first dog I remember; my heart tells me she was special because she was a wonderful spirit who graced our family with her love and intelligence.
I hope your children will be able to look back on Mollie as adults with as much love as I feel for Gretchen. I have a feeling they will.
Thanks Louise. Well done.
Penny, what a beautiful story — you should write a blog! I loved reading about Gretchen sitting in front seat of the VW Beetle (we have them here and call them Beetles, too), of her chasing other dogs from her territory, and her burying the turtle! And I love that your heart tells you that Gretchen was special ‘because she was a wonderful spirit who graced (your) family with love and intelligence.’ That is exactly what I was trying to say about Mollie, and you’ve summed it up perfectly with that line.