The aim of our content is twofold: We want you to 1) learn something; and/or 2) feel something. Nothing I have presented, blogged, said, or authored has ever inspired the response and emotion of the following post. It’s fitting that the subject matter is … our dog.
[The following was originally published on March 5, 2021.]
“What is grief if not love persevering?”
We put down our dog Zoe, on Tuesday. We’re grieving. Three months ago our vet told us Zoe had growths on her liver, so to take her home and enjoy our remaining time with her. Tuesday morning I woke to distressed calls — “Dad … DAD!” — coming from downstairs. Zoe had collapsed a few feet from her bed. She’d lost control of her bowels, and her breathing was labored.
We shuffled her onto a beach towel and carried her to the back of our car. At the vet, we learned that her organs were failing and that she was bleeding internally. The clinic had an outdoor annex, where we laid Zoe down on a wicker table and gathered around to say goodbye. Like in every urbanized landmass in Florida, there was a gas station and a strip mall abutting the clinic. A car alarm was ringing. We had a remote control to notify the clinic when we were ready for them to administer pentobarbital, a seizure medication that would stop Zoe’s heart.
Zoe’s death has rocked our household. The other dog won’t come out of his crate, the nanny won’t stop crying, my oldest doesn’t want to come out of his room, and (most disturbingly) his 10-year-old brother is doing what we ask him to. We’ve been a bit self-conscious about our grief — we recognize that 500,000-plus U.S. households haven’t lost a pet, but a dad, aunt, or other loved one in the past 12 months. But our grief persists.
At first I was fine playing the role of the stoic dad: “She lived a great life,” “This is what’s best for her,” etc. Then yesterday, on a livestream with Verizon and 60 of its communications agency partners, I started sobbing while describing the harm Facebook is doing to society. Despite all the machismo and strength I aspire to project, there I was, 56 years old and a chocolate mess on a Zoom call with dozens of people who want confirmation that they should serve ads on Yahoo.
It’s not the worst thing for someone in my line of work to have Verizon’s agency partners believe I am emotionally invested in holding social media platforms accountable. However, I’ve been crying every six hours since. I cried watching WandaVision last night, when eating oatmeal this morning, and again doing pullups.
Failed Birth Control
Two decades ago I moved to New York, where I applied tremendous skill and resources to building a life of arrested adolescence. The SoHo loft, a wintertime apartment in South Beach, a summer home in Watermill (complete with sand volleyball court, even though I … do not play volleyball), and a metallic-blue Maserati. Jesus, what a douche.
I embarked on a series of obsessive relationships — with people, business ventures, and material goods (the more scarce, the better). Inevitably, the rapture would fade, and my heart would sink. A weak heart breaks more easily. I wasn’t grieving over the lost person or the failed deal so much as I was grieving the lost possibility to escape to a better life — a life of meaning vs. the Imax version of The Narcissist’s Playbook.
Then I met someone nicer, more impressive, and much more attractive than me — who was also kind. However, she wanted children. I told her I wasn’t interested in getting married again. She called my bluff with a José Aldo roundhouse: “We don’t need to get married to have a kid.”
Looking for an alternative means of birth control, I drove to Pennsylvania to pick up an 11-week-old vizsla. The breeders were some of the most down-to-earth, normal dog breeders I’d ever encountered … and they were exceptionally strange. But that’s another post. We named our puppy Zoe, and talk of a baby subsided. However, like most extemporaneous methods of male birth control, my tactic wasn’t effective, and 38 weeks later my oldest son came rotating out of my girlfriend.
Zoe soon became my oldest son’s dog. He had a connection with her only matched by the contempt he has for his younger brother. Zoe forged the bond by sitting in front of his crib each morning; they stared at each other through the wood slats while my son spoke a language deployed across species. They’d be transfixed like this for 20 or 30 minutes (no joke). It was as if they were planning a jailbreak.
And why I think I’ve been crying.
I will miss Zoe, as she was a meaningful part of our family’s life. But the truth is, once we had boys, most of that emotion transferred to the kids. Plus, I’m not one of those guys who finds peace away from the family in the company of dogs. So yes, I am grieving Zoe, but as with happiness, real grief is internal.
Zoe’s death has rocked me because it’s a marker. A reminder that time is the most relentless force in the universe: No matter what we do, its thievery marches on. For the rest of my life, I’ll have sons. But I no longer have the baby who sat on a blanket with us in the backyard, the toddler who made an alliance with his dog to disappear his vegetables, or the 8-year-old who rang out a particular laugh only the dog could inspire. Zoe’s death is a loss on several levels.
Dogs aren’t allowed on the couch in our household. Ever. The thing is, both dogs and humans are mammals, and we’re happiest when surrounded by (read: when touching) others. So Zoe and I had an agreement: After everyone was asleep, she could come on the couch, rest her head on me, and dream. It was a pact of secrecy, and not once in her 14 years did she betray this trust — vizslas are rugged hunting dogs, and also discrete. She would lie on me, dream, and, according to her paws, run for miles. Many of these posts have been written with Zoe’s head resting on my stomach as she dreamt of running through a Hungarian forest.
All Zoe wanted was affection — which is to say, love. As she was lying on a wicker table, next to a gas station, death came for Zoe. When her heart stopped, our other dog was licking Zoe’s ears, and our entire family had our hands on her. Our wonderful dog left this Earth with everything she had ever wanted. And we are grieving because our love perseveres.
Life is so rich,
P.S. A recent addition to our family, Leia: