Apollo is dead. Once, I could hardly believe that I could write
such a line, let alone believe that it’s true. But it is true. Apollo is dead.
I was there.
Overall, it was rather decent and humane. Apollo and I took our time walking to the Vet up the street and across the highway from our house. On the way, I let him mark at his leisure. Once there, I signed the form, made sure to pay up front and then waited for not more than a minute before a technician came and got us.
I led Apollo into the room. A white bath towel loomed ominously on the floor. I sat in the chair and cried, scratching Apollo on his favorite spot on his chest.
Presently, the Vet came in. I think he was surprised to see how different was my demeanor—from causal to disconsolate—from the day before. I was weeping unashamedly. In any case, after explaining to me that he had to first put a catheter and IV in Apollo to begin the procedure, he took Apollo’s leash and led him away.
Alone now, I continued to cry heavily and took many deep breaths in the mainly futile attempt to settle myself.
Oddly, while I waited, I kept reading over and over again the header for the flier they had on the counter: “Give Your Senior Pet The Healthy Life It Deserves.” This was the promotional flier for their Senior Wellness check-up, the work-up I got for Apollo just yesterday; the one that told me he was terminally ill. As I was repeating this line in my head like a mantra I heard Apollo whine from behind the door and it occurred to me then that I was naive to think this procedure would be totally painless.
At last, the Vet brought Apollo back. Apollo pulled the Vet into the room towards me. Apollo appeared confused but was very happy to see me. I greeted him lovingly. The Vet wanted Apollo to lie on the white bath towel. When he gently pushed his hips to make him sit, Apollo’s back end gave out. Absently, I snapped my fingers once and Apollo obediently laid his front end down on the floor. At this point I was still sitting on the wooden chair. Apollo was now lying at my feet. Crying still, I was petting Apollo on the head and across his back.
The Vet then gave me a biscuit from a jar they had on the counter. I gave it to Apollo. He sniffed the biscuit and then turned his head away. Thinking that he wouldn’t eat it (I had given him cooked pork and deli ham throughout the day), I put it on the floor in front of him. Upon sniffing it again he changed his mind and ate the biscuit, which surprised me. As he ate the biscuit I caressed him and kissed him and told him he was a “good boy” and then the Vet asked if “I was ready” and I said through my tears that “Yes, I was,” and so he stuck the first needle in the IV that was in Apollo’s right fore leg. Apollo inspected the needle with his nose as the Vet put it in and then removed it, but otherwise showed no reaction. After this the Vet said something I didn’t catch before he injected Apollo with the second needle. It took about twenty seconds or so for the second, bigger needle, filled with a pinkish fluid, to empty into Apollo’s vein. All the while I was petting and praising Apollo, my tears falling on his down turned head; until, after a few labored breaths, Apollo relaxed deeper into the floor and died, as did a part of me.
The Vet used his stethoscope to check Apollo’s heart but he didn’t have to say anything—and he didn’t—because he knew that I knew that Apollo was dead. A moment passed before the Vet asked if I wanted Apollo’s leash back—a strange question, I thought—and I said “yes” and he left to get Apollo’s leash while I got on my knees and looked into Apollo’s now spiritless right eye, the eye with the pink around it. With my hand I gently brushed the hair over his eye and then moved his head, just to be sure, but there was no question he was gone. Crying more freely again now that we were alone, aloud I told Apollo that I loved him.
Finally, the Vet came back with the leash. “He was a good dog,” I said to the Vet (The very best, I thought to myself), trying to compose myself. He nodded. Then I thanked him for his help. He said he appreciated pet owners like myself who were able to put their pets down when they were terminally ill rather than unnecessarily try and prolong their pet’s lives, which only caused the pet to suffer. It was a nice gesture but a small comfort. I picked my tissues up off the chair, took one last look at my beloved companion Apollo, now lifeless on the floor, and left.
It was a surreal walk home from the Vets, with some kid behind me telling his mom about rockets and asking her if there was one big enough to “blow up the whole world.” Holding Apollo’s collar and leash, I walked briskly along in front of them trying hard not to cry. Nearing the gate to my building, I looked down and couldn’t help a smile when I noticed that I nearly stepped in the poop Apollo had made on the sidewalk on the way home from the Vets the day before (He rarely ever pooped on the sidewalk. He always went on the grass, which says something about the condition he was in. Anyway, I was too distracted with worry that day to care and so I didn’t clean it up).
At home, my cleaning lady was finishing cleaning the balcony (Apollo’s home within the home, the spot he loved most to sleep and rest since he was a puppy.). Earlier, I had tried to explain to her what I was about to do with Apollo, but her English is not that good so she misunderstood. When I told her, “I’m going to take Apollo now,” she mistakenly thought I was simply taking him for a walk. So when I came back a half-hour later without Apollo, she came in from cleaning the balcony and said, “Apollo Scott?” “He’s gone,” I said confusedly and quickly went into my room. There, I put his leash, collar and dog bowl in my closet. I felt empty and cold; my teeth chattered as I lay on the bed and sobbed.
Two hours later I came out of my room to find my cleaning lady at my bedroom door. “I waited for you Scott,” she said. “I’m very sorry I didn’t understand. My English is not so good. When I realized about Apollo I was very sad; very sorry.” She started crying. “I went down to do the laundry and cried for an hour,” she said. Crying again myself now, I apologized for putting her through this. “Its okay,” she said. “I know Apollo for ten years and I’m very sorry Scott. I cleaned up after him and I knew him and am very sorry.” “He was a good dog,” I said wiping my eyes. “He liked you. He was good with kids…he loved Dylan… and other dogs—he was just a good dog… a good dog.” “I’m very sorry Scott,” she said again sadly in her broken English and then went to put the laundry away. He touched her too, I thought, upset all over again.
Life is ugly and brutal sometimes and wouldn’t be worth a damn if not for the wonderful consolation of beautiful things; of having had a beautiful dog like Apollo. As sad as it was and still is, the beginning and middle were well worth the terrible heartache of the end. Which is why it was important and good and right that we had a great day herding yesterday. Which is why I want to thank you, Jerry, for yesterday and for all that you have done for Apollo and I over the years. We learned a lot as we grew up together around and with you.
As you know so well, Apollo loved his sheep: he loved herding them, chasing them, splitting them, shouldering them, coursing them, penning them, tending them, nipping at them, barking at them and even eating grass with them, as he did that time in Anaheim. (He loved them enough to be the best Old English herding dog any one of us has ever seen or are likely to see any time soon.)
Apollo loved his sheep all right—he sure did. He loved them much; and I loved him as much, for Apollo taught me much. What’s more, through every personal crisis these last eleven years, Apollo was loyally by my side, and I’ll always appreciate him for that—and I’ll never forget him for that.
So Apollo is dead. Apollo is dead (I still find it hard to write that and find it still harder to believe).
Apollo is dead but he lived well and died well and I can’t ask, nor should I expect, any more than that.