It was a weekend that was supposed to go very, very differently. For the first time in four years, my husband and I were heading away with some friends for three child-free days, complete with adult activities such as wine tasting, hiking, and dining at establishments whose menus didn’t include chicken fingers and mac and cheese.
My parents had agreed to watch our 5.5-year-old son and 2.5-year-old twin daughters to enable our escape. And as nervous as I was about that (not because my parents aren’t amazing babysitters, but because our kids can often be a handful), what worried me the most about our long weekend was the fact that my parents would also need to care for our sick dog.
Our poor dog, Casey, had been plagued with diabetes, kidney stones, blindness, and a host of other issues for a solid year and a half. In fact, earlier this year, my husband brought Casey in for a checkup, and when the vet realized who he was seeing, he said something along the lines of, “Wow, I can’t believe this dog is still alive.” (Generally, not a good sign.)
Still, Casey was chugging along at almost 13, and was in his best possible shape the week we were set to leave. So off we went, figuring that things would be okay.
They weren’t. We left on a Thursday. On Saturday morning, my mom informed us that Casey had pissed, pooped, and thrown up all over the floor like she’d never seen. He was also refusing to eat. We gave her some advice on how to coax food into him, and encouraged her to help him keep drinking, which he did.
By Saturday night things were no better–he was still refusing food, and had had more accidents. But, he was drinking, so we figured we’d head back first-thing Sunday and take over from there.
On our way home, we got the call that he’d died.
We were heartbroken, and incredibly guilt-ridden, even though us being there probably wouldn’t have made a difference given his rapid decline.
That night, we sat our son down and told him that the dog had died. He seemed shocked, and sad, but didn’t cry. In fact, about a minute later, he turned to us, smiled, and said, “Well, it’s a good thing I have a new pet—my goldfish.”
Right. The goldfish.
So another thing that happened that weekend was that my son came home from camp on Friday with a goldfish in a tank he’d decorated himself and a small supply of food. When my mom texted to tell me we now had a goldfish, my first thought was, “Well, that’s not going to last very long.” After all, we were already caring for a cluster of kids and a sick dog. We didn’t have any leftover patience for a goldfish. And so we figured that once we got back, we’d just find a way to get rid of it.
But when my son turned to me with an actual smile on his face despite having just received some incredibly sad news, my plan suddenly went to crap. How could I deny him his goldfish now that his dog was gone?
I thought about buying a real fish tank and more food. The cost would most likely pale in comparison to what we spent taking care of our dog. But it wasn’t a money thing so much as a complete and utter lack of desire to have a fish as a pet. Call me crazy, but I need a pet I can interact with. And while I’m all for looking at pretty fish at the aquarium, I don’t feel the need to stare at the same tiny goldfish for months on end.
My husband felt the same way.
And so we approached our son and asked him the following question: “Where do you think the fish will be happier—in a little tank in our house, or in a nice, big lake, where he can swim freely and meet up with his fishie friends?”
OK, so it was an ambush-style question, but our son thought about it and quickly agreed that the latter option sounded far more appealing from a fish’s perspective. We agreed that we’d keep the fish in our house for a week, and then release it into the water together and give it the proper goodbye our dog never got.
I still find myself tormented by the “what ifs” of that weekend. What if we hadn’t gone away? What if we’d come home sooner? On the other hand, most dogs don’t go peacefully on their own, but rather, are put down in a vet’s office. Ours died in his own bed—the same bed he’d slept in since he was a puppy.
And when we go to release that fish into the ocean, we’ll be doing it in honor of Casey, who, in his own way, is finally free.