Each morning since we arrived in New York I carry our Jack Russel Ajax to the dog park over in Union Square. Ajax is on Prednisone which makes him pee like a fountain. Sometimes it’s kind of funny because he lifts his leg to pee and has to bring it down to rest a couple of times in order to finish. In New York there are way too many people (and not enough sidewalk) to just let your dog pee anywhere and on the way to the park there are at least three signs warning owners to “curb your dog” which is next to impossible with Ajax because once he gets outside and starts, there’s just no stopping him or the deep yellow urine river rushes across the sidewalk as New Yorkers try and avoid stepping in it all while scowling at me.
In the past six months Ajax has gotten sicker which in his case means he been wobbling around like a drunken sailor and while it looks sad to people seeing him for he first time, it isn’t really. There’s a small tumour on Ajax’s brain but there’s no pain (the brain doesn’t have any pain receptors) but instead it causes him to have trouble with coordination so simple things like walk time require extraordinary concentration and effort on his behalf. Then on Thursday morning, after a week of him having a harder and harder time standing on his own, he just could get up any more. I woke up and tried helping Ajax up but couldn’t get him to sit up at all so I carried him to the park and when we got there I tried to put him down but he had no control of his body so he peed from my arms while held him steady. On the way back I noticed his eyes were going left and right really quickly and he was starting to flip around in my arms when normally he just flops there like a content sack of sand. By the time we got back his eyes where going back and forth at super speed and he was struggling to remain still so we took him over to the emergency vet up the street. That evening Ajax’s state worsened so that instead of being confused he was now in a great deal of distress. It was heart wrenching.
How can I possibly put Ajax down? The thought of it is as insane as the question itself and it was filling me with terror but I also was acutely aware of how much I loved this animal and above everything else our only job is to comfort him and make him feel safe. We spent our final time with Ajax holding him the vet gave him a powerful sedative to relax his body. Normally you don’t have to do this but we felt it was critical that we get Ajax out of feeling agitated long enough so that he can enjoy us being with him. We placed an Stewarts PJs under his head so he could smell something familiar and then the sedative set in. I put my finger in between the pads of his paw and he responded like he always does by gently pushing back. He knew we were there and the sedatives were so strong that’s it’s most likely that he though he was at home with as and waking from his usual slumber. We leaned into him, stroking under his chin and he loved it, he was still confused but he was no longer in distress so we comforted him until he fell back asleep and then we asked the vet to come over to administer the final shot. Ajax passed without a sound, relaxed, safe and as comfortable as possible and I would never trade being there for anything in the world. Losing a family pet can be harder then losing a human member of the family because the ability to explain what’s going on is limited and it’s a very frustrating and lonely experience. I’m still afraid of death but when I get right close to it like this I can see that our loved ones need us in death as much, if not more, then they do in life.
When someone gets ill there’s often lots of opportunity to make sense of the situation with them but with an animal we don’t have a common language. Ajax follows me around when I’m happy, he comes really close and nudges me over and over and over when I’m sad and he leaves the room whenever I’m angry. If you’ve ever owned a Jack Russel then you know that they don’t take too kindly to looking them straight in the eye, in fact they more often will interpret it as threatening. Ajax doesn’t like to be picked up or cuddled and because he’s a herder by nature he’s happiest when everyone is sitting down and then he’ll sit facing the door or exit to watch for intruders to the pack. I’ve tried explaining to him that the lock on the door is really good and so there’s no need to play guard dog but this was way of loving us. And it’s these very qualities I will let shine in me so that Ajax can live on.