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Hail And Farewell

The following article was written by the late Eleanor Perry about her beloved dog, Lulu. It appeared in the Living Section of The New York Times on the 28 June 1978. If you’ve ever had to make the difficult decision of putting a dog to sleep, you’ll get a lot out of what Perry says. It's not a feel-good piece aiming to alleviate your grief, and may even leave you feeling quite low; but I think its worth lies in the fact that anyone who's gone through the same thing will be able to relate to the thoughts and emotions expressed, and not feel so alone.

Hail And Farewell: An Epitaph for Lulu

The risk, of course, is to appear sentimental. But why? Because she was a dog? “Only a dog”, as some people say. Does one measure out feelings according to species?

There are other phones in the apartment but whenever I went to one of them you dragged yourself up onto your feet, one hind leg paralyzed, the other almost, and hobbled after me. By the time I had dialled you were there. I couldn’t close the door. I had never closed a door on you in your life. In the end we went back to my workroom, where you always began the mornings lying on the rug behind my typewriter. I arranged your death on the desk phone in a voice I might have used for arranging to have the laundry picked up.

“I want to be with her when you give her the injection,” I told the doctor.

We’d had this discussion before, a few months ago when you were in his clinic for surgery and my terror was that you’d die there without me.

“I won’t break down,” I promised him again. “I’ll be very calm. She won’t pick up any vibrations from me.”

The doctor said we could bring you in that afternoon and then he gave me the telephone number of the crematory which would take care of “the body”. My stomach knotted. I had not yet thought of you as “the body”.

The voice at the crematory was kindly and efficient. “Would you like the ashes returned to you?”

I had not thought of you as “the ashes” either. “No,” I said.

“Then we’ll bury them here in our garden. Would you like a marker?”

“No.”

There was one more call to make. We had often been rejected by taxi drivers when you were young and beautiful and impeccably groomed. What would the drivers say now when they saw your poor misshapen body with great patches of hide peeling off it and the open sores? I hired a car to take us to the clinic.

So only a few days after your birthday (Ann had sent you twelve tulips, “for twelve happy years”) you were going to be put to death and I had arranged it. It was my right as your owner. Owner and owned? In my head those words had never before applied to us. We were devoted companions. Because of you I knew every glade and hollow in Central Park. Because of me you explored the passageways of Venice and the stony shores of Cap Ferrat.

You were typecast in a film I wrote and played yourself, a standard poodle with a tail like a black chrysanthemum. Like any leading lady you got your key-light and your close-ups. We adjusted to each other’s moods. You pranced ahead of me mischievous and full of joy when I was happy, withdrew in dignified silence when I wasn’t. I played when you brought me your ball and kept an eye out for the police when you wanted to run free without a leash. We had our routines: my Scotch, your milk before sleeping, breakfast toast together on my bed.

A few months ago the morning came when you couldn’t leap up onto the bed. I saw you fall back to the floor and your look of astonished humiliation. After that I lifted you up and lifted you down again. Then the day came when you wouldn’t walk farther than the entrance to the park and, later, the day when stepping off the curb was too precarious for you.

I tried to pretend nothing was changing. We played ball in the apartment but one night, limping and falling, you gave up and refused to retrieve it. So there was no more ball-playing and in a little while no more bones – not after we found your mouth bloody and two of your teeth on the rug. Your bark disappeared – that mighty deafening fuss you’d always make to greet a guest or a package. Now when the doorbell rang there was only a hoarse little rumble in your throat.

It was all right. With the help of drugs and painkillers we could live with all of that. It was the blood we couldn’t live with. Organs ruptured and blood poured out of you, a worse haemorrhage each time. Alarming lumps and swellings appeared all over your body. Old age beat us out, Lulu. Inevitability beat us. Death-is-a-part-of-life beat us.

The three who loved you best, Mickey and Anna and I, drove uptown with you on that spring afternoon. In a season when so many things are beginning to live, I had arranged for you to die. Would any season have been the right one? Not the winter when your romping black body was breathtaking against the snow, not the summer when you raced along the beach barking at the waves, not the autumn when perfectly on point you stalked squirrels in the woods.

Mickey had brought along your big blue towel – the one she used when she bathed you and spread on the terrace for you to lie on when the tiles were cold. She carried you and the towel into the clinic and into the examining room and put you down gently on the stainless steel table. When the doctor who had known you all your life came in you wagged your gray rope of a tail, all the proud petals gone.

“Do you mind if I don’t do it?” the doctor asked me. He pressed his lips to your topknot. “Take care, Lulu,” he whispered. The other doctor, his young colleague, came in to give you a shot to make you sleepy. Mickey could not bear to watch. She reminded us to wrap you in your towel afterwards”, embraced you fiercely and went into the waiting room to weep. Ann and I stayed, holding you, talking to you.

You didn’t get sleepy. Your once lustrous black eyes, now milky with cataracts, rolled about towards our voices. Your breath came in hard rapid pants and your pink tongue, the only thing about you unchanged, licked our hands and faces.

“She’s a very large dog,” the young doctor said. “She’s fighting it.” Fighting it? My god, then she knows! She doesn’t want to die! Stop everything right now, I wanted to shout, we’re talking her home! I didn’t shout. I heard myself lying to you instead. “Everything’s going to be all right, Lulu, everything’s going to be just fine.” I was relieved when the doctor gave you another shot. I wanted it to be over. I wanted to stop pretending I was not the killer I was.

Soon after that your breathing slowed and your head drooped. We held on to you while the doctor shaved a few inches of fur off your foreleg and inserted a needle into your vein. I had never seen death before. It doesn’t come or arrive. One instant it is not there, the next instant it is there. The true freeze-frame. The doctor covered you with the blue towel.

Goodbye, sweet girl.

Later, Mickey and Ann and I said all the words: “It had to be done.” “She had a wonderful life.” “We all gave her such a good life.”

But I was the one who gave you death, Lulu. Is there such a thing as a good death?

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SAY NO TO PUPPY MILLS! SAY NO TO ANIMALS IN PETSHOPS! SAY NO TO BREEDERS!

Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance

It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.

Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.

Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.

Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.

Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.

If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.

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