By Kenny Kelly

She spent the last few weeks walking in strange, uneven circles with square edges, her path pressed into the grass by the repetitious plodding of uncertain paws. Little tufts of white, wiry hair littered the lawn like snow refusing to melt. She saw without seeing and heard without hearing; she remembered without knowing and loved without touching. Her nails were too long, left to grow with no reason to dig. Nothing to hide and nothing to find. Somehow she seemed aware before any of us realized the only thing left to bury was her self. She knew more than any of us though her sight couldn’t stop her from walking straight into the oven door.

Maybe it was the thought that I’d soon be without that friend that showed up underneath the tree in a little brown box. A box with holes punched in the side so she could breathe. I’ve opened presents done up in fancy ribbons and pretty paper but I’ve forgotten what was inside of them or what they looked like. But when I opened that little brown box and I saw her tiny little form, trembling slightly though it was not cold, a wreath of holly hung round her neck, I knew I would not forget what was in this ugly box. I wanted to name her Boxy because of the box she came in, but my mom seeing past my 9 year old stupidity suggested Holly instead. But now, fifteen years later, thinking that one day my Australian shepherd puppy would be forgotten like a nice sweater that just hangs in the closet waiting for moths; that when Christmas morning came this year she’d be in a box again. A box with no holes. Maybe it was that thought that kept me from knowing that when she walked around the backyard, dropping hair like snow, she was looking for a place to die.

Whether I wanted to know or not, it couldn’t stop us from sitting quietly in that white room, her body turned away from me and towards the door, responding to my scratches as if they were a breeze, me staring at the poster telling me the importance of keeping my dog’s mouth clean. Useless information since in an hour, I would have no dog.

The vet came back in, her name which I do not remember stitched proudly in blue, her face full of somber benevolence. Whether her sympathy was sincere, I could not tell, nor did I care. My dog would be dead. There are worse fates. I felt guilt with every tear. Why should I be so sad when my life is so long? I thought of what she must think of my crying. Surely, she had put many dogs to sleep while the men, not boys, who brought them in stared on in stoic indifference, as one watches a bad actor shout, “Howl, howl, howl.” If she did not feel either pity or remorse for me or my dog, I thought it was nice of her to at least fake it.

“I think the decision to put her down would be justified,” she said.

“She’s lived a long and happy life,” she said.

“Are you ready to put her down?”

I said, “I’m ready.” I lied.

“It’s just an overdose of anesthetic,” she said.

“She will literally go to sleep, and then she will be gone,” she said.

“Would you like to be present?”

“Yes,” I could not say, but merely nodded.

She went to the back room and returned with a boy in green scrubs and a syringe of anesthetic. They tried to raise Holly onto the table, but she could go no higher than the floor. Instead, we all crouched down around her and held her in her final place. The boy grabbed her round her belly causing tufts of white hair to fall from her body when she convulsed to get away. The vet grabbed a front paw with one hand and readied the syringe. I put one hand on her head and she was trembling. It was cold, but that wasn’t the reason. She knew what we were doing though she could not comprehend it. She had no way of knowing how the liquid in the tube about to enter her body was different from water, but she knew it was different. I put my other hand around her throat. She snarled and tried to bite me and though I did not flinch, she did not succeed. I wish she had. I wish she drew blood. I wish she would have incited some primal, animal instinct in me. It is so much easier to kill out of hate than it is out of love.

With my hand around my dog’s throat, I watched the vet make attempt after attempt to find the veins in her leg. She explained they get smaller as they grow older. My dog’s veins were now too weak to carry life and too small to carry death. I grew impatient and I found myself wanting without desiring to strangle my dog. I could do it. I should do it. If someone should kill my dog, it should be me, her master—her friend.

But I could still feel the tremulous fear inside her little body. So I waited for the vet to find the veins, keeping her head in my hands. Finally, she found one and depressed the syringe. Instantly, I felt the fear fade from my dog, and with it, my sadness. How profound it is to hold something you love drift from life to death as serenely as a leaf floats along a stream.

And as a leaf is carried out of sight by inertia or entropy, she was gone.

The vet said, “I’m sorry.”

I said, “Thank you. Merry Christmas.”

Holly’s ashes would return to me in a little brown box, a box that isn’t going under the tree this year. I know now that from now on, boxes would only hold unremarkable things for me: sweaters, plates, electronics, books if I’m lucky. I could never expect one to hold for me a friend with a wet nose and little floppy ears. I had already received the greatest gift I ever would receive. I can only hope I’ll be able to leave a box like that under some unseen tree for someone I have not yet met.


  1. Nancy Schiff says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your life long pal. You did a beautiful job.