Losing a Dog in Quarantine


My family decided it was time to put our dog down when we watched my father try to help her go to the bathroom. They were in the backyard and we were inside, watching through the windows, as her legs buckled and she fell. It wasn’t like a crash or anything- it just seemed that she had decided that then and there was the perfect time to lie down and rest. I helped my father get her inside to her bed, and then my father left to call the vet and say it was time.

I know every dog owner says this, but my dog was different. For starters, Lila was a huge mastiff, weighing 190 pounds in her prime. Towards the end of her life, she was around 120 pounds, and you could feel the curvatures of her skull when you petted her. 

She was protective and a loud barker. Every night when it was time to go to bed, she would take one last lap around the first floor before going upstairs, just to make sure everything was okay. Her instincts were maternal towards all of us.

Things started getting worse for her last summer. Mastiffs usually don’t live very long, and Lila was no exception. Her weight was too much for her quickly degenerating legs. Standing, walking, and squatting was a struggle. Then she started to eat less. Then, two weeks ago, she was diagnosed with lymphoma. Her throat had swelled to twice its normal size and you could feel the hard lumps of disease.

The swollen lymph nodes pressed on her windpipe and made it hard to breathe. Without enough oxygen, she would start to panic, and her panting would get worse. Singing to her calmed her down, as did an endless stream of ice cubes for her to eat.

It took about one week for things to go from bad to worse to euthanasia. Because of quarantine, we were there for all of it. I don’t know what would’ve happened if none of us were home to help her. Lila winced in pain continually until somebody sat down next to her. By the very end, we were taking shifts: you take nine o’ clock to ten, since you have a meeting at 10:15, and then Mom can take over.

The pandemic also meant slightly different circumstances for when we put her down. Our vet was still able to make a house visit to do the procedure, but we all had to be wearing masks. I’m sure we must have looked strange to Lila in her last moments, our faces half covered by cloth, but at least she could see our eyes. And before the vet came, we had spent every spare minute with her to let her know that we loved her.

When the vet walked in Lila peed in her bed. I don’t think dogs can understand the abstract concept of death, or at least know when their time has come, but I swear she knew. My family gathered in front of her and talked to her. The anesthesia hit; her head dropped suddenly but her eyes were still open. Then her heart stopped beating and her eyes glazed over. All of this took less than a minute.

I’ll spare you the crying that took place, the way the vets lifted her into a stretcher, wrapped her in a blanket, and placed her in the back of a pickup truck since she was too big for the inside of the car. We had kept our other dog, Luna, who was Lila’s younger sister, in a separate room during the procedure. My sister and I went to get her. 

Luna is not the brightest but she knew her sister was sick. She would sniff Lila constantly when she was alive, as if she could smell the rotting inside her body. As soon as we released her after the procedure, Luna ran to the room where Lila had died and sniffed a trail leading to the door to the outside. Through the window she saw the pickup truck leaving with her sister’s body in the back. 

Luna repeated this multiple times, room, trail, door, window, as if she was still putting the pieces together. And then she sat by the window for a long time.

In the end, we’re lucky. During this time of crisis people are losing people, and it feels kind of silly to be so sad about a dog. Maybe it is. So we’re lucky, because we were there with her at the end, a luxury in today’s world.

It’s been three days since Lila died and I think all of us are still a lot like Luna. We hear barking and go to let Lila inside the house; the whine of the dishwasher sounds like Lila’s wincing and we go to pet her; we wait for her to come down each morning. I guess that’s what grief is, looking around for someone until you finally remember that they aren’t there anymore.