Two days ago, on October 24, we put Luna down. She was twelve and a half, probably. We adopted her in 2011, after someone found her on the side of a highway in Texas; she was stuffed-animal fluffy even as her legs failed her, mistaken on the street for a young dog till the end. But she’d had little seizures all her life, and over the last couple of years she was lost, distraught, detaching; her hips were like the tabs on a giant, crumpled paper doll. She was older than I ever thought she’d make it to be.
She was ready. One more night would have been cruelty. Still, in the weeks leading up to this I went opaque with grief and shame. I sat on the floor with her, hoping she would forgive me. The day before, I sobbed coming home on the G train, knowing I was about to open the front door and say hi to her for the last time. I’ve spent more time with her than I’ve ever spent with any other person. Every hour, almost, for the last twelve years.
It was over Labor Day weekend, in the heatwave, that she sank to the pavement and I understood this was coming. Afterward I went looking for documentation, some way to figure out Luna’s “quality of life,” how much she had changed and when. I found this note, which I’d written to her the day before I went to the hospital to give birth to Paloma. It’s a different dog in the note, and a different version of me, too. I was twenty-two when we got Luna and now I’m on the cusp of thirty-five. She walked me through the entrance of this edifice of adulthood; she waited patiently for me to figure out its labyrinths. She stayed with us until we had our two children. She taught me the thing that brought me to them—that there was private transcendence in care and obligation. She made me feel that love could always be sure and easy. She got us here, and then she faced her head into the corner, and now we go on without her. How?
It was an honor to take care of her, all the way until the end. On her last morning I took Paloma out into the backyard to say goodbye to her. Andrew made her a steak and two fried eggs. We drove down Dekalb and parked in front of a hydrant, and he carried her into Fort Greene Park. I bent over her, sunlight on her fur, her fur in my mouth, dew on the bright grass. It was a city benediction, the quiet clank and bustle around us, everything heightened, brilliant, fine as a pine needle and as crisp as the leaves. I remembered Luna jumping over logs when we hiked with her, remembered the bottoms of her paws pressed through the bars of her crate. I had the sense of time passing like water under my fingers, dragged rough and sparkling as a heavy boat moved forward. Luna stood up, with Andrew holding her hip harness. She walked for the first time in days, the last time ever. There were little bees in the purple aster. Soon she’d fall asleep with her tongue out and we’d watch the anesthetic pass through the syringe. In the park she sniffed the trees, alive and curious, the will toward existence persisting through pain and anguish, as it does for all beings.
Would that every person could be loved like this and mourned like this, I kept thinking. That their last moments could be sunshine, murmurs, two hands on your back. That a light could go out instead of being shattered. She needed another dose before her heart stopped, a second vein punctured. Our beautiful dog, so monstrously beloved, a fortress until her final breath.
To Luna bear, who is wearing a sky-blue bandana, lying on her back with her bunny feet in the air and her paws curled up on her chest inside her crate—
I am writing this to you because I feel like you were my first little baby. Loving you has been an experience of almost holy compression. We’ve grown up with each other: you as a fluffy puppy that sat like a panda, with your mangy ears, scratching yourself on the car ride back from Dallas—I was a mess, just back from the Peace Corps. And you became a lanky awkward teen dog and I applied to grad school, and we moved to Michigan and I walked you in the snow, the freezes, with no idea what was happening in my life, you were always the constant; your paws never minded; you came with me wherever I went—you always have. When we moved to New York you felt like the mascot of my life; you lay down to sleep in the middle of the living room during parties. And now you’re old, somehow—this is the year everything’s kicked in, you at age nine. You hiked with us this summer, long hikes, long uphills, and I hope it didn’t hurt you terribly. It was in the pandemic that you started to skid on the smooth upstate floors.
Everyone loves you, Luna—everyone thinks their dog is special, but you are so special; you are so special that I can’t walk down the street without someone stopping me and asking about you. You’ve never learned so many things—how to behave in general—but how many people have told me you’re like a human in a dog suit? You’ve looked at me with those eyes every time I’ve gone through something—you’ve watched me, you’ve licked my hand, you’ve laid down on the floor and waited. You have never not been excited to walk out the door, you have never not wagged your tail when you see me come in. You have been a role model for how to approach life—with pleasure. I’ve spent every day since we got you with the same amount of dumbfounded amazement at your dog body—your ears, as soft as anything I’ve ever felt in my life, and the fur between them, which feels like the fluff of a baby chick still; the freckles on your nose, your Zorro mask, your bear paws, your cow-spotted belly, your rabbit feet, your chicken wings.
Andrew has been preparing me for the fact that one day you’re going to die for something like four years now. He knows that my love for you is easily the most childish thing about me. I love you like a toddler loves a stuffed animal. You have made the world charmed for me—everywhere I go in public, people smile. Sometimes we joke that the next dog we get will be a good dog, the kind of dog we can take to the dog park, but I’ve never wanted that kind of dog more than you. On a walk recently I asked Andrew if he thought we would ever have a dog this special again. He said, probably not. Because you were our dog when we were becoming the people we are. You saw us through more change than we’ll ever experience again, and you’re about to see us through this baby, which is all I wanted; I wanted for you to be around, because I couldn’t do this without you. You’ve been so attuned to me throughout pregnancy—at my feet, staring at me as if there was something you were waiting for. And I think one day you will teach me about grief, really. I hope when that day comes that I can understand it as lucky, because I won’t have regrets, I won’t have things I wish I could tell you, because it was so easy to love you, it was so simple to do everything I could for you, it’s so vast and uncomplicated to love your dog.
When I bend down to squeeze your paws at night I feel a flood of love, feel the miracle that it has not been diminished. Every night has meant something; every night to come does too. I love you. This afternoon I’ll give you the last walk we’ll take together before the baby comes.
Pictures from her twelve years:
Waiting for a home, cared for by a lovely foster family in Dallas
The day we got her in 2011; we loved her as soon as we spotted her, a tiny panda trying to fight every dog she saw
My filtered socialist at an Occupy protest in Houston
Caught by Andrew after running away from home in Ann Arbor
Just absolutely ludicrous body proportions all of her life
Luna’s obsession with our mailman in Michigan led to a lasting friendship
Thousands of walks with this dog in this park
Luna getting me through one of innumerable hangovers
Participating in beer pong
On the couch, happy to keep me company
Probably the funniest picture ever taken of her
The day we were all shocked (her most of all) to learn that this nine-year-old dog knew how to swim
Summer 2020, taken by her second mom Elena
Before dawn, just before we went to the hospital to meet Paloma
Watchful with her sister and rival, baby P
On the beach in Maine
With all the girls, a couple of weeks to go
On one of her last walks, with Andrew and Marisol
My Luna, in the last hours of her beautiful life