There’s something that’s been bothering me lately and I really want to get it off my chest.
A couple weeks ago, my coworkers and I had the misfortune of losing one of our dogs at the shelter where we work. His name was Indiana Bones. He was a beautiful grey pitbull, but he had bad case of stranger danger. He was at the shelter when I first started in October and one of my coworkers had to introduce me to him just so he’d start to get familiar with me. We’re not sure what his story was before he arrived at the shelter, but we know people didn’t treat him well.
Indie would bark a lot at strangers. His hackles would go up and he’d get pretty tense. However, thanks to the help of my coworkers, he warmed up to me. I’d go on walks with him and his favorite person, give him treats, lots of love, and feed him in the mornings and we soon became friends. He was one of my favorite dogs to take on walks. People trained him and worked with him that he really only got reactive when he got too close to another dog or spotted a yellow butterfly. He really liked chasing yellow butterflies. I likely would’ve taken Indie home if he didn’t have so many restrictions. He couldn’t be around kids under 18, he had to be the only animal in the house, and he had to meet everyone in the household before going home. He had to go through one of our behavior programs and he even graduated, so we all thought it was just a matter of time before this adorable, loveable, pitbull found his forever home.
Then, Indie gave us quite a scare. Since he was a strict “no other dogs” we had to be careful that he didn’t run into other dogs and accidentally harm them. My coworkers and I were doing parallel walks with two dogs when we saw a volunteer walking Indie up ahead. Through no fault of the volunteer, Indie got away from him. Indie was getting pretty worked up seeing one of the dogs we had on our parallel walk and when he got away from the volunteer, he bolted straight for that dog. Thankfully, one of my coworkers was fast enough to catch Indie’s leash and the two never made contact, but the way Indie hyper-focused had us all worried.
Because of that incident, Indie ended up back in a behavior program. He moved to the behavior building and one of our trainers there worked with him every day just to help Indie get over his stranger danger and dog issues. We only heard good things from the behavior team and after a time, Indie came back to the main building and was made adoptable again! He was still a strict “no other dogs,” though. One of the main things my coworkers and I noticed when Indie got back was that he grew quite chunkier while at the behavior building. Because of that, he got added to our runner board and a couple volunteers and myself would run Indie while on walks just to help him slim down again.
Indie quickly became one of our long term dogs and, to help his Behavior issues (and spoil him), he got one of our largest kennels. Everyday, we cleaned out Indie’s kennel and gave him fresh blankets and toys. Well, when I cleaned it, Indie got into the habit of roping me into a game of tug-o-war. We’d fight over a rope, a plush, or a ring toy for twenty minutes before he’d peter out or I’d give in because I had to get back to work. I got plenty of bruises on my thighs because of him, but I always looked forward to that time with him.
250+ days was how long Indiana Bones was at the shelter. 250+ days of us taking care of him, playing with him, and working with him. 250+ days then the welfare committee decided that Indiana Bones was unadoptable. I didn’t know it, but Indie had seven pages of notes the adoption counselors had to read when potential adopters asked about him. By the time the counselors got through the first few, the adopter decided they didn’t want Indie in their home. He was too much of a risk. Plus, the welfare committee knew how Indie could hyper-focus on things and they feared the chance of Indie hyper-focusing on a child. We don’t know what kind of situations Indie could get into once he’s out of the shelter and the welfare committee decided he was too much of a risk to adopt out.
So his euthanasia date was set.
I can’t say I was surprised they made the decision, but I can say that I’m disappointed that Indie’s chance was finally up. They scheduled his euthanasia later in the week so everyone would have the chance to say goodbye and spoil Indie like the good boy he is. No one cared anymore about dropping Indie’s extra pounds. Everyone gave him chewies, and treats, and peanut butter to his heart’s desire. Whoever prepared his food in the morning searched through our stocks for the tastiest thing they could find for him.
As one of our longest termed dogs, Indie was quite close to a lot of people around the shelter and I knew he closer to a few of my coworkers than he was with me. I wanted my coworkers to have all the time they could with him. I didn’t want anyone to have any regrets. I just wanted to play one more game of tug-o-war with him.
The morning of Indie’s last day, I got my chance. I gave him a big rope early in the morning so we’d have something to play with and when the time came to clean the large kennels, I snatched that time with Indie. He petered out faster than usual, but he was stuffed with treats and other doggy junk food. Instead, I just sat with him a while. Said my goodbye while I had the chance. I think what surprised me the most out of everything was that from the time I was told about Indie’s euthanasia to that morning playing with him. I hadn’t cried. Hadn’t shed a single tear. Usually, I’m such a crybaby about these things, so I thought I was getting over it. I thought I could be the strong one for my coworkers. I didn’t know how wrong I was.
The middle of Indie’s last day, the behavior trainer who worked so closely with Indie took Indie to some wildlife trails just so Indie could enjoy time away from the shelter and around new scents and sounds. He and the trainer got covered in ticks, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Indie had a blast.
The scheduled time for Indie’s euthanasia was drawing near. A couple of my coworkers and I headed up to the behavior building to spend just a little more time with him. It would take place in a room where Indie was most comfortable. A room where he could romp around and play and even go outside if he wanted too (but it was raining, so he didn’t want too. He always hated the rain). A few people where already there and we learned that Indie was just fed a steak and my coworker brought another steak for him. He was as happy as can be when we showed up. In a room full of people he trusted, he was going from person to person for steak, pets, and love. From all the exercise and the junk food, he looked pretty tired, but he wasn’t letting that get him down. He grabbed one of the toys that were laying around the room and he brought it straight to me.
One last game of tug-o-war. I was extremely honored that he wanted to play with me out of everyone in the room. I gave him smiles and growls like I always did and he did his little, grunting growls in return. For as tired as he was, he still had a lot of strength in him. This game was a little harder for me since I was on the floor and the toy he grabbed wasn’t a rope. I couldn’t get a good hold on it, but every time it slipped out of my hand, Indie would hold it up and wait for me to grab it again. One of the times I got it away from him, he jumped and clambered over me just to get it back. I ended up blindly throwing it and I almost hit a coworker. Indie petered out once, but then he came back for more. I just tried focusing on being happy with him instead of what would happen in a few minutes.
The time had come. People Indie trusted secured with him two leashes while someone held him from behind. The behavior trainer who worked with Indie crouched in front of him to get his attention and feed him yet another steak. These measures were needed as our vet would be coming up from behind to give Indie his injection and poor Indie does not like our vet. We couldn’t risk Indie turning around and biting the vet. That being said, it was hard to see Indie like that. He didn’t deserve it. I still believed he had a chance. That someone out there would adopt him and he’d be their best boy. Turns out I wasn’t as strong as I thought and my tears started to flow. The room had already thinned from people not wanting to be there when Indie was injected. Since I was someone Indie trusted, I wanted to be there with him, but I fled like a coward.
I hate it when other people see me cry. I don’t want people thinking I’m weak because of it–plus, nobody can cry pretty. When my tears started, I tried to push them down, tried all of tricks to keep from falling apart, but nothing was working. Seeing Indie like that, bound by people he trusted. Knowing he just had his best day ever and now we were taking it away from him. It broke me. So, when Indie wasn’t looking, I slipped out, and I cried the whole way home.
I wish I wouldn’t have done that. I wish I would’ve stayed with Indie. I wish I wouldn’t have been so afraid of crying in front of my coworkers that I would’ve stay just so Indie could be surrounded by one more person he trusted. One more person who loved him.
So when did it become not okay to cry? We hide our emotions when we get upset. We don’t want anyone thinking we’re weak. We have to keep up the image of being strong, capable, and completely together. Because that’s the lie, right? You’re supposed to have it all together.
I think we should normalize showing our tears and normalize how to respond to someone shedding their tears. About a month ago, one of my coworkers started crying when she got some bad news. I came around the corner to find her eyes all puffy and red. She was trying to wipe her tears away as fast as she could while sobs huffed from her mouth. I could’ve tried comforting her. Given her a hug or some other compassionate gesture, but you know what I did? I just stood there. I averted my gaze and just stood there as awkward as a vampire at a vegan potluck. Why is that the normal?! When someone is upset, people just stand back, act like they don’t see it, and just let that person deal with their emotions by themselves. I get that some people need time alone when they get super upset, but there’s healing in knowing someone cares. Knowing someone is going to sit with you through the tears or not treat you any differently when your eyes are puffy and your voice is cracking.
There’s a song I’ve been hearing on the radio a lot lately (to the point where it’s driving me nuts). It’s called When We Fall Apart by Ryan Stevenson and I honestly think everyone should give it a listen. The very first time I heard the song, I changed the station. I denied every word in it, because–to me–it wasn’t okay to cry or to fall apart, the gift of mercy was a curse. I hate crying! Crying is weakness and why would I let anyone see that?! Then, I got the news that Indie was going to get euthanized and I could not escape that song. It played multiple times a day and since I listen to a radio app on my phone while I work, I couldn’t change it to a different song. It would even get stuck in my head when I was around Indie and after Indie passed away, it played on my drive home. I think it was trying to tell me that it would’ve been okay for me to cry in that room in front of Indie and all my coworkers. When everyone else is stone-faced, it would’ve been okay for me to show how much I cared and I should’ve.
For Indie’s sake, I want to do better. I want to be brave enough to go outside the norm and be okay to cry. And I hope I’m brave enough to be there for others. Show compassion when someone is falling apart in front of me. Compassion should be the new normal anyway, not stone-stoic distance. We humans are emotional beings and we shouldn’t be ashamed of them and we shouldn’t be condemned for them. We could close ourselves off, but that’s a lonely life. I mean, I could close myself off from all the other dogs at our shelter so I don’t cry when another one is euthanized, but then the dogs wouldn’t have companionship. They wouldn’t have any hope in a stressful shelter. They wouldn’t feel loved like Indie was.
So, it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel connected, show compassion, and be emotional. It’s not a curse to feel other people’s pain. It’s lets us know we’re human. Don’t buy into the lie that crying isn’t okay. That you can’t do it in front of others because it makes them too awkward. It’s okay to cry and it’s okay to look back on the sorrow, because without sorrow, there is no joy. I may not see Indie again until my time comes, but I can honor his memory by doing my best to care for every dog that comes through our shelter. So, here’s to you Indiana Bones. I miss you, buddy.
Indiana Bones was euthanized May 20th, 2021. On June 6th, 2021 another pittie named Dusk was also euthanized. Dusk was deemed unadoptable due to his dog aggression and an incident where he bit another dog. Dusk loved people, though. He loved to play and loved to get pets. He loved it when people visited him in his kennel and he also loved ripping things to shreds. He was a part of the first transfer I encountered at the shelter, arriving only a few days after I started working. He was greatly loved by my fellow Canine Care Techs and I, and he will be dearly missed. On his last day, the weather was really nice, so I set up a play-yard with a fluffy bed, a kiddie pool, his favorite toys, and a giant stuffed bear. He got to be outside all day and was never made to go back into his kennel. We spoiled him with a super cheesy breakfast, and a thick cardboard tube that he could rip apart to get the treats and chew-bones inside. He was fed Chipotle food, cookies, and even every dogs’ forbidden fruit: a chocolate cupcake. Alongside a few of my co-workers, I stayed with Dusk the entire time he was euthanized. We cried together and kept whispering we loved him and that he’s such a good boy. He died loved.
Here’s to you, Dusk. Here’s to you, Indie. I’ll miss you both, and I’ll see you again someday.