Just over 10 days ago my parents and brother made the difficult decision to put down our dog Elmo. This week he would have been 17 years old. I know he wasn’t young, in fact of all the dogs I’d known growing up Elmo was the last of his generation. Our family always kind of assumed he’d live into old age, as despite his toy dog looks, he was incredibly resilient. A tank, really.
Though we tried our hardest to make sure the house was dog safe he could always find food if we made the mistake of leaving it near ground level. He once climbed our dinner table to consume (and vomit) an entire box of chocolate bought for the mailman. He knew how to open backpacks and rip apart bags of chips. He was unapologetic and unrepentant. We loved him despite his being a menace.
It wasn’t his fault really, he was strong headed by nature and we didn’t do much in the way of training him. When we got him in 1996 we were one of the only Indian families in the community that we socialized in to have a dog. He got the basics but it soon became clear he had no respect for most of us, except for our mother who he assumed was also his. When he was scared of thunder she would comfort him. In my Dad he found a travel buddy, regardless of how cold the weather or how late it may be, Dad never skipped out on taking him for his walks. As I got older my love for Elmo never wavered, but I didn’t realize how much my parents took on.
I’m not sure when Elmo became a dog instead of a puppy. Nor did I realize when he was creeping into old age. Last summer when I went home for my brother’s wedding I was surprised to see him sleeping next to the door when I walked in, instead of scratching it in anticipation. He hadn’t heard me; he had lost his hearing. His sight was fading too, and in the past year so did his ability to walk without one of my parents helping him up.
Having a dog that grows up with you is one of life’s cruelties, because there comes a point where your dog is no longer growing with you, but moving towards the end of its life. In the last year Elmo had regressed to being a baby again. He needed to be checked on in the middle of the night as sometimes he couldn’t turn over and would cry. He wasn’t left alone if possible as since he went blind he could no longer find his food bowl on his own. My parents lost sleep and adjusted their schedules; they did it without complaining and loved him dearly till the end.
I think my parents got us a dog to teach us some responsibility. It probably worked, but more than anything the last few years with Elmo has given me greater respect for my parents. They’ve shown me what selflessness and patience looks like.