The Uplifting Story Of Putting Down Our Dog

So many people regard death as the enemy. The problem with that approach is there’s gonna be one winner. And it ain’t you.

There’s a special place in hell for people who tell sad stories about dogs dying.

More than a special place. I believe there’s a whole separate hell.

Here’s Saint Peter greeting Dante at the pearly gates: “Those nine circles. Spot on. Earned your place. Before you unpack, I have a job for you. The Boss wants specs for sad-dog-story Separate Hell.”

Mitch Albom’s going there. As is the sadist who produced the 2017 movie, A Dog’s Purpose. Homer, who predates Dante, landed in Separate Hell retroactively. Because of Argos who waited for Odysseus’ return for 20 years, recognized his master, then dropped dead without so much as a belly rub.

Given my convictions regarding Separate Hell, it’s been kind of a problem responding to folks who’ve asked me to write about the passing of our dog, Plato.

Upon consideration, I’ve decided it can be done. The secret’s in the formatting.  I’ve flagged all the Sad Stuff, and the other area some find objectionable— the Esoteric Stuff. A reader can pick their poison, so to speak.

Here goes.

About Plato

Plato the Whippet was a preternaturally good dog. Food on the coffee table? Whether sushi or strip steak, gentlemanly Plato eschewed so much as a sniff. Jumping up on people? Shocking! I’m a dog, not a barbarian.

Polite Plato compensated for the dastardly Dalmatian who preceded him. Food anywhere was fair game for Ellie, whether snout-level, counter-top, or snug behind the fridge door, which she could open. Chew targets included chair legs, lipstick tubes, sheetrock, and lightbulbs. Anything with a satisfying crunch and an entertaining human reaction.

Plato’s Medical Issues

Dogs age. And you wait for shoes to drop. Plato the Whippet made it to fourteen and a half with no footwear incidents.

***Sad Stuff Ahead***

In February 2017, I saw a small lump on Plato’s neck. He was diagnosed with lymphoma and given a month to live.

***End of Sad Stuff***

However, I happened to know an alternative vet.

An alternative vet is, obviously, someone who practices alternative medicine on animals. This includes everything from diet, to supplements, to acupuncture. They work hand in hand with your traditional vet. Though some traditional vets think alternative medicine is a load of crap.

Dr. Allen spent 25 years as a traditional vet and then became an early practitioner of alternative medicine for animals. Dr. Allen uses words like “life energy” and “the universe,” which, when I met him, sounded a bit too woo-woo for me.

After he saved my horse’s life, I decided mainstream vocabulary wasn’t my top criterion in a vet.

When Plato got sick, I was pretty sure there was nothing anyone could do. A month to live is a month to live. Nevertheless, I called Dr. Allen.


***Esoteric Stuff Ahead***

Turns out Dr. Allen had some tricks up his new-agey sleeve. With an alternative regimen, he said, Plato’s body could be coaxed from its “pro-cancer energy state” into a “cancer-fighting energy state.”

What did we have to lose?

***End of Esoteric Stuff***

Plato was placed on a regimen of a dozen vitamins and supplements, in addition to a low dose of prednisone. There were pills and powders. Liquids and chews. Plato’s pill boxes had pill boxes. The protocol included diet changes and a pro-biotic shipped overnight in a cooling container. I was given a Gmail address and told to send my order for one substance there. I’m pretty sure I’m now on Jeff Session’s watch list.

Odds Defied 

In the months that followed, both Dr. Allen and Plato’s traditional vet, Dr. Jaime, kept track of his progress.

The terrific Dr. Jaime has an open mind that’s kind of rare in doctors. She performed all Plato’s regular checkups and cheered with each pound he gained. Plato was outliving his one-month prognosis by a year, still going strong.

A Tooth Problem

Then, one Monday in January, Plato appeared for his breakfast with a swelling under his eye. We took him to Dr. Jaime, and she diagnosed a tooth abscess.

***Sad Stuff Ahead***

That’s when the other shoe dropped.

A dental problem? It seemed so ignominious that Plato’s successful cancer battle would be cut short by a bum molar.

But, given his age and overall condition, he was not a candidate for surgery. He might not survive the anesthesia, or the operation. If he did, lymphoma often explodes in the post-surgical state.

And you can’t really live with an abscess growing in your jawbone.

So, Dr. Jaime gave him a big shot of antibiotics to make him comfortable, and we went home to decide what to do.

***End of Sad Stuff***

***But Right into Esoteric Stuff ***

A Conversation

I honestly believe your animals let you know when it’s time. Someone gave me that piece of advice years ago, and I’ve found it to be true.

The elderly sassy-pants Ellie looked at me definitively at the end. Her expression said, “Waiter, bring me my check.”

So, when we got home from the vet with Plato, he and I had a “conversation.” Here’s how it went.

Me: Hey, baby. Are you ready to leave us? 

Plato: You decide, Mama. I trust you.

Me: Seriously, dog. It’s going to be really hard for me if you pass the buck on this.

Plato: Sounds like a personal problem.

Me: You could be in pain again. You know with the tooth? The antibiotics’s gonna wear off. 

Plato: No. That’s not for me.

We both left the conversation satisfied.

Later that evening, my husband and I heard a big crash. I leapt from the bathtub, and he dashed down the hallway. Had the dog collapsed on the floor?

No, he’d vandalized a bowl of snacks sitting on a table, scattering the contents all over the floor.

Hiya, Ellie. Nice of you to show up.

***End of Esoteric Stuff***

We called Dr. Jaime and scheduled her to come to our home on Sunday.

Plato’s Fan Base

Over the intervening three days, we learned the impact Plato had on everyone around him. And how many of those people there were.

I sent a notice to our dog walking service, RuffCity, telling his caregivers they were welcome to stop by.

I had to put a box of tissues in the foyer.

Members of Team Plato trooped in and out, giving hugs, hallmark cards, and ear scratches. One said walking Plato helped her get through her father’s death. Another shared her sister’s recent cancer diagnosis and said sweet dogs like Plato were what kept her together.

We didn’t tell our doormen. Who needs mournful faces first thing in the morning? But that plan went out the window with the parade of sobbing dogwalkers.

“Love ‘ya, buddy!” hailed one staff member as Plato passed through the lobby.

Out on the street, a fellow I didn’t even know walking a King Charles Spaniel made a tear-running-down-face gesture and thumped his hand to his heart.

Our floor-neighbor has an in-home aide. She said, “My husband. He so sad. He say to me, ‘No! It can’t be. Not Plato!’” Plato has never met the husband of our neighbor’s in-home aide.

Saturday evening my friend Sonya stopped by.

“I’m here to sit Shiva.”

Now that’s what I call a friend.

The Details

I’ve been surprised at the number of people inquiring about the details of Plato’s final moments. Kinda like, “What actually happens? Asking for a friend.”

I get it. People wonder about the transition between life and death. We may not be dogs. But we’re all animals, and we’re all heading in the same general direction.

***Sad Stuff Ahead***

Deep breath. Here’s what happened:

Plato lay on the living room rug in one of his favorite spots. He didn’t get up when Dr. Jaime arrived. He wasn’t feeling that great.

My husband and I sat next to him on the floor and said goodbye. We told him what a good dog he had been and how much we loved him, that he was safe, that everything would be fine. We gave him kisses and pets and, after a few minutes, told Dr. Jaime we were ready.

We continued to pet him and talk to him as she injected the anesthesia, Propofol. Plato relaxed into a deep sleep that was a relief to see. It reminded me he was just old, and, while not in pain, had probably been uncomfortable for a while. We said one more goodbye and gave the final OK to Dr. Jaime. She administered the euthanasia drug. With her stethoscope, she listened for his heart to stop.

It is true. You really can tell the moment when a creature’s soul leaves his body. The force that made Plato Plato— it just left, and his body stayed behind.

My husband and I got up and went to the bedroom. No need to be involved in the final logistics. Dr. Jaime and her assistant whisked away Plato’s body for cremation.

And because people ask, nothing icky happened. The vet prepares for any unpredictable bodily fluids, with towels and mats at the ready.

***End of Sad Stuff***

***But right into Esoteric Stuff***


We wept for a while. We went to see our floor-neighbor and told her it was over.

Later, my husband went out for “Plato’s night walk.” When he came back, I asked him how it went.

“He was with me all the way.”

***End of Esoteric Stuff***

A Word about Greek

Greek is a fucking irritating language. You conjugate the nouns.

For example, my husband’s name can have the following forms:

Christos (Χρήστος)

Christo (Χρήστο)

Christou (Χρήστου)

Plato was named thusly because of his Greek dog-father. Also, you gotta admit, it’s a terrific name for a dog.

There’s a phrase in Greek that means, “Have a good trip.” But its depth is really lost in translation. Kaló taxídi conveys everything from “I hope your bus doesn’t break down” to “Best of luck as you embark on your new adventure.”

It seemed eminently appropriate to use this Greek farewell in my Facebook post about Plato’s passing.

Kaló taxídi, Plátonos. (Καλό ταξίδι, Πλάτωνος.)

My husband immediately informed me it should have been,

Kaló taxídi, Plátona. (Καλό ταξίδι, Πλάτωνα.)

There were already 53 comments, so the post could not be edited.

And since nothing ever really disappears from the internet, it felt like I’d misspelled the chiseled epitaph on a gravestone. Rest in Piece, Deerist Muther.

I’m consoled by the fact that Plato was like most first-generation children. His Greek grammar sucked.

Stories About Death—Why and Why Not

I understand why people don’t want to read stories about death. It’s one of those unpleasant but inevitable realities. Like diarrhea. Without doubt, you’ll have to deal with it one day. But that doesn’t mean you want to talk about it all the time.

I also understand why people do want to read stories about death. One reason is very basic—you want to know facts about something you have to face. It’s simple planning and preparation type stuff, to curtail surprises.

I think a good general rule of thumb when euthanizing a dog is the fewer surprises, the better.

Here are some other useful facts about experiencing death of a pet, but which also apply to losing someone dear to you:

  • There is a physical impact to grief. I felt like I had the flu.
  • There’s a heart impact to grief, a tearing-away feeling. Like a getting your legs waxed. But your legs are your soul and your soul is hairy.
  • Humor helps.

So many people regard death as the enemy. The problem with that approach is there’s gonna be one winner. And it ain’t you.

It’s better to make friends with death.

To be clear, I’m not saying good friends. More like what you might have with the mean girl from high school or the ex who really hurt you but is the father of your children. Best to shake hands and come to an understanding. Because there’s no away around it. You’re gonna run into them at that reunion or Thanksgiving dinner.

Helping us make a kind of friends with the Grim Reaper is the important purpose for stories about death. Why else would anyone risk ending up in sad-dog-story Separate Hell?

Photo of Plato provided by author.

Anna Murray is an accomplished author of both fiction and nonfiction. Her creative essays have appeared in Vox, The Reject Pile, Role Reboot, The Satirist, Daily Mail, Soundings Review, Adanna Literary Journal, Piker Press, and the Guardian Witness. Ms. Murray’s recently completed novel is represented by David Black Agency. The Complete Software Project Manager (John Wiley & Sons, 2016), Ms. Murray’s business title, is a top seller in the Amazon business category and has enjoyed great reviews: “This is a technical book that reads like a novel.” Ms. Murray is CEO of emedia, llc., a technology consulting company, and holds B.A. in English from Yale and a M.S. in Journalism from Columbia.

Other Links: