Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Executioner’s Song

If you have a dog it will get old, and after that it will get really old and you’ll find yourself in the funny position of having your dog “put down.”

Today is not like the old days when a flea-ridden hound would eventually crawl under the front porch, expire, and hopefully not make too much of an aroma about it. Or back when dogs roamed in packs, and when it came time the healthy canines would place sick, elderly dogs on small icebergs and let them float out to sea. I read that somewhere.

But now we’re deep into a civilized era, and when your dog can barely walk, sleeps 23 hours a day and looks like a ragged, poorly stuffed imitation of the dog you used to know, but that had a lot less white around the muzzle, it will be time for you to make a call.

It will be time for you to hire a hitman.

I’m sorry. I meant an individual licensed by the state who is qualified to put a dog, cat, or maybe even a goldfish or parakeet, “to sleep.” Otherwise known as a veterinarian. It might be easier using the Mafia.

You of course talk it over with your spousal unit or a friend before making the call to the vet. Then every time you get near the phone you stop, take a deep breath, and decide you have to talk about it some more.

Because here’s the deal: This might be the only time you will ever be invested with the powers of terminating a life. In years past you might have found your goldfish floating in his bowl or your parakeet still warm on the bottom his cage.

Oh well. Them’s the breaks. Down the toidy for Mister Finny, and out behind the garage with a trowel for Tweety Pie.

Your dog is different. Your dog isn’t a hamster. Your dog doesn’t roam in a pack, and you don’t have a front porch with a dusty crawl space under it. You have to select a time and date for your dog’s execution. That makes you Grand Lord Omnipotent, Decider of Fates, Executioner of Dogs.

So you talk some more. This involves weighing pros vs. cons, the sweet sentiments vs. harsh realities. You and your confidante want the same thing, but it keeps changing, because Look!! Look how alert she is and how happy she is to get a handful of crunchies!

With those encouraging noises your dog attempts to stand but she no longer has four usable legs and tries to get up with two. The result is a broken pile of exhausted dog splayed out on the linoleum. Maybe it is time.

By now the dog is beyond the reach of pain medications, water therapy and other gimmicks like acupuncture or complicated CBD potions recommended by vegetarians. By now you have begun to take serious stock of the predicament poor Chipper finds himself in. Which, in a word or two is Old Age, and is irreversible, incontestable and moving fast. Your dog is going to die, and it’s up to you to make the call that is best for the poor beast.

So you make the phone call. The vet asks when you want to do this, and what are you supposed to say? Tomorrow? A month? Morning of the 14th?

Doctor Vet says no, that day’s booked, so another date gets suggested but your wife has to be out of town that day so you decide you’ll have to call back and when you put down the phone your armpits are soaking wet and you need a drink.

So it’s weird, picking out the right time to kill a dog who has brought so much happiness and comfort to you through the years. And your still-sentient dog also wonders, thinks this is my payback? For trusting you over the last dozen years? Swell friend you are.

You put off calling the vet back. Maybe the dog will get better you tell yourself, or maybe even cured, but that’s no more likely than Joe Biden getting better or cured.

On the appointed day the vet shows up with an assistant. You cannot possibly be prepared for Marmaduke to be dead in 15 minutes. The governor won’t call because you’re the only one with the power to pardon, and that hurdle was cleared weeks ago.

How do you bid farewell to a best friend over the next 12 minutes? A process that seemed to be stretching out far too long is suddenly collapsing around your ears, and a frantic feeling dawns that it’s you abandoning your dog, not the other way around.

But Buttercup, who just weeks ago would at least have warned you with a bark or two that the vet was tapping at the door, now lies silent on the floor like a bearskin rug at a ski lodge.

If you’ve got a dog this is coming your way. Your dog is getting old. Next it will get really old.

I hope you enjoy your role as Grand Omnipotent Executioner.


  1. Irv Sutley June 28, 2022

    Better read than even the Gary Gilmore edition which came out from the Salt Lake City PRESS

  2. James Luther June 30, 2022

    Tommy’s brave piece makes me think of Kipling’s

    The Power of the Dog

    There is sorrow enough in the natural way
    From men and women to fill our day;
    And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
    Why do we always arrange for more?
    Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
    Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

    Buy a pup and your money will buy
    Love unflinching that cannot lie—
    Perfect passion and worship fed
    By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
    Nevertheless it is hardly fair
    To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

    When the fourteen years which Nature permits
    Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
    And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
    To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
    Then you will find—it’s your own affair—
    But… you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

    When the body that lived at your single will,
    With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).
    When the spirit that answered your every mood
    Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,
    You will discover how much you care,
    And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

    We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
    When it comes to burying Christian clay.
    Our loves are not given, but only lent,
    At compound interest of cent per cent.
    Though it is not always the case, I believe,
    That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve:
    For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
    A short-time loan is as bad as a long—
    So why in—Heaven (before we are there)
    Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

    — Rudyard Kipling

    • Bruce McEwen June 30, 2022

      Holly Tannen could set that to music

Leave a Reply to James Luther Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.