I lost a little—or maybe not so little—piece of my heart this week. Our sweet older pug, Luna, passed away. Or, as they say, she crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
It’s not as if it was a surprise—she has been going downhill pretty quickly for the past few months, and we knew it was coming. But it still broke my heart. And I feel almost guilty grieving a dog when there is such loss and tragedy going on in the world right now, but the simple fact is, when you love a pet, it’s a very pure, uncomplicated love…and it hurts when they die.
I got Luna when I was twenty-nine years old. I had an older dog, Bitsy, but at age eight she was slowing down. I had just quit my job, gone full-time freelance, and decided to go back to graduate school. I knew I’d be home a lot—studying and working—so it seemed like a good idea to get a dog. And honestly, I needed something to love.
At that point in my life, I had given up the idea of ever finding a significant other. (Roll your eyes all you want at the naïve twenty-nine-year-old, but I had never even had a boyfriend. I had only had a couple of dates in my life, and not a single member of the opposite sex had so much as looked at me in fourteen years. So finding a life partner didn’t seem likely.) And honestly, life was pretty darn good—but I needed something to love. I had my older dog, of course, but I had more love to give.
And so, I started researching dog breeds. I wanted a small dog, and I wanted one that would be good with children, because I hoped that in the dog’s lifetime, I would adopt a child. I was taken with pugs, the clowns of the canine world. They were reportedly funny little jesters who loved to make their owners laugh. They didn’t require much room to roam, and they were known as good apartment dogs. Best of all, they were reportedly terrific with children.
And so, I answered an ad in the paper—this was back in the days when ads in the newspaper were common!—and I drove out to Stockton to see the puppies a family was offering. The husband and wife took me out to their garage, and there was a box of squirming pug puppies. Honestly, I don’t even know if Luna is the one I originally chose! I pointed to one and chose it, but then the mass of four pug puppies started wiggling like only pug puppies can, and the next thing I knew it was impossible to tell which one was my puppy. So I grabbed Luna—the one I thought might be the one I had chosen. But really, it didn’t matter—she was a female, and that was my only requirement.
I named her Luna after Luna Lovegood, my favorite character in the Harry Potter series. Luna Lovegood was a dreamy, sweet little witch, and somehow the named just seemed perfect for a dreamy, sweet little pug.
I took her home and learned what they don’t tell you about pug puppies—they are extremely hyper!! They look like little chubby sloths, but they’re not. They have a ton of energy! My god, that puppy exhausted me! I had grown up with dogs and puppies and so wasn’t unfamiliar with puppy energy—but Luna had more energy than any puppy we’d ever had!
Pugs are also notoriously hard to train, and Luna proved that one true. After a few weeks, I was completely frazzled when I took her to my mom’s house to drop her off. I’d had a trip to Seattle planned to visit my best friend, and my mom had said she’d watch the puppy for the weekend. “Give her to me for a couple of days,” she said. “Dogs tend to listen to me.” The subtext was “I’m sure I can train this dog even though you clearly can’t.” And I was mostly relieved but also slightly miffed that my mom apparently had no faith in my pet-owner abilities. (Sorry, Mom! But hey, you raised me to be honest!)
So when I returned a couple of days later and my mom answered the door looking very harried, I admit that I was secretly vindicated. And when she thrust the dog crate with a thrashing Luna in it at me and said, “Here! Take her! I can’t do anything with her!” I admit that I laughed and said, “HA! It’s not just me!”
But the thing about that psycho little puppy is, she adored me. She was hyper and impossible to train, but she was also a devoted friend who, when she finally wore herself out, would curl up on my chest and snore loudly. I was smitten.
Luna eventually did get trained—it just took time. And she was a wonderful pet, even though she remained very hyper for several years. I met Chris when Luna was eighteen months old, and he remembers how when he’d come over, she would race around and around my living room in wild circles. He had never seen anything like it, and he thought she was hilarious!
Back in those early days of dating, Chris came over for dinner a few times, and I had no kitchen table, so we would sit on the floor of my house with our plates in our laps, eating dinner. To keep Luna from getting in our face—pugs are very food motivated; I can relate to that!—I would put peanut butter in a supposedly indestructible Kong toy and give it to her. She put an end to the idea that these were indestructible, though, and I would pick up rubber Kong pieces all over the house.
Only problem was, it turned out they were not just all over the house. By that time, Luna had mellowed enough that my mom was willing to babysit her again, and I went off to Eastern Europe for a vacation with my aunt. While I was gone, Luna apparently got very sick, and my mom took her in for surgery. She didn’t tell me this while I was gone because she didn’t want to ruin my trip, but when I returned home she gave me the full story: Apparently Luna had eaten large pieces of four Kong toys, and they had lodged in her stomach. A thousand dollars later, she was a new pug. (One who didn’t get Kongs anymore!)
That was her second surgery—her first one being a routine spaying when she was six months old. But the third surgery was soon to follow. About a year later, when Chris and I moved in together, Luna started having accidents, and I took her to the vet. Turned out she was making bladder stones, and they had to be surgically removed. Once again, the pug came through like a trooper, but I had to take her for bloodwork every six months thereafter, because the type of stones they removed were the ones that dogs can manufacture again and again over their lifetime.
By this point, Luna was pretty much gold-plated in terms of vet costs. But she was ever my faithful and funny companion. I remember once, shortly after Chris and I moved in together, I said, “Luna’s so smart!” for some reason. I don’t even remember why, but Chris replied, “Is that why she’s licking the wall right now?” I turned to see that she was indeed licking the wall for no particular reason, quite happily.
Next came our house purchase, wedding, and Theo—all within about a year. As always, Luna was by my side. When I brought infant Theo home, she would sit on the floor right next to him, guarding him from Bitsy, our other dog. Bitsy would’ve never hurt him either, but Luna saw herself as his protector, and she took her job very seriously.
The same thing happened when we brought Sam home. Luna wedged herself right next to him and made sure Zoe didn’t get near him. And as with Bitsy, Zoe would’ve never hurt him—but Luna just wanted to make sure her baby was protected!
Luna had one very nasty habit that I hated—like a lot of dogs, she ate her own poop if given the chance. I share this here for one reason—and it’s not to gross you out. It’s because my attempts over the years to break her of that habit failed every single time. One time I even tried putting Tabasco sauce on her poop—which, let me tell you, felt very odd; I’m not in the habit of applying condiments to fecal matter! She just licked it and looked at me with disgust, as if to say, “You ruined a perfectly good snack!”
But all grossness aside, it was the poop-eating that led to her fourth major surgery. Last year, I got fed up with the poop-eating (for the millionth time), and I went outside and cleaned up every single nugget I could find. “There! No more poop-eating!” I said. Luna decided to get even with me by promptly eating an apricot that had fallen from our tree—pit and all. And much like those Kong pieces so many years ago, the apricot pit lodged in her gut. I thought the vet would advise us to put her to sleep rather than do surgery, given her advanced age (she was eleven already!), but they checked her over and said that other than the pit, she was in great shape and would likely have a few more years after surgery. So we shelled out $2,000 and did it. (By this point, she had long since reached five figures in terms of cost, so we began to refer to her as platinum-plated—clearly she had long since surpassed the value of gold!)
She bounced back amazingly well…until she contracted MRSA (antibiotic-resistant staph infection) within a few weeks after her surgery. That was a rough one on her, and she never really fully bounced back from it. She recovered, but it slowed her way down.
In August, we noticed her back leg starting to wobble kind of strangely. The pet sitter suggested we take her to the vet, so we did. Arthritis, they said. We put her on medication. But the limping kept getting worse. When we moved into this house in April, she would still run up and down the stairs by her own choosing. But then she stopped coming down the stairs on her own—she’d just stand at the top and whine. She went up just fine, but she wouldn’t come down. And her footing seemed to be getting worse—her legs would give out on any surface, whereas before it had just been on the slippery downstairs floor.
I took her to another vet for a second opinion. They looked at her X-rays and said the first vet had missed a collapsed disc, and by this point it was really too late to do anything medically. Surgery was possible but not really recommended given her age, and I agreed—I would not put her through yet another one.
So, they told me that she wasn’t in any pain, and we should just continue to help her where needed. They advised me that when she could no longer get herself to the bathroom, that was the time when I would want to think about putting her down.
Within the past two months, Luna stopped going up the stairs, too. And then she stopped getting off her bed to walk over to my chair much. She’d do it sometimes, but not often. And her hind legs gave out under her all the time.
Then we got the kittens, and Luna got a new lease on life for a short time. She would run through the house, pulling herself on her front legs when her hind legs wouldn’t cooperate, and chase the kittens. And she looked so happy doing it—wagging her tail and “smiling” as pugs do. But you could tell it took a toll on her. After a while of chasing, she would plop down, exhausted.
She had a couple of accidents, and we wondered if we just hadn’t let her out enough. But on Tuesday night, when I knew she had been out not long before, I suddenly looked down to find pee all over my kitchen floor…and Luna sitting in it, holding herself up on her front legs with her back legs laying uselessly in the pee, and looking so sad and ashamed. I looked at her and wondered if I was wrong—could it be water and not urine? We have dark floors, so all I could tell was that it was liquid. But then I pet her and felt it all over her back end, and I knew. It was urine. She had wet in the house and couldn’t get herself up out of it.
For a minute I wanted to just clean it up and pretend it hadn’t happened. I wasn’t ready—even though I had known this was coming, I thought she had a few more good weeks left, or maybe even a few months. But I looked at my sad-eyed, sweet girl, and I knew. I couldn’t do that to her. I couldn’t let her live with no dignity just because I would miss her. I couldn’t treat a faithful friend that way.
And so I wiped up the pee, gathered her in my arms, and bawled my eyes out. I called the vet and choked out that I needed to bring her in for euthanasia. I got an appointment for a couple of hours later, to give us time to say goodbye. And I just sat and held her and cried. Theo said goodbye; he brought the kittens to say goodbye. Chris, who never cries, cried. And I cried so hard I thought I would throw up.
We gave her some chicken as a final treat—she hasn’t gotten table food in years, so she was ecstatic. And then I took her to the vet.
I held her as she went, just as I had Bitsy when it was her time. I couldn’t let her go alone…I just couldn’t. I held her, wrapped in a warm blanket, and I sobbed as I saw the vet prepare the injection. Luna looked up and me and licked a tear off my cheek, which made me cry all the harder.
And then I said goodbye to my sweet friend as the vet administered the injections. She fell into a deep sleep, and then seconds later…peace. There was no pain; only peace. My sweet, sweet girl was gone.
I know it might seem silly to be so morose over a dog, but my god, I loved that dog. I love all animals, but Luna had a special place in my heart. Dog lovers know you always love your dogs…but sometimes there’s an extra-special one. Luna was an extra-special one.
Luna, my sweet, silly girl, thank you for twelve and a half years of love and laughter. I hope I gave you a happy life, because you certainly gave me happiness.