Tears for Sheila

Tears for Sheila

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Tears for Sheila

It was a regular, busy afternoon at the vet clinic where I worked as a vet tech. The morning surgeries, spays and some dental cleanings were finished, and we were now taking care of afternoon appointments. Some puppy shots here, suture removal there, itchy skin in room three. I moved along to the sound of dogs barking, doors shutting and the wobbly centrifuge finishing a cycle.

As I drew up a rabies vaccination for a beagle puppy, one of the receptionists came out of an exam room and handed me a file, saying in a low voice, “It’s a Labrador in for euthanasia. The owner wants it done in his vehicle, because the dog is large and it’ll be hard for him to carry her out afterward.”

“Sheila, nine years old, cancer found in June, inoperable,” I murmured to myself as I flipped through the file before setting it down. And here it was October. The Lab had lived four months longer than I would have expected. Usually cancer takes its toll very quickly.

I finished with the little beagle’s shot, soothed the puppy and the nervous owner a bit, and then slipped to the back of the clinic to find the technician who had been there the longest. I knew she would have some information on the Labrador.

“Doc told him in June that Sheila had cancer. She had a lump on the back of her neck that he brought in to have Doc check, and it turned out to be carcinoma,” she told me as she drew up the pale-pink fluid for the euthanasia and handed it to me. “She wasn’t suffering and he wasn’t ready to put her to sleep then, but now he’s had four months to prepare.”

I gathered up the syringe and some alcohol swabs and went to find the doctor. I explained to him that we would be performing the euthanasia outside, and we walked outside the clinic together.

Sheila’s owner, a burly man named Mike, had parked his pickup under some shade trees on the far side of the parking lot. As we approached, I saw that Sheila was in the back, lying behind the cab, her head resting on her front paws. At one time, she had been a beautiful chocolate Lab. Now the cancer had dulled her magnificent coat to a dusty brown. Her sad brown eyes were half-closed, and she sighed deeply as we walked up to her. Sheila had been to the vet many times, and I’m sure she expected that some sort of painful test or needle sting was coming.

As I prepared the syringe for the doctor, Mike called softly to her, “Come on, Sheila. Come here, girl.”

My eyes welled up with tears as I saw her struggle to rise. That Sheila was in a lot of pain was obvious. When she finally managed to climb to her feet, I saw the cancerous lump. It stuck out grossly from the back of Sheila’s neck, larger than a grapefruit.

“Come on, Sheila,” the man called softly again. With nothing but trust and love in her tired brown eyes, Sheila hobbled over to the three of us at the tailgate of the pickup. As Mike lowered the tailgate, he said softly, “It’s been real hard for her these past three days. Her neck is bothering her pretty badly, and she can’t eat or sleep. I guess I knew it was her time.” He gently cupped the big dog’s face in his hands and slowly stroked the graying brown muzzle.

Doc quietly asked Mike if he was ready.

“Yes. Go ahead,” came the whispered reply.

At Doc’s imperceptible nod, I carefully picked up Sheila’s front leg and applied light pressure. Sheila’s eyes never left Mike’s face, even as Doc deftly slid the needle into her vein. After only a few cubic centimeters of the fluid had been injected, I helped Sheila lay down as the drug began to take effect. With one final glance at her dear friend’s face, Sheila’s sweet brown eyes closed for the last time. The last of the injection in her bloodstream, Sheila slipped away, Mike’s hand on her grizzled head.

Slipping the needle out of Sheila’s leg, Doc handed it to me and pulled his stethoscope from around his neck. After listening intently for several minutes, Doc turned to Mike and uttered just one sentence: “She went very peacefully.”

The man simply nodded, his head down. I could see the tears streaming down his face.

I gathered up the items we had used as Doc walked back into the office. I lingered for a moment, wanting to say something, anything, to comfort the grieving man. I wanted to say, “Sheila was beautiful. She was so brave and strong to have fought this cancer for so long. I could see how much she loved you. I could see it in her eyes, the way she trusted you.”

In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to say any of that. Putting a hand on his shoulder, I whispered, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

He didn’t move or respond, and his eyes never left Sheila. There was nothing I could have said that he didn’t already know—how wonderful Sheila was in life, and how dignified she was in death.

As I walked into the building, I stole one last glance at him. The sun glinted off the tears pouring down his face as he sat on the tailgate of the truck, his hand methodically stroking Sheila’s still body.

I let the door close softly behind me, wiped my own eyes and slowly made my way to the front of the clinic. My heart ached for quite a while as I went about my tasks. I’ve been through many such scenes, but it never gets any easier. There’s no question: love hurts. Still, I felt grateful— and honored—to have been in its presence.

Laurie MacKillip

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