An obituary for our dog Domino

Putting an old dog to sleep is one of life’s most wrenching experiences

A favorite topic of internet clickbaits are tear-jerker stories of animals—blind, lame, abandoned or in some other dire predicament—that are rescued into a forever home and live happily ever after. Our dog Domino, approximately 14 years old, didn’t quite follow that script, but we grew to love him anyway, right up to the end.

Stew found Domino, who got his name for his motley black spots, cowering at the back of a cage at the local animal shelter. His apparent fear of people may have explained why he hadn’t been adopted after a year or so at the shelter.

Our friend Lynn, who volunteered at the shelter, had taught Domino the only two tricks he would ever know—to sit and shake paw—but Domino was never to be comfortable around people, or win any canine IQ contests, for that matter.

Yet, Domino’s shortcomings were exactly what attracted Stew: to adopt a seemingly unadoptable animal that would be euthanized or spend the rest of his life at a kennel. So he took Domino home.

It was pouring rain but rather than go in the garage or seek some shelter, Domino dashed away to some corner of the ranch where he hid for an entire night. Next morning we couldn’t find him and Lynn had to come over and help us find him, shivering and sopping wet.

It would take a few months before Domino would hang out and play with our other dogs, or even get to trust us, but he never got used to other people. He would invariably greet our housekeeper Rocio, whom he saw twice a week for ten years, with a round of menacing barks as if she were a complete stranger.

We attributed Domino’s behavior to some post-traumatic reaction to something that happened to him at the shelter or even before that. I’ve come to believe animals are not purely instinct-driven, that they process events, good or bad, and remember them.

Despite his problems, Domino eventually endeared himself to us and to Félix our former gardener, who used to say the dog was “loco.” We would take Domino in the car or truck, which Domino enjoyed thoroughly and on morning, off-the-leash walks. In fact, he learned a couple of other calls: “Hey, let’s go in the car!,” or “Let’s go home!” when we were walking. We got to love Domino loco or not.

We had adopted another stray dog that we named Gladys, which apparently had fled from a previous owner who had mistreated her—we found her with a piece of wire around her neck. Like Domino, Gladys initially would only trust us and our other dogs, but she eventually turned the corner with people and became anyone’s idea of a perfect pet. But not Domino.

About two months ago, Domino developed what looked like tumors on his belly and on the inside of his right rear leg. Visits to two different vets confirmed he had an incurable skin cancer, so now it was a matter of waiting for Domino’s end—and for us to decide when to “put him sleep”.

You hear that animals are euthanized to “put them out of their misery,” in effect, as an act of kindness. But it’s never that easy or clear, not for Stew or me, anyway.

The vet, Dr. Vazquez, a compassionate man who seems as hesitant and pained to euthanize an animal as if it were his own pet, counseled us to just watch Domino, who would “let us know” when it was time for him to go.

In fact, I realize that to euthanize an animal may be an act of mercy but also of courage on the owner’s part, who may want to avoid that awful decision.

Domino didn’t make it easy. Despite his tumors, which obviously bothered him, he kept eating normally and running around the yard with the other dogs. So we waited for the signal for two or three more weeks.

It came this morning when he turned morose and would not get out of his bed. When Stew said “Let’s go in the car!” Domino did not respond—did he know this would be his last trip with us?—so we had to bring him out on a leash and help him get in our pickup. At the vet’s office parking lot, he wouldn’t get out.

I decided to keep Domino company until the end. Gutless wonder that I can be, I had often left that task to Stew or dropped off the animal as if it were a something to be disposed of. An animal that has greeted you every morning, tail wagging, deserved a final good-bye pat on the head.

Amid tears, and hugs from the vet and his assistant Gustavo, Domino’s end was surprisingly brief, maybe a few minutes, and most of all painless.

16 thoughts on “An obituary for our dog Domino

  1. Barbara Lane

    Oh I’m so sorry. It’s awful, isn’t it? I had to do this 3 weeks ago with my beloved Pea, who was 16 and had cancer. I’m still not over it. I just can’t bear to see where her beds (in every room) used to be, where her dishes were, and have no idea how to deal with the time of our morning and nightly routines. I understand your heartache. I do. For it’s mine as well. Hugs to you both.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand your feeling of loss, that something is missing, For years our dogs had a routine of lying on their cushions while we watched TV, Last night I noticed one cushion was missing, and it made me sad all over again.


  2. That’s so sad. I remember euthanizing my last two pets, with my ex. We stayed with them through the end, but it was sad, and we left with tears in our eyes.

    My deepest condolences to you both. I know this is an emotionally wrenching situation.


    Kim G

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, it’s a wrenching experience, no matter how many times you go through it, or how quickly it’s all over nowadays. It only took five minutes and I am sure Domino didn’t feel any pain, but still… Thanks for your thoughts.


  3. Al & Stew,
    Our pets become such an important part our families. Sorry to learn of Domino’s passing but as you mentioned, sometimes it is essential to relieve their suffering. I am sure he passed knowing that he was loved after many years sharing his life with the two of you. Fred and Ron

    Liked by 1 person

  4. babsofsanmiguel

    Well, I was sobbing yesterday when I read your post.  I am better now!I hope ya’ll are as well. I am having an issue with WordPress as to being able to post.  My computerguy is coming tomorrow and hopefully he can help me on that issue. Also, hopefully you get this message!  Did I tell you that I found a place to moveto about six blocks from here.  It will be a move mid-October to the first of November.Place is much smaller then this!  Oy vey Hugs! Barbara San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

    415 124-9450 Mx Cell 713 589-2721 Vonage

    “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”                                            Helen Keller

    Liked by 1 person

  5. othmarsingen

    I am so sorry. A beloved pet truly becomes a part of the family, and its passing is just as painful as losing a relative.
    My condolences,
    Bill Felinski


    1. Yes it was painful, and thank you for your condolences. BTW we’re going to be in Mexico City from Monday through Thursday of next week. If you are around, I’d love to meet you and your partner for coffee, lunch or whatever. My Mexican phone is 415-114-7914, if it’s possible to connect. Al


  6. Dear Barbara: Your posts seem to come through loud and clear. Sorry you have to move from your beautiful home, that we so much admired. Let me know when you’re settled and we’ll come by with a housewarming something. As far as sobbing, I’m glad you weren’t around when we put Domino to sleep. Dr. Vazquez, a most kind man, and his assistant, Gustavo, were all broken up even though I’m sure they’d gone through this experience many times before.



  7. Knute

    Stew and Al: When I motorcycled down to San M maybe 12 years ago now and stayed at your house while you guys were off touring the world I have to say that of the dogs in your pack at the time Domino might have been my favorite.
    I referred to him as a Chucklehead and a Nucklebone.
    How else could you describe a dog that would run with full speed abandon down to your gate in a blinding cloud of dust to bark and show who’s the boss to the stray dogs waiting to be fed on the other side of the gate. He had an effervescensce for life that couldn’t be constrained. His antics put a smile on my face everyday. Have to say his passing put major tears in the eyes today.
    He will be missed for sure. I only wish Judy could have met this crazy character. Knute


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