Trigger warning: pet death
“You ready, Benny? You ready for the best day? Huh, buddy?”
Benny’s tail wags so hard I worry he’ll break it again. I laugh and rub his head, smiling at the soft fur between my fingers. It’s hard to believe how coarse and matted it was when I found him huddling behind a dumpster seventeen years ago.
No collar, no chip. No love. It took about five seconds for me to decide to take him home from the vet.
His golden fur’s faded a bit now and he walks slower than Hank, the neighbor’s pet turtle, but nothing could dampen that tail. It hits the car seat with a rhythmic THUMP.
I drive out of the neighborhood and roll down the windows. Benny sticks his head out and I laugh again as his tongue flaps in the wind.
“First stop: breakfast!” I say. He barks in return.
Sam grins when I walk into Lola’s Coffee Shop, Benny waddling beside me. “Is that Benny?” he croons. “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?” He hurries out from behind the barista counter to pat Benny’s head.
I met Sam five years ago when I made Lola’s my go-to for morning stops and self-care treats. He’s a lanky kid who’s put up with far too many of my divorce stories.
“Today’s the best day, isn’t it?” he asks, glancing at me as he scratches behind Benny’s ears.
I nod, my smile tightening, before Sam claps his hands together. “Then it’s time for the best treat!”
He runs back behind the counter and whips up the best pup drink in the area: a cup of peanut butter flavored whip cream, which Benny laps up in the blink of an eye.
Sam kneels and wraps his arms around Benny. “Have a great day, buddy,” he whispers. I give him a hug when he stands again before walking Benny back to the car.
“Next stop: quality time with the best friends.”
The dog park’s empty--it’s a Tuesday afternoon, after all--except for two dogs: a husky and a golden retriever. They bark when Benny enters and waddles over to them.
“Thanks for meeting us, guys,” I say to Christine and Jack, the two owners. We’ve visited the dog park every week together for the past couple years.
“Thank you,” says Christine, slinging her arm around my shoulders. “Bear couldn’t wait to see Benny.”
“Harley whined all morning until we left,” laughs Jack.
We watch the dogs sniff and run after each other for a while until Benny plops to the ground.
“He might be done,” I say, chuckling. I walk over to him and rub his belly. “You good, bud?”
Both Christine and Jack hug Benny before embracing me.
“Call me later, Luce,” Christine whispers in my ear. I nod and hurry back to my car before she can see the tears.
I take a deep breath as I buckle in and look over at Benny, who cocks his head back at me. “You know what’s next, huh, buddy?” THUMP THUMP THUMP. “A surprise! The best surprise.”
I drive back home, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel. For the first time I can remember, I’m driving far below the speed limit.
A car with a man leaning against it waits outside the house. I park, ignoring the sudden pounding in my chest, and look over at Benny. He leans over and nudges my elbow with his nose.
“You ready, bud?” I murmur.
He whines and I take a deep, shaky breath before pulling him out of the car and toward the man.
“Charles?” I ask quietly. He’s wearing a light jacket and a blue backpack slung over his shoulder. He nods and gives me a smile--a genuine, understanding smile.
“That’s me,” he says. “And this must be Benny. Hey there, fella.” Charles bends down and rubs Benny between the ears. Benny’s tongue lolls out of his mouth and his eyes close in pure bliss.
That does it. When Charles stands up again, everything’s blurry.
“Sorry,” I mumble, wiping my eyes.
“Nothing to apologize for. It’s a hard day, Lucy.”
I nod. “Let’s--let’s get started.”
I guide both Charles and Benny to the back yard, littered in Benny’s toys--stuffed rabbits, thick ropes, squeaky balls. Charles busies himself with his bag and I sit cross-legged on the grass.
“Come here, Benny,” I say softly, patting the space in front of me.
Benny plops down facing me, setting his head on my legs. I bend so my forehead touches his.
“You had a good day, today, huh?” I ask. My voice catches and Benny whines.
I sit up straight and press my hands to his furry cheeks, lifting his head so I can look into his eyes. “Well, what's coming next is going to make it the best day.” The tears start to fall. “Because there’s going to be no more pain, buddy. Do you hear that? No more pain.”
His tails thumps against the soft ground.
Charles turns around and sits to the side so he’s next to Benny’s leg. He looks at me, syringe in hand. “You ready, Lucy?”
“Just--just wait,” I say. He prepared that syringe so fast--too fast. “I-I don’t think I can do this. I can’t do this to him.” The tears fall thick and fast now. My throat thickens.
Benny looks at me with those big brown eyes, warm as chocolate, and wags his tail harder than he has all day.
“Lucy,” says Charles in a kind voice. “You’re right. You can’t do this. So I’m going to, and you’re going to hold him the entire time, so he knows he’s surrounded by love.”
“But h-he doesn’t u-understand,” I blubber. “He’ll h-hate me.”
Charles gives me a sad smile. “He won’t hate you. Take a moment.” He clasps his hands in front of his lap patiently.
A couple minutes pass before I find my voice again. “Ok,” I whisper.
The tears blind me. I can’t wipe them away fast enough.
“Let’s make this the very best day for him, Lucy.” Charles reaches over and squeezes my hand.
I take a deep, shaky breath and wrap my arms around Benny, twisting my fingers in his fur. He leans his head into my shoulder.
“The best day.” I tilt my head and nod at Charles, who gently sticks the syringe in Benny’s leg.
It doesn’t take long. I can feel it--the body stilling, slowing. I lean back and stare into Benny’s eyes; his eyelids droop and his tail follows suit, drifting to the grass. He lowers his head into my lap as he takes his last breath.
He looks so different from that tiny thing I found behind the dumpster seventeen years ago. His fur’s grayed, but it’s smooth and soft.
And he doesn’t look scared--he looks strong. Peaceful.