I laid there on my side, eyes fixed on the alarm clock by my bed. Cold sweat trickled across my forehead. I don’t know how long I had been awake. I found it harder to keep track of time as the minutes ticked by.
Finally, deciding that my alarm wasn’t worth the time staring at, I turned over to face the other side. Customarily, I expected to be greeted by the smiling face of Axel. I had grown used to the way he would try to reassure me, convince me that I was going to be fine.
However, all I saw was an empty bed and a fluffed up pillow. I panicked for a second and blood began pounding in my ears. I frantically searched the room until my gaze fell upon the door, and then it dawned on me.
I had insisted on sleeping alone earlier that night. The guilt had been too much to bear.
I yelped loudly, startled by the sudden interruption. I gritted my teeth and ignored the temptation to pick up the alarm and smash it against the wall.
Of course, now it decides to ring.
I sat there, tangled in my comforter for a moment. I so badly wanted to curl up into a ball and hide beneath the sheets, but I had to keep the promise I had made to myself. I could not procrastinate any longer. It had to be today.
I glanced at the clock. It was almost 6 am. I sighed . Might as well get my day started, I thought.
Although I tried getting dressed as fast as I could, it still took me almost an hour. The melancholy that hung in the air didn’t help either. I felt like I was getting dressed for a funeral. I considered combing my dishevelled hair, but then decided against it. Being a woman in her mid- 60s with Alzheimer’s, I really didn’t care what I looked like. Even the wrinkles or the liver spots on the back of my hands didn’t affect me. I had learned to embrace it.
I headed towards the door and opened it. Before I could even blink, a huge mass of fur tackled me, throwing me off my balance. I groaned, my muscles aching from the sudden shock, but I quickly got over it.
“Good morning to you as well Axel,” I laughed, petting his golden fur. The retriever began licking me all over, clearly thrilled to see me. He dropped his beloved green ball in my lap and shuffled back. I stared at him, amused.
“You really waited out here for me to play fetch with you?” I asked, to which he replied with a bark that clearly stated Yes...now get on with it.... I smiled and threw the ball. I steadied myself against the doorframe and got up by the time Axel returned with his prize.
“Good boy,” I muttered, heading towards the pantry.
I poured the kibble into a bowl and got myself some cereal. After a quick meal, I decided it was time.
“Hey buddy...what do you say ‘bout a drive around the neighbourhood?” I asked, crouching down. Axel studied me for a moment and then nuzzled me excitedly. I laughed again. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
I grabbed my keys off the wall and attached a leash onto Axel’s collar. He rushed out as soon as I’d opened the door. Before stepping out, I glanced at the room one last time. I remembered so vividly the day I had adopted Axel. If only I had known about my condition then. I looked away as my eyes started to well up.
I shut the door and headed out.
It was snowing, as it had been for the past few days. The flakes glistening off the trees and falling from the clouds made the view look beautiful. I just wish I could enjoy it.
“Lovely morning huh, Erin?” greeted Mr. Smith, my next door neighbour.
I sighed. “Wish I could say the same, Harold...”
I unlocked my car and got in, followed by an enthusiastic Axel. I backed out of the garage and onto the open road. I drove for a while until I remembered about Axel beside me.
I gathered my nerves and said, “ Hey um... we - we need to talk”.
He turned and looked directly at me, which just made it more difficult to speak. Still, I continued.
“You know how things have been the past few months. Bud, I - ” I choked up. “I don’t think -”
Suddenly, all the cars ahead me came to a stop and began honking. I stretched to see what the commotion was about, but the cars had already dispersed by then.
Probably a goose, I thought. They were all over the town this time of the year.
I sat back. “Well um... anyway,” I started, only to be interrupted by Axel’s loud barking.
“What’s up with you?” I asked, slightly annoyed. Then I saw the geese flying by the car.
“Seriously, can we not have a nice conversation?” I asked, but he completely ignored me, still occupied with the geese.
“Fine then...” I muttered under my breath.
I drove for a while, until the buildings weren’t all that familiar anymore. Axel noticed it too. He began growling softly.
“It’s fine,” I assured him. “We’re.... gonna see someone”.
I searched for my inhaler, but I realised I’d forgotten it. Again. I tensed up, but took deep breaths to calm myself down.
Finally, the buildings started looking familiar. I slowed down and came to a halt a little way down a small grey building.
I leaned back, my breathing slightly ragged.
“Hey, Axel, you know I love you right?” I asked, my voice cracking.
He came over by my side and butted me with his head. I smiled sadly.
“Yeah, you’re a good boy,” I said, kissing his snout. I got out of the car with Axel at my heel and headed towards the building.
“Good Morning! Welcome to the Animal Shelter," said the receptionist, grinning. “Are you here to adopt a pet? We have - “
“Actually...” I stammered, “I’m here to... I’m here to leave mine.”
The young man stared at me, and then looked down, noticing Axel for the first time. He immediately stiffened up and the friendliness from his face disappeared.
“Well then, do you have any specific reason?”
A tear traced down my cheek.
“I- ... I can’t take care of him anymore,” I answered, ashamed.
The man pulled out a form and asked me a few details, while Axel circled my legs, still unaware of what was happening.
“Does your dog have any special conditions or any disease?” the man asked.
“No... Just me,” I answered.
The man looked at me, a hint of pity on his face, but then went back to the form.
“Follow me ma’am,” he said, finishing up and walking towards a door. The moment he opened it, the whole room got filled with the racket of animal noises.
Axel instantly jerked up and began barking. He tried running the other way but I pulled his leash, refraining him.
“Come on buddy,” I muttered, gathering him up in my arms. I carried him into the room to a desolate corner, where a young girl was waiting for me. Axel whimpered in my arms, trying to get away. I guess he finally realized what was going on.
The girl held open the door to the cage and I went in. The moment I set Axel down, he tried to make a run but I locked the door behind me. He began barking loudly, growling at the girl on the other side of the cage.
“I’ll um... give you both a moment alone...” she said, and then hastily left the room. I turned my attention back to Axel.
“Hey buddy, listen to me...” I tried, but I couldn’t get his attention. He was still trying to escape my grasp.
“Axel!” I yelled loudly.
He looked at me, shocked by my tone, and then began whimpering.
I immediately felt terrible. I slowly approached him and petted his head.
“Hey, I’m Sorry. I didn’t mean to yell. But you have to hear me out," I said.
“You know I’m not well, Bud. I am not capable of taking care of you anymore, and I don’t have anyone else who would take care of you either. This – ” I choked. “this is the only option left.”
I looked at him but he simply nudged me with his head, asking me to pet him.
“You’re not understanding a word I am saying, are you?”
The door suddenly opened and the girl appeared again. “Ma’am, are you – ”she began, but I interrupted her.
“Can I have 5 minutes? I just want to say goodbye,” I asked, but it sounded more like a rude demand.
The girl blushed. “Oh, sure I ... I’m sorry.” she stuttered and left.
Axel whimpered again, begging me to take him along. I let out a sob and kissed his head.
“I am sorry boy. But this is what’s best for you. They’ll take care of you here,” I said.
I pulled out his green ball from my coat pocket and stared at it.
Axel immediately noticed it, drooling slightly.
“You – you want it?” I asked softly. “Here.”
I tossed the ball to the far end of the cage and Axel dashed off to fetch it. I used that opportunity to slip out of the cage.
I locked it and walked away.
I didn’t dare look back. I knew I couldn’t handle it.
The girl was waiting for me at the door.
“We’ll make sure he gets a good home, ma’am,” She tried to reassure me, but I knew that was a lie. Sure, Axel would bark excitedly and wag his tail at every visitor who walked by, but who would want a dog that’s already 12 years old?
But at least here no one will forget to feed him.
The girl walked away and I was left alone. I was so heartbroken and overwhelmed with emotions, I wanted to die right there.
I debated looking back. I knew I shouldn’t, but I just couldn’t stop myself.
I turned to say goodbye, and the last thing I remember seeing before I broke down was Axel, looking straight at me with his green ball in his mouth, waiting for me to come back and fetch him.