This is the story of how I went on a date, and the date’s dog had to be put down, and I never called the date back. Up to now, this story has remained one told when slightly inebriated and trying to get a laugh.
Let’s back up a bit. This was the summer before I left for college, and I’d recently been unceremoniously broken up with. It was long overdue, mind you, but the timing — two days before prom — pretty much stung like hell. As a result of my heartache, I took to going to the gym, kicking my own butt, and becoming a Canadian equivalent of GI Jane (the shaved head is a story for another time). I was a size zero, about to leave town for school on the East Coast, and heading out dancing with friends. I wanted nothing more than one last fun summer before hitting the books again.
I don’t remember how I met Jared (not his real name), but we ended up going on a couple of dates: pretty casual stuff, a coffee here, a drink there. A couple of weeks after we started hanging out, he told me that he had to housesit, and would it be okay if he made me dinner and we could watch movies? Seemed like a perfectly romantic and normal thing to do, so I said yes.
On date night I arrived at the door, rang the doorbell, and a huge HARUMPH greeted my ears, followed by the lumbering gallop of a pony, then an earth-rattling thump of a large dog skidding out on hardwood and hitting a wall. Jared opened the door and sheepishly mentioned that he was dog-sitting for his friend as well, and politely held the docile beast back as I took my shoes off.
For the record, I am a dog lover, though my immune system often stands in the way. Unless the animal is perfectly groomed or is a breed known for its hypoallergenic properties, I develop massive welts if a canine even looks my way. To be clear: I LOVE DOGS. But the second a slobbering sack of adorable gets within a few feet of me, I start wheezing and swell up a couple of sizes.
The oversized dog — we’ll call him Bear — was a kind if rambunctious soul, an aged gent of a dog with white whiskers freckling his black Lab face. He had a slight limp covered up by his youthful outlook and energy. Bear tackled me in a hug, licked my face, and proceeded to steal my shoe. I adored him.
The evening was going well, though Jared and I didn’t have much in common, so much of the night was spent preventing Bear from eating the leftover hamburger and me doing my best not to trip over him as he playfully lumbered around the kitchen. Despite the oncoming hives I could feel pulsating under my skin, I was very much enjoying playing with this gentle giant.
Unfortunately, the evening then turned. As we settled down in the living room to watch some early-2000s rom-com I’m sure Jared thought would impress me, Bear began acting strange. He started pacing the room and whining, becoming more and more incoherent by the minute. His limp became more pronounced, and he started shaking uncontrollably. After the credits rolled, Bear collapsed on the floor and foamed at the mouth.
Jared and I looked at each other in panic. After a moment of terror, he jumped into action and cradled Bear’s head in his hands. I ran to grab the instructions left by Jared’s friend, and frantically called the 24-hour vet emergency clinic downtown. After a shaky conversation with the on-call nurse who picked up, we were told to bring him to the clinic immediately.
I must reiterate at this point that Bear was just that, an Ursa Major of a canine, a sturdy mound of muscle and fur. Jared and I carried him to the car together, and I got in the front seat, where Jared placed the frightened creature in my lap. I cradled him, as much as you can cradle something nearly as big as you and covered in allergy-inducing fur. Jared drove quickly to the clinic in silence as I stroked Bear and did my best to remain calm and comforting. I pet his head and held him close, as he trembled and tried to get out, get away from whatever scary thing was happening. Though I’d never seen this before, I knew it was bad.
When we arrived, the vets grabbed Bear and loaded him into the clinic, and I stood dazed and shaking, covered in fur and urine (Bear had peed in panic during the drive). The asthma had set in, and I was breathing hoarsely. Bear had bumped my eye in his struggle, and now the right side of my face was swollen and itchy and I couldn’t see well. I hadn’t realized I was crying.
Half an hour later, Jared came out. I guided him to a curb, where we sat side by side. He told me there was nothing they could do, that they had to put Bear down. He’d begged them to try everything, do anything to save him, and now he couldn’t even bring himself to call his friend again, as he’d had to leave a message the first time. At that moment, when he realized he’d left a voicemail in panic, Jared broke into tears, and I held him as he cried. At that moment, I was the only one to console a man who faced telling his best friend that he’d lost his other best friend, so I did all I could: I stroked Jared’s hair, held him close and told him it would be okay.
After a silent ride home and an awkward goodbye, I entered my parents’ house. After having a bath and an exhaustive sob, I fell asleep face down on my pillow, waking up the next morning with a throbbing headache and puffy eyes. I went off to work at the coffee shop and didn’t mention it to anyone.
Here’s where you won’t like me: I never called Jared back. He reached out to me the day after it happened, and the day after that, and the day after that, but I never called him back. Maybe it was the trauma of the evening, maybe it was the fact I didn’t know him very well, maybe it was because I had absolutely no idea what to say to him, but I never called him back.
In writing this out, I’m reminded how traumatic and sad the evening was, and how scared Bear was. At least I know that the last people he saw cared about him and took great care of him while he was in pain. When I tell this story now, it’s often a joke told in one of those “worst date” one-upsmanship competitions. After a couple of “he was 40 minutes late” or “I got really drunk” or “he made fun of my stamp collection” stories, I bust out the big guns, describing with how I was on a date, had an allergic reaction to a dog he was dog-sitting, the dog passed away, and I never called the guy back again.
It always gets a laugh. But I don’t think it should anymore.
Editor’s Note: All illustrations by the talented Scott Smith.
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