Puppies, life, death, and what whales sing about

As the people who follow my Instagram account are well aware, I’ve had a puppy for the past few weeks (no longer – he has gone to home in the country). I found him and his little brother in a box on my walk home from work a couple weeks ago. When the littler one started throwing up the water I gave them, I took them home with me.

Over the next 24 hours, the littler one threw up his water, threw up parasites, refused to eat, and had diarrhea made of blood and more parasites. This was a puppy whose body was nothing but blood, bones, and worms.

The vet told me to give him water every 30 minutes, so that’s what I spent my night doing. Around 4am, he started having diarrhea again, by 5am, he didn’t want water anymore, and, by the time the sun came up, he didn’t seem to want to do anything but die. He looked very old for something that had only been around for a few months.

As soon as it opened, I took him to the vet to get him put down. Everything hurt him: being carried, lying still, breathing. Because this is Argentina, the vet opened late, so I sat on the sidewalk with a puppy dying in my lap and thought about how little I had to offer him: clean water, a warm place to sleep. I could cry for him – so helpful. I could remember him, stand witness to his existence – does that matter to dogs?

We got him onthe table and the vet wanted to try an IV to see if we could save him. But there was so little of him left that she couldn’t even find a vein to stick th needle in. He died as she was undoing the tourniquet. Just sort of huffed, sighed, and went still in my hands.

I’ve seen the dead up close before – my grandmother, my childhood pets – but they were always already dead, already cold, already at peace, if that’s what you want to call it. I’d never had anything die in my hands (unless you count mosquitoes). It drives home your own absolute uselessness.

And, as I stood there crying and trying to speak Spanish after a sleepless night (an example of a time when B2 language skills just are not enough), I thought about how pointless it was, how cruel, to bring something into this world only to let it suffer horribly and die. Why give it life at all? What’s the point in all that suffering?

Obviously this goes for more than just abandoned puppies.

Then, yesterday, I was talking to my dad about whale-watching, which I don’t like, and we got to talking about humpback whales and how scientists have discovered that they will save other animals from orcas. My father pointed out that it takes empathy to know when someone else is scared and needs help. And if whales have empathy, he said, well, then, what else do they feel?

Which got me thinking about how we hunted whales to near extinction not so long ago. And I wondered if whales sing their histories, like we used to sing ours. And if so, what do whales sing to their children these days? Songs of breathing in water full of blood, of terror, of impossible loss. How do you describe to your child what it feels like to breathe your own blood? Do they try to soften the story and sing in metaphors and similies?

Can whales make metaphors?

Isn’t it enough that we slaughter ourselves?

And, as I stood there with a dead puppy in my hands, I thought: if this is life, I’m just not sure I have the heart for it.

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