« Previous | Next »


Jesse, 4/24/2005

The whole morning he'd been wheezing as he slept. We'd put a blanket on him. Sometimes I would get on the floor next to his little futon and lie there with my arm outstretched so I could hold his paw. Occasionally I would get up off the floor and slump in the nearby couch. In a few hours he would be dead. I did not know then that I would be holding him down as he fought to stay alive.

The first two dogs in my life both died at age seven, which is pretty young for a dog and far too young for a kid. Each died when my father took the dog to the vet where they put the dog to sleep. I always thought that that was a literal expression: that whenever someone said a dog was being "put to sleep," it literally meant a veterinarian administered some medicine that induced a quick and merciful, albeit eternal, sleep.

I was wrong and I was stupid and I have paid for my stupidity for five years now. If someone tells you a dog is being put to sleep, do not believe it. The dog is being murdered, pure and simple.

It was five years ago this weekend, April 24, 2005. Jesse had been sick for months. It had only dawned on us how sick, when, in December 2004, he had his first heart attack. It was late at night and I was watching TV in the family room. Jesse was snoozing on his little couch, near the TV. Suddenly he got up, had difficulty swallowing, and jumped out of the couch onto the floor. He continued to have trouble swallowing and breathing and then suddenly, he froze in his tracks, fell over, his four legs stiff and outstretched, his eyes open and lifeless, his tongue halfway out of his mouth. He was out cold, and I assumed dead. I yelled as loud as I could for my wife, who was asleep at the other end of the house. Meanwhile, Jesse slowly came to. Groggy, but then he managed to get himself up, shook the way dogs do, and within a minute was seemingly back to normal.

We would find out in a few days from the vet that things were not normal. The dog had an advanced case of congestive heart failure, apparently not too uncommon in this troubled breed. His heart was, the doctor told us, the size of a football. He would not live long.

He had two more attacks in the following months, the early months of 2005, which happened to be an extremely busy time for me, as I had begun raising the angel round for EVDB, Inc., the company I founded a year earlier (and which would in 2006 rename itself Eventful). I had employees, my company had an office, and things were very busy. And my dog was dying.

When I closed the A round of venture capital funding with Draper Fisher Jurvetson, in late March 2005, Jesse was even weaker, and it was only a matter of time that we would have to put him down. I remember being at PC Forum as a speaker debuting EVDB to the conference attendees, all the while thinking about what the veterinarian had said: if Jesse were human, he'd told us, he would immediately have to have a heart transplant, but they didn't do that for dogs.

And so the day came. April 24th. Nine days after Jesse's tenth birthday. He'd made it to ten, but it was clear he wasn't going to see eleven, not even see ten and one month.

We let him sleep in late on that quiet Sunday morning. We stayed in the room with him while he slept, wheezing. Me on the floor. Then on the couch. Then back on the floor, close to him.

Eventually it was time. We collected our things and I called for the dog from the foyer. He responded, and cautiously walked down the hall. Halfway down the hall from the bedroom, on the way to the foyer, he hesitated, looking up at me. I was certain he knew this was the last time he would be in this hallway, and that he knew we were about to take him to the vet to be put down. I managed to get the leash on him and the three of us reluctantly left the house, walking to the car. A little black dog from a neighbor's house across the street ran over and greeted Jesse. True to form, he raised his pointy ears and assumed a position of alertness, strength, and control, the way only bull terriers can do. But it was all show; inside Jesse was dying and probably in great pain. The two dogs sniffed, their noses briefly touched, Jesse managed a few weak wags of his tail, and that was it. The little black dog walked away, and I collected Jesse and got him in the back seat of the car, on top of some blankets.

All the way to the vet I held his paw. He slept most of the way. It was a very long drive from La Jolla to Spring Valley down past Chula Vista where our vet worked. Traffic was light on this late Sunday morning but time seemed to run in slow motion.

We finally got to the strip mall where the animal hospital was located and with great reluctance I let the dog out of the car. We went in, checked in at the front desk. I felt dread and emptiness.

Jesse sat by my feet. After five or so minutes the door to the examining room opened and a nurse came out. This was a room we'd been in many times over the years, for routine medical visits for Jesse. Today the room a chamber of death that neither I nor Jesse wanted to enter. The nurse said sweet nothings to the dog, and he responded with a timid wag of only the very end of his tail, the rest staying stiff. This had always been Jesse's way of saying he was uncertain and afraid of what was going on.

We brought him into the examining room. The major feature of the room was the slippery, shiny stainless steel table that pets were lifted onto so the doctor could work on them. We lifted Jesse onto the table.

A minute later the doctor appeared. He was sad, and he said he was sorry. He asked if we wanted to stay with Jesse during the procedure or wait outside. We made a terrible, terrible mistake at this point which I take full responsibility for: we said we would stay with Jesse. By doing so, I would shatter my childhood misunderstanding of what the expression "put to sleep" meant with pets.

The slowness of time at this point ended. What happened next happened so quickly, it was over before I realized what had just happened. The doctor brought in several syringes on a plate. He was speaking with us, explaining what was going to happen. I could plainly hear him speaking as he and a nurse prepared for the procedure, but I simply did not understand what he was saying and even today could not remember his actual words. He might as well have been speaking a foreign language. There was sound, words formed, but none of it registered with me. All of my attention was focused on Jesse. All I knew was that the way this procedure was supposed to work was he would first give the dog something to fall asleep with, and then he would administer something that would cause his heart to stop, and that would be it, he would pass in peace.

But it did not happen that way and five years later as I reflect back on that day I could hit myself for holding on to this stupid myth about animals being "put to sleep." I realize now nobody ever told me how things worked, I must have concocted the notion as a way of coping with the deaths of my family's two dogs during the years I was growing up. Or I'd manufactured the notion based on scenes in movies and on television.

The doctor asked us to hold onto the dog tight. I should have known something was not right when he asked us to do this. My wife held his mid-section, and I held his powerful rear legs, while his claws scratched the table. Before I knew what was happening the doctor injected something in Jesse's right arm. Again we were instructed to hold the dog steady.

At this point I fully expected Jesse to weaken and go to sleep, after which the doctor would administer the second, final injection. But I fully believed and expected that there would be a merciful gap of time, that Jesse would peacefully and quickly get drowsy and then nod off, his body losing all tension and settling down gently on the table, before the lethal injection was administered. Instead, the reality was that the doctor immediately administered the second injection, and before I could mentally process what was happening before me, I felt Jesse launch into a battle to fight the drug. He fought violently. With all his might. With all the life force left in him, the great might of a proud English Bull Terrier, my best friend, the closest thing we ever had to a child, a dog we'd raised since he was a tiny little squirrel of a puppy just eight weeks old. And now he was fighting, lurching, kicking, struggling with every ounce of energy and spirit that he could. Every muscle, bone, tendon, sinew, fighting in sheer utter terror, fighting to live, fighting to stop what must have been incomprehensible pain as the drug took its inevitable course to Jesse's heart. And we began to cry. I looked at my hands, my own hands, holding down this animal that we had raised, taught, walked, fed, cared for, chased, loved, for ten long years. I looked at my hands, attached to my own arms, attached to my own shoulders. I could not believe that as valiantly as Jesse was fighting to be free and to live, I was fighting to hold him down and make him die.

And then he died.

The room was quiet. Jesse's body lay on the shiny stainless steel table. My wife and I were in utter horror and shock. This was not the way it was supposed to be. We had killed our own dog, our son, our best friend. He did not want to die and he had fought to live and yet we held him down and he did not go to sleep, he was not put to sleep, he was killed right before our very eyes. We broke out in tears. I looked at the doctor. I could not speak. I wanted to ask him why, WHY, WHY had he done it this way? What happened to the mercy, the part where the dog is supposed to gently go to sleep and not have to fight? I could not speak, I did not know how to talk, I had no words. And so we cried.

Jesse lay still, his eyes open. I looked at him, and his dead eyes looked back to me. I told him I was sorry, I didn't want it to happen like this, I did not mean to kill him, we meant only to do the right thing, and this was horror, this was not what it was supposed to be! But all I could think was that he was looking at me, his last dying thought was that I had betrayed him, tricked him one last time. I'd betrayed him, I'd caused him excruciating pain and mortal terror and now I was looking over him, his lifeless eyes looking back at me in an expression that I am condemned to remember in technicolor clarity for the rest of my life.

The doctor began to cry. He said he was sorry, there was nothing he could do. The nurse scurried off. The doctor went away, he could not face us anymore. My wife and I found each other suddenly alone in the examining room, alone with the body of our Jesse. We held each other, crying. We rested our hands on our Jesse one last time, and then we left the room, we left the animal hospital, and went outside into the brilliant, shrill, San Diego sun, a sun that Jesse loved and blissfully slept in during those afternoons when the rays poured in and formed a warm triangle of light on the carpet into which the dog would curl up in a ball and sleep. This was the same sun, but it was not. It was a sun of death, of a chaos, of atoms and neutrons and meaningless flame. We got in the car, and drove, half the speed limit, without purpose, for hours, without a direction, aimless, in shock, unable to do much but cry.

We wound up hours later at a noisy restaurant, but we could barely eat. Everything looked different. I looked at my hands, these same hands that were now holding knife and fork and providing me with nutrition, but had earlier the same day held Jesse down determined to make him die.

We eventually got home. There was no Jesse, no happy dog wagging his tail to greet us. The house was full of Jesse, reminders everywhere: hair, his bed, his little couch, his food dish, his crate, a bone here, a toy there, dog food in the cupboard, bull terrier mementos on the shelves, no matter where you turned, there was a reminder of Jesse, but the dog himself was gone. At the same time the house was empty, and five years later it is still empty. I come home and I still expect the scurry of a happy dog to greet me and there is only silence. The vacuum cleaner has found most of his white hair in the five ensuing years. Only the photographs remain.

The next day I had to go to work and be a CEO and it was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do and the last place I wanted to be. All I could think about was that not only had I just lost a close, very much loved family member, but I felt like I had had a hand -- indeed, both hands, fiercely clenched -- in killing him.

One is not supposed to think this way, the facts dictate that this is not the truth and that I should focus on celebrating his life, not dwell on his death. I regret to this day not telling the doctor that we would rather wait outside and have him do the procedure without us. Had I known what was in store for Jesse, I would have never in a million years put myself or my wife through that experience. Had I known what was in store for Jesse, I would have never in a million years put Jesse through that experience. I wish the doctor had explained to us clearly, slowly, plainly, bluntly --- exactly --- what was about to happen. He did not, and I have never forgiven him for that. I hope some day I can, and that same day I hope to forgive myself.

Thinking of posting a comment to this blog entry? That's nice. But please note: As of January 19. 2014, I no longer review comments. So they will never appear. So don't bother. If you want to comment on something you read here, go to twitter and write your comment there and just include "@brianstorms" in the tweet. I am no longer moderating the comments here; I just assume everything is spam and Intense Debate seems to have abandoned support for its product.

« Previous | Next »