Gema’s gone … gently

I wrote this is in 2000, when we had to put down our beloved Gema. Those who have had to put down beloved pets know our pain. This is in memory of Gema.


Gema’s Gone … Gently.

Copyright by Dan Windisch 080900

August 8, 2000 4 PM or so

Gema knew. Gema was ready. It was us it was so hard on. We will miss her so.

Usually when we took Gema to the Vet her whole body shook with fear. You had to drag her into the door. Gema’s fear eyes looked at us with soul eyes wondering how people she loved could bring her here. When previously we had lifted Gema onto the stainless steel exam table, her whole body shook. When receiving vaccinations she whimpered, trembled. She couldn’t wait to rush out the door.

Today Gema did not shake as we entered the vets office. Gema walked steadily, despite her labored, fast, heavy breathing. Her eyes did not flash fear as we lifted her onto the stainless steel exam table. She panted heavily in the hot afternoon, on that cool table.  That, and her distended belly were the only indicators of her failing heart.

She enjoys the cool of the table, my massaging her neck and spine, Mary Joyce petting her, Debbie on the other side petting her.  I’m looking at Gema’s face. Gema looks straight ahead, head up, a regal old red golden retriever, eyes focused at a place beyond the walls. Gema has that semi-smile golden retrievers have when they know they are loved. She does not notice our tears. Tears of 40 and 50 year olds are thin, and flow fast. Gema doesn’t notice. She feels only our love.

Dr. Pinckney is an old man. Stooped. Warm heart kept covered… perhaps that is why he had that heart attack so many years ago. Very professional, doesn’t say much.

His vet assistant is new. Her compassion is apparent. This is obviously hard on her. She says so.

Gema continues looking ahead, not shaking, enjoying our touch, feeling our love. Dr. Pinckney turns away from us. He tries not to let us see as he fills a syringe from a vial that says “Poison” in bold letters. I think only I see that.

Dr. Pinckney says “I will need to remove a bit  of Gema’s right front leg hair.”  With gentle quick scissors clips he removes the hair without even nicking Gema. I am surprised that this stooped, shaky old man has such steady quick hands.

He wipes the injection site with alcohol. I’m shocked, between my tear, with the irony. No worry of future infection here! No need… yet somehow comforting. Habits that are no longer needed are often comforting.

We continue to pet Gema, our eyes filled and flowing with those 10W weight tears, sending her our years of love and thankfulness for all she has meant to us.

Dr. Pinckney puts a rubber tourniquet around Gema’s right front leg, tightens it a bit, inserts the syringe, (Gema doesn’t flinch, continues to look forward), injects the poison, and then releases the tourniquet. For a second or two Gema looks ahead with just the slightest quizzical look, then lowers her head gently to the table, eyes open. Dr. Pinckney puts his hand on her side, says “She’s Gone.” He walks out the door.

I pat Mary Joyce on the back. I  wish I could do more for her, but there is this HUGE block of sadness blocking my throat. I can’t talk as the tears roll down my face. I’m mute with grief and sadness. Yet despite how hard it is, I am also glad I am here. Glad I could love Gema and pet Gema and massage Gema at the end. Honor her. Yet it is SO hard. The lump in my throat so huge. The sadness so overwhelming.

Gema’s eyes are open and she looks so relaxed.  Debbie asks if we can close her eyes, the vet assistant says they can’t be closed.

I continue to pet Gema, massage her. Mary Joyce says I don’t need to pet her anymore. She’s gone. I say nothing… The lump in my throat blocks my voice. Yet, if I could have talked I would have said that “I think Gema is still a bit here, and I want the last thing she feels to be my hands loving her.” And my the throat gets more constricted, the light weight tears flow faster … I don’t want to let her go.


        That night for the first time in a very long time I decide to go gambling. I tell Gema as I drive to the Casino that if I win, I’ll give half of my winnings to Mary Joyce. I play Caribbean Stud, have a string of  good hands, then the streak ends. I know it is time to stop, I thank Gema, win $56. The casino has a $15.95 steak and lobster special. I eat alone cherishing the lobster and steak, and between tears no one can see,  I raise a glass of ice water in Gema’s honor. Thank you Gema.


August 8th Midnight

Tears stain my clean pillowcase as I thank God for all that GEMA has added to my life.

Favorite memories of Gema

February 1, 1989. I meet this new lady on my 40th birthday via her response to my personal ad. It is snowing that day. Schools are closed, my young niece and nephew, Danika and Robbie, come over to my house. They recognize the photo of this new lady as Ms. O’Brien, a school teacher they know. They say I’ll like her. They are right. I call her that night and bring her some birthday cake.  She has this 5 month old golden retriever named Gema, named so because she is a gem. I love petting Gema, especially her ears, they are so warm and soft and can be rubbed between my fingers. I joke about wanting to have them after Gema dies.

Gema, Mary Joyce and I go on our first walk together. In the snow, up Lawrence Street to the University of Puget Sound, through evergreens, past the A frames on campus, and back. it is a magical night, fresh snow makes everything new, white, fresh. Gema wearing her young dog body rushes ahead, smells everything, leaves paw prints in the snow. Life is fresh and new. Many more walks will follow.


Ocean Shores and Newport.  Gema is a puppy still. We go crabbing off the docks. Wire cages with salmon head bait thrown into blue waters. Gema excited, sees the ocean for the first time. So much to see! Moving ahead she looks to the right and walks over the left edge of the dock! I have to lean over, with someone holding my legs, to pull her out of the freezing water. That night at the motel she is distracted again and falls into the swimming pool! For the rest of her life Gema is leery of water. And Gema is a water dog! It would take many years before she would walk into the lake on very hot days to cool off. She never swam or went out beyond where her feet touched the bottom.


Summer School. Mary Joyce and I are both teaching classes at Saint Martin’s. A call comes. Gema is starting to have her puppies. MJ and I rush home in separate cars. Gema is in the basement, in the cool. Puppy after puppy comes out. We hold hand size puppies up to her to lick. She hurts, and is exhausted, but does her mother thing. She’s glad we are there. Puppies new to the world with eyes closed snuggle against her, drinking milk in the frantic way new life does.


Later that summer. Puppies grow so fast, so many, Gema is a bit overwhelmed! Most of the puppies are given to family.


I pet Gema, she looks up, and lifts an eyebrow, and looks so deep into my eyes with her sad eyes. I stop for a second. She nudges me with her hand to start again. A pattern develops, every time I stop petting her or massaging her, her tail starts wagging. “More.” “More.”


Gema Loves chasing the tennis ball. Isn’t too smart though! Time after time I pretend to throw it one way, she runs in that direction, sees nothing, turns around, and I throw it in another directions!  She is so funny, I can’t help but laugh. She wants to fetch the ball, but doesn’t want to give it up after she brings it back. I have to pry it out of her mouth! Seems very human to me.


Gema is prancing, golden red, ahead of us on our walks in the woods at Dupont. Smelling everything, chasing smells into woods, looking back to make sure we are coming. Reveling in the fragrance of the woods.


Gema licks her leg, won’t stop. Over the years it becomes a gaping wound. “Loneliness” says the vet.


An ugly wart develops on Gema’s nose. We have it removed finally. It never totally heals.


Gema has heart failure, often can’t raise her head. Doesn’t eat for 3 weeks. I often go over and lay beside here, tears flowing, just petting her, reminding her of all the great times we’ve had together. Thanking her. Sometimes for an hour or more. Dr. Pinckney prescribes some heart medicine that might help in a few weeks. We think Gema is going to die. But she gets better! To my joy we walk again in the woods, Gema prancing ahead. Smelling everything in her dog ways. It is sheer joy to see her do that again.


For 6 months she is better. Then begins to degenerate. Slower on the walks, hard to get up, stomach starting to distend with fluids.  My final walk with her is August 7th. Gema is walking because she loves us, not because she enjoys the walk. The next day she goes on a walk with MJ and her dad. After she gets back, she falls down, can’t get up, has a terrible time breathing. MJ calls me. We both know it is time. Time to have her put down. I lay next to her on the cool floor once again. Tell her once more, and again, how much I love her, as I pet her. Tears flow, but that’s ok.  I stop … her tail starts to wag. I pet her again. We decide to call the vet. Gema goes outside lays on the cool pavement. Then lays on the beauty bark in the garden, smelling the smells as she breathes so hard and fast.

We call her and she gets into the car and we drive to Dr. Pinckney’s.


Thank you Gema for all your love.


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