Not undead after all

By Mir
July 16, 2021

I don’t know how to ease into this so I won’t. Duncan is no longer undead, he’s just regular dead, now. And it feels shitty and morbid to put it like that, but I don’t think he would mind. If Duncan could’ve spoken English I like to believe he would’ve cussed like a sailor and been very blunt. “Listen, I’m 207 fucking years old now. I can’t hear. I can barely see. My brain’s going and I piss everywhere and when you let me go, don’t pussyfoot around it and say I ‘passed on’ or ‘went forever to sleep’ or anything. Just say I’m dead. But also remind everyone that I was a legend because I cheated death for years.”

I can’t know for sure, of course. But that’s what I think he would’ve said. And then (as long as I’m predicting what my dog would’ve had to say about his own mortality) he probably would’ve reminded me that he was dying and and really, really liked cheese, so why wasn’t I inserting some cheddar into his mouth right then?

It was just a few weeks ago that I was updating here and assuring you all that even post major-seizure or stroke or whatever that horrible event was, Duncan continued to be utterly undead and unbothered. Sure, in the days and weeks that followed we watched him like a hawk, but other than being a little unsteady and a whole lot leaky, he seemed fine. I mean, as fine as he ever was.

The one thing I started noticing more and more around that time was that Licorice—who never wanted a brother, thankyouverymuch, and who generally completely ignored him—was smelling him a lot. Like, he’d be sleeping and she’d go stand over him and sniff him all over. Or they’d both be standing at my feet, begging for food, and she would get distracted and start sniffing at his mouth and ears.

I think in the back of my mind I knew what that meant. But I convinced myself I was just being paranoid. Or I was in denial. I dunno.

Anyway. A couple of days ago I was home alone with the dogs, and Duncan was snoozing on the bed, and he woke up and seemed a little agitated. He normally sleeps most of the day, but sometimes he wakes up and repositions himself, so I patted him while he stumbled around in a circle, figuring he’d be back asleep in a few moments. But then he had another seizure that was almost identical to the huge one he’d had a few weeks before, which meant that I had a few seconds to process his stiff limbs and back arch and realize he was going to make that awful sound again. So I knew it was going to happen and theoretically I was prepared but… yeah, I was not prepared. He yowled and I cried and tried to comfort him and after a minute or two it stopped and he was just… so confused. I had to move him off the bed because he had peed, and I tried to get him comfortable on the floor and then strip the bed and message Otto and check on Duncan and start the washer and message Otto again.

I called our vet and they were booked up (but said we should definitely take him to Emergency), so Otto came home and we took him to the big vet hospital. By this time, Duncan had perked up considerably, and I was wondering if they would think we were making the whole thing up. Ever the gentleman, Duncan decided to punctuate our story at the front desk by lying placidly in Otto’s arms and then peeing in a beautiful arc all over the floor. So much pee. Y’all. He had just peed all through everything on the bed. WHERE DOES ALL THE PEE COME FROM??

But I digress.

They took him back and I texted with Chickadee and tried to reach Monkey, who is of course (OF COURSE) off on a long trip with his dad far away in a place with very little cell signal. We filled out paperwork, and a med student came and talked to us about his history, and eventually we got taken back to talk to the vet in charge of his case.

Long story a little bit shorter, they wouldn’t be able to definitively identify the exact cause without a lot of expensive and invasive tests, and his blood sugar was dangerously low and his oxygenation was poor so they’d put him in an oxygen box for the time being, but everything they suspected as possibilities was not really going to be treatable, anyway, because “he clearly is suffering from permanent brain changes at this point.” I asked if she thought it was a brain tumor and she said that seemed likely, but also his chronic low blood sugar could actually be damaging his brain (there’s a name for it that I can’t remember), and either way, it’s possible that steroids would help… but steroids are hard on the heart, and he has a pretty significant murmur, so steroids might create “other problems.”

She ran us through all possible scenarios, concluding that he would certainly continue to have major seizure events more often and—as we’d suspected—they likely were very painful for him.

So we talked, and they brought him into the little room where we were to spend some time with him. They left and he lurched around unsteadily and resisted our efforts to snuggle him. I’m not sure he even recognized us. Eventually they came back and we signed some more paperwork. The student wrapped him up in a towel and we held him and stroked his head and told him it was okay, and the vet did the merciful thing while my nose ran all over my face and my poor undead dog who was now just plain dead.

We drove home to a frantic Licorice who ran around in circles, looking for Duncan, and then lay down at our feet as we toasted Duncan’s memory and drank in silence.

Chickadee seems okay. She actually talked me off the ledge some when I couldn’t get through to Otto right away. Monkey was very angry with us at first, which is fine, but now he’s just sad, which is worse. When he left on his trip, Duncan was sleeping so he didn’t get to “say goodbye,” and I (I don’t remember this, but I’m sure it’s true) assured Monkey it was no big deal because Duncan would be fine while he was gone. Sigh.

And here’s the thing: I know we did right by Duncan. He had a hard life before he came to us, and we gave him everything I think every dog should have even if they’re jerks; and make no mistake, DUNCAN WAS AN ENORMOUS JERK. He was not a good dog. He was objectively a pretty terrible dog. He was a fear biter and he didn’t like to snuggle and his breath was awful. He never barked at potential intruders but acted like he was being stabbed any time I groomed him. He cost us thousands of dollars in medical care and most of the time I wasn’t even sure he liked us. Thanks to his hypoglycemia we could only ever leave him for a few hours at a time, and this last year we basically haven’t left him at all (save for the one brief time we chanced it and he freaked out in the crate and ended up covered in poop). He refused to go for walks even when he was relatively healthy. He didn’t play fetch. He annoyed Licorice for years on end, actually getting up the very morning that this all happened and wandering over to FLOP DOWN RIGHT ON TOP OF HER and resume snoring. And I can’t even remember how long he’s been peeing in the house but it started before Chickadee moved, so AT LEAST A YEAR, and we have mopped up a lot of pee without complaint. (That’s a lie. I always complain. I would get right in Duncan’s face and tell him he was a terrible dog and that I was going to make him into stew, and Otto would say “HEY!” and I would remind him that Duncan was deaf and then I would whisper “But still, STEW” and Duncan would lick my chin.)

We bought him all kinds of toys, hoping to find the one he would like. We dressed him in Halloween costumes (which he hated) and sweaters (which he loved, once they were on) to keep him warm in the winter. When I was in the kitchen cooking and the dogs would stand there, wagging and hopeful, they always got a taste or two along the way. He crunched countless ice cubes over the years and delighted in being handed a giant stem of romaine or a handful of spinach as we all shouted in unison, “LEAF!” (Duncan loved leaf. No, I don’t know why we call it leaf, but it is leaf, not leaves, regardless of the number.) He positively lost his goddamn mind over popcorn and Otto would give him so many pieces for the joy of watching his enthusiastic crunching that I would always end up saying, “Stop, he’s gonna get sick!” Otto took thousands of pictures of him over the years. Duncan would lean into me and do little contented-grunts while I cleaned his ears. And I think he even learned to enjoy the ubiquitous “I AM GOING TO RUB YOUR TUMMY AGAINST YOUR WILL” bedtime routine, because somewhere in there he knew how much we loved him, and I think he loved us a little, too.

The house is too quiet (his snore was positively majestic) and Licorice is very clingy. It’s hard to believe he’s really gone.

We elected to have him cremated, which is outsourced by the hospital to a local funeral home. Yesterday a very kind woman with a soothing voice called me to “make all the arrangements.” I tried to handle the call like an adult, even though my discomfort kept making me want to burst out into hysterical laughter, because I don’t know how to grieve like a normal human.

To wit, here’s the text exchange I had with Otto after that phone call:

Of course, I’m over here calling him a meat sack, and Otto wrote this lovely little tribute to him that included the perfect line, “He had the softest fur… and strongest jaw… of any dog I ever got to pet.” Which, you know. That pretty much sums it up.

We sure did love that little jerk. I imagine that wherever he is now, his body and mind are healed and whole, and he is surrounded by a veritable buffet of cheese and popcorn and ice cubes and leaf. And also sticks.

Sticks were these little rawhide sticks I got the dogs at some point. Licorice could demolish one in about five seconds but Duncan was too stupid (honestly) to figure out how to hold it in his paws in a way that he could chew on it, so Otto used to just hold it for him while he jawed away, happy as a clam.

I shall leave you with proof of Otto’s patience and Duncan’s love of sticks. This video makes me laugh and cry at the same time. He’s so earnest. Lord. I miss him so much.


  1. Mom24

    Love this so much. I’m very sorry for your loss.

  2. Thumper

    Aw, man…I am so sorry. This is the part of being owned by furballs that I really hate. I lost my two cats within 5 weeks of each other last fall, and I’m still not okay about it. Max loved me almost unnaturally, but Buddah was a bit like Duncan–did he even like me? Why the hell is he biting me? Dude, stop shrieking at me, I didn’t come near you… But in the end, I loved that little monster and miss him. It never gets easier, even when they’ve wrecked your stuff through years of peeing all over everything.

    • Kim

      Even when you know it’s coming, even when you know it’s best, damn. Making the call was the bravest thing I ever did, knowing how much it was going to hurt when my Rosie was gone.
      They really never live long enough, not even when they are huge leaky jerks. Hugs to all Mir-kin.

  3. ccr in MA

    What a perfect tribute to Duncan. It’s never easy to let go, even when you know it’s time, but you gave him such a good life.

  4. Andrea

    Oh, goodness. I’m sorry he’s gone. Not much more I can say to ease the sorrow, I’m afraid. Just, I’m sorry

  5. Heather

    I don’t comment often, but I’m so sorry. Those fur balls know how to squirm in our hearts.

  6. Mary K

    ???? So very sorry for your loss. ????

    • Margaret Travis

      Man I’m sorry. I’m putting my Duncan down tomorrow. It is hard. All of it.

  7. Fabs

    I’m so glad you all found each other! He was so lucky to have you, as not everyone would be able to tolerate such a brat of a dog. He will forever be in your heart (and your home). I know you’ll have so many memories to reminisce about forever and ever!

  8. Susie

    What a perfect eulogy for the worst dog… loveable little jerk… all the hugs. I know I’ll be a disaster when it’s my turn.

    • AlisonC

      I am so sorry. I hope he is now running free like a puppy

  9. Jamie

    This is the perfect tribute, full of honesty and humor! Run free, Duncan! Hugs to the humans and Licorice!

  10. Wendy

    I am so sorry he is no longer undead. This tribute is perfect.

    • Katherine

      It’s so hard to lose a furry family member. I worry about mine (in this case, a cat). She is 18 and clearly has some arthritis. I’ve never had a critter live this long before. I hope I will recognize that it’s time before she suffers too much.

  11. Sara

    I’m sorry for your loss, Mir and family.

  12. Katie H

    I’m so sorry. Their paws leave such big marks on our hearts.

  13. Rachael

    Aww, I’m so so sorry. We recently had to have our cat put to sleep… and it was our youngest cat so very unpleasant surprise to deal with. We have an 18-year-old stone deaf arthritic floor-peeing cat over here and not to be morbid, but I was expecting it to be her that would go first. Our little guy was only 10. And it was my 13-year-old son’s cat. But we were with him at the end, petting him and telling him how good of a boy he was, and I know they get comfort from that. I am sure that Duncan said his jerky goodbyes in his own way. I’ve enjoyed reading about him and Licorice over the years. Love to your family.

    • Susan

      We have a16 year old diabetic cat. I keep telling her to go towards the light. Yet she persists. Lots o pee also. I’m thinking the younger cat will go first…

  14. Jean

    Mir, you wrote the perfect eulogy to your beloved pet. I am so sorry for this loss. No one could have done better for Duncan.

  15. Jenny

    So sorry, Mir.

  16. Meg

    Oh gosh. Thank you for sharing him with us. What a lovely, adorable jerk. You all love him so much (I don’t think it should be past tense just because he’s gone).

  17. StephLove

    I’m sorry. This is the very hardest part of having pets.

  18. Charlie

    So sorry. The loss of a pet is definitely the loss of a family member

  19. Becky

    Our hope with our senior rescues and hospice dogs is that we give them their “best lives ever”. You did that for Duncan.

  20. Sara

    I’m so sorry about the about the no longer undead status of the very best worst boy. This is a beautiful tribute. I hope your family will find comfort in many the ridiculous memories he brings. Fair winds and following seas, Duncan. May you always have a stick holder, wherever you are.

  21. Virginia

    I’m so sorry! I enjoyed reading about Duncan because he reminded me so much of my Benji. In both temperament and undeadness. You loved him well and in the end that’s the best we can do

  22. Chris

    So so sorry for your loss. I think you remembered him well with this post…

  23. niki

    Best eulogy ever. Jerk. I know you’ll miss him a lot. Maybe not the snoring and the peeing, but the good parts. RIP, Duncan. You were a good-ish dog.

  24. Mary K. in Rockport

    Some lovely comments above. I can add only awww. It’s tough to lose a furry family member.

  25. Rebecca H. from D.C.

    We had a cat once who was kind of an asshole and hated me most of the time. I loved him anyway! We lost him in 2016. There’s still something missing. Anyway, you definitely did right by him; sounds like it would have gotten worse and worse for him. Now he’s got all the popcorn he wants forever!

  26. Andrea


  27. Micaela

    My Cocoabear died on Friday. 14 years, 5 months. He was the best. This so resonated with me. Thank you.

  28. Abbie

    Losing a pet is so hard. xo

  29. LL

    I’m so sorry Mir.

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