I walked home yesterday afternoon in a daze, unable to look strangers in the face, red eyes hidden by sunglasses. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was alone, but shouldn’t have been.
I had spent the day at the vet’s office. Our hedgehog, Baxter, had not been eating properly for about a week, and although his demeanor hadn’t really changed – he was still playful, cuddly, responsive – he obviously had something wrong. He hadn’t had any food or water for two days, so I packed him up in his travel cage, put his blankets over him, and headed for one of Stockholm’s veterinary offices yesterday morning. Both Jill and I assumed, based on his symptoms, that whatever was going on, whatever was bothering the littlest member of our family, could be fixed. We were wrong.
People often ridicule me for how attached I become to animals, be them ours or otherwise. They can’t understand how upset I get when an animal is sick, or has to be put down. They can’t understand why I can’t just stick them in a cage, drop in some food and water periodically, and carry on with life. They can’t understand that for me, for us, Baxter was a member of the family, someone we cared for, missed, thought about, bragged about, worried about. We spent time with him every day, playing on the couch, running around in the park out back of the apartment, sometimes just a morning and evening ‘hello’ and a scratch on his forehead. He was a fixture in our lives, but despite our best efforts, and those of his doctor, he’s gone.
We were wrong about the severity of his symptoms. The doctor ran tests, x-rays, contrast stains, everything she could do to find something treatable, but the answer always came back the same. It wasn’t treatable, and although he wasn’t yet in any pain or discomfort, he would be if left alone. There was nothing more to do than make sure he didn’t suffer, didn’t hurt, didn’t deteriorate. He left this world with me there, my voice surrounding him, knowing that we tried everything to make him better. Even one of the vet techs was crying.
Baxter was the funniest, sweetest, weirdest, peculiarest, scamperiest, playfulest, bestest hedgehog. He made us laugh constantly with his antics. He amazed us with his energy, personality (hedgehogality?), and capacity for tenderness crammed into such a little body. He would run around and play with and climb over us at times, with a look in his eyes of pure happiness; and at times he would just cuddle, curled up or laid out flat, fast asleep, his little paws twitching when he was dreaming. He would lay there and stare into our eyes, stroking us with his paw, when we were sick or injured as if he knew we needed to be taken care of. He knew I was doing the same yesterday, and in his own way seemed thankful. It was like he felt safer when I was in the room, or when he heard my voice, like he knew that we wouldn’t let him hurt.
I know this is a part of life, and an aspect one has to assume with pets. But still, I hated walking into this apartment yesterday afternoon. I hated waking up this morning. I hate sitting here, knowing that I won’t hear him trotting around at odd hours, getting up for an afternoon snack, stealing my sock, running on his wheel, or just sitting there, surveying his domain and his humans, with a look of pure contentment on his face. I already miss those things.
Goodnight, Baxter. We love you.