I sometimes refer to my dog Fred, America’s Largest Wiener Dog. Suddenly, strangely, Fred died on Sunday. Even as I write these words I can hardly believe it. We went for a nice walk on Saturday. Later that evening, I could tell something was bothering him. That night we took him to an emergency veterinary clinic and the doctor there thought it might be a back problem. He gave Fred a couple shots. We came home encouraged.
But the next day he was no better. So Sunday night we took him back and this time they took X-Rays and did some diagnostic tests. A half hour after we walked in and handed our limp dog to a staff person, the veterinarian who examined him greeted us with, “I have some bad news. Your dog is near death.” And then she explained what appeared to be a tumor, probably cancer, sudden liver failure. Our Fred had been living happily, without any evidence to us, on the verge of catastrophic system failures. And now, his body was failing. He was in pain, we knew. And so, the remains of our dinner left at home on the table, boots and jackets grabbed, we found ourselves at this startling place, contemplating dubious transfusions and surgery or putting our dog down. And every moment we wondered what to do was another moment of what seemed to be needless suffering for him.
“But he was just fine yesterday,” I said. “Couldn’t this be something more traumatic and specific? You go in there and find something that maybe he ate and take it out and he gets better?”
The doctor said that’s possible, but hardly likely. “This is so weird,” I said. “Do you see this very often?”
She looked at me and said, “four to five times a week. This is not uncommon at all. I’m so sorry.”
We talked a little more and looked at some unforgiving charts. But our minds were made up, because then and there it seemed we were balancing our anxiety with his pain. We decided to end his pain.
We filled out some forms and left the clinic, less than an hour from the time we walked in. We drove home still in shock. We were confident about our decision. But we were using past tense verbs to describe him. In fact, seconds after the veterinarian left the room, Brenda just blurted out, “We don’t have a dog!”
That was two days ago and if you’ve gone through this before I suspect you know that the most painful reminder of Fred’s absence right now is the act of coming in the front door. It’s quiet. There’s no bending over. There’s no happy admonishing; I don’t have to say, “Okay, Okay, we’re home, we’re home. I know. Yes, I see you.” That we should all be greeted so happily every single time we walk in a room, our days would be that much better and the world that much happier.
So we miss that. And now we’re talking about the nice life Fred had. Rather than that last day of his, which must have been so confusing, we’re thinking about how happy and well fed and peculiar he was. I’ll bet your dog was or is unique, too. I’ll bet you and your dog have a special relationship and that you can tell me about the funny things he does or the odd, inexplicable demands he puts on your life.
Fred, as a dachshund, was very territorial. He loved his people. He didn’t love people with hats, for some reason. Small wheels agitated him, which was bad news for the children zooming around the neighborhood sometimes. He was never, not once, kind to our mailman. Some neighbors and friends he instantly came to like, others not so much. It wasn’t clear exactly who would get his blessing, but in general I’d say he was wise and just. And spoiled, something that today we don’t regret.
I’ll bet, too, you have a funny vocabulary with your dog, your own nicknames and phrases you use to interact. Brenda would say that Fred was her “trusty steed.” This much was clear: our Fred was very, very long and thick. I didn’t call him America’s Largest Weiner Dog for nothing. He was celebrated in our neighborhood that way and people seeing him for the first time would do a double and triple take. Almost everyday, just to keep his ego in check, I’d hold his head and tell him, “Fred, you’re not popular. No one likes you.” That was almost a cue for Brenda to chime in, “EVERYONE likes Fred,” or words to that effect. It was just one of our little dances.
So dance with your dog today. Feed him a piece of chicken for me. And celebrate the acts of kindness our pets pay us everyday; payments we cannot return in kind.
Here is another beautiful poem about losing your dog. http://petloss.com/rainbowbridge.htm