It’s the hardest thing, losing a dog.
I was just reminded of that truth.
We’d had a good day. A good walk that morning. A leisurely nap together on the couch. He’d eaten the last of my roast beef sandwich for lunch, just the way it should be.
For 16 years, he was my constant. I’ve known him longer than I’ve known my wife or my son. When I was single, I had a twin bed that he was always in – me, 6’3″ and full-figured, and a 45 lb puppy. He never left my side, day or night, never out of ear-scratching distance. Any knock on the door was met with barks that belied his stature. My wife. My kids. He was our dog, and we were his people. That was indisputable.
I carried him home from his last walk. It was time. His fight was over.
What you’re never ready for is the little things. I don’t want to vacuum, little tufts of his hair in the corners. I don’t want to change the sheets. I absentmindedly saved a piece of cheese when making Will’s lunch this morning – I always gave him a piece of cheese. I came home last night and went to check on him, only to catch myself halfway down the hall . . .
There’s never been a dog who had such infectious joy. He was truly happy, all the time, unless you were scolding him for his latest counter surfing shenanigans. He once broke into my office and “retrieved” my mounted ducks, the room looking like a malfunction at the world’s prettiest pillow factory. His grin melted my anger in a moment, a look of “Dad, you’ll never believe what I found in here!”
Sedatives settled his angst, and he looked up at me with his faded, whiskey colored eyes, still smiling. I tried telling him it would be okay, even though it most certainly would not, ever, be okay. I laid on the floor holding his head and talking in his ear. I made sure he knew he’d done his best. I made sure he knew I was there. I made sure he knew he was a good dog.
It was over in a minute. The vet looked at me, misty-eyed herself.
I scratched those amazing, floppy ears one last time. I smelled his wonderful head, and closed his eyes, rubbing them the way he loved.
I stood up from the floor, and for a moment, so many memories flashed – playing in the snow and chasing deer and fetching doves and swimming pools and ice cream cones and stealing muffins from the kids and snuggling my wife, a furry wedge in our bed every night for 7 years.
And I came back to a simple memory, of he and I sitting on a borrowed couch in our empty house, right after my divorce. We were watching TV, in as much as any dog watches TV. We had no food. We had no money. We were sharing a jar of peanut butter – I’d take a bite, then let him finish the spoon. At that second, I wasn’t sure which way life would go; I mean, it pretty much sucked right then. And clear as day I can remember looking at his head as he smiled, almost as if to say “hang in there Dad – this is the best day ever . . . “
That’s the thing I remembered as the vet handed me his effects.
16 years is a lot to lose in a moment.
I stuck his empty collar in my pocket, and stood there alone in a vacant room, and sobbed, a 41 year-old man heartbroken over his dog.
Just the way it should be.