I’m once again up way too early to do anything but write.
Sadly this time it was not instigated by a dog who needed to be let outside, but a dog I must let go.
Sometimes death comes excruciatingly slow and other times painfully swift. In the case of our gentle lab Abbey, it was some surreal mixture of both.
Abbey was my sister’s dog originally, a Christmas gift for her girls a dozen years ago, who were just babes themselves. Abbey spent her early years in New Hampshire, Missouri, and North Carolina before coming home to live with me and my dog Malcolm in Illinois and finally Iowa.
I think everyone in my family would claim her as theirs since she spent some time with all of us when one of us had to travel without her. She found comfort in laying at my dad’s feet, riding in my mom’s car, being reunited with her girls when they came to visit, playing dress up with my youngest niece and helping my brother convince my cat- loving sister-in-law that dogs can indeed make incredible companions.
She also had a way with the boys and spent her last couple of hours surrounded by her favorite fellas – Jake, Scooter, Rosco, Gavin, and her all time favorite, Bob. She was an equal opportunity lover and rallied at the opportunity to take one last walk by the river with her pack, herding us all and making sure no one was left behind.
The decision to end a pet’s life is wracked with doubt. I’ve had to make that decision twice in the last two years. When they are suffering through their worst moments, I am convinced it is the most humane thing to do. It becomes the most agonizing thing to do when the appointed time draws near.
I can barely breathe through it, stay in the moment, and not distract myself from the onslaught of memories mixed with fear of a future without my canine companion. A part of me dies with my dog.
Fortunately my vet makes house calls and has allowed both Malcolm and Abbey to pass in the peace of familiar surroundings with their favorite toys, treats, and companions right next to them. And incredibly lucky for me, I have Bob, who bears this burden with me and lets me cling to him even as his heart breaks.
To deal with the aching absence of Abbey, I alternate between listening to gut wrenching songs about grief to reading poetry about passing to drinking rain forest tea to collapsing on the couch. Eventually I reach for my pen and journal, open up a vein and let the following bleed out.
Things No One Tells You When You Get A Dog
No one ever tells you when you get a dog
that they will heal your heart every time it breaks
only to shatter it beyond recognition when they leave.
They forget to mention
you will continue to offer table scraps to the ghost of a good dog
and listen intensely for the pattering of paws across the kitchen floor
or wait for the delirious wagging of a tail to welcome you home.
You never suspect you will miss the insistence on a Busy Bone from the kitchen
once you’ve settled snugly into the couch.
You can’t fathom wishing you would wake
once more to the movement of dreaming feet, muffled barks,
and snores that rival your husband’s.
No one tells you that coming across a favorite toy, food dish, eye drops, ear wipes,
multiple dog beds and blankets will bring you to your knees
as you remember how many ways your life was blessed by a dog.
No one wants to spoil the ending at the beginning.
No one wants to tell you the grief will go as deep as the love
and come in waves at odd moments long after your dog is gone.
They will only ask you when you’re going to get another
and you will say never…
Until one day you remember that Dog is just God spelled backward
and the closest thing to heaven on earth.