It’s always a rainy day for this kind of news.
But if the sun happens to be shining when you hear it, standing in the vet’s office bouncing your fussy baby while your big-hearted old dog waits for you on a blanket in the back of your car, well you’d just resent it’s hopeful rays anyway.
It was the coughing and wheezing on our walk that weekend that found me and my old companion looking at one another wondering how I was going to get his tired and stiff 110-pound body hoisted up into the back of my SUV without killing us both.
But turns out, it’s not those old bones that are killing him, it’s that big ‘ol heart. At least that’s what I heard the vet say, words I knew were coming despite my hope for something that might return him to the days when I would open the back hatch of my little Saturn and he’d leap in, sleek and slobbery and hoping for a trip to the lake.
And it’s not that I didn’t know this was coming.
Nearly 12 years alive for a chocolate Lab is what you can expect. It’s just that the gray hair around his muzzle now matches the hair along my temples and the silver shining out the sides of my husband’s hat; hair that reminds me we’re not those kids anymore, freshly married with a world of plans and time in front of us and a new puppy peeing in the house and chewing on our shoelaces and soaking up the extra love and affection and time spilling out of us.
And now we’re in the thick of it, wiping butts and noses, raising careers and cattle and sometimes passing each other like ships in the night. And sometime between then and now our puppy with an affinity for sticks too large for him to carry turned into an old dog getting ready to leave us.
I swallowed that lump in my throat at least a dozen times while I waited to pay for the prescription medication that might make him comfortable and keep him here with us a little longer.
I put the baby in the car and his big old muzzle leaned on the seat, breathing heavily over her as she closed her eyes to sleep and I closed mine to cry, that dog’s life story unwinding in my head and all tangled up in the lifespan of our marriage.
He was our first family member and the one constant in a life together that has often felt as overwhelming as it has wonderful.
The moves, the renovations, the family plans broken, the slamming doors, the celebratory hugs, the pheasant hunts and long walks, the dozens of songs, the sleepless nights, the pregnancies, the babies — he’s helped bring us here and has always welcomed us home.
This morning I’ll give him his pills tucked up in a hot dog, scratch his belly and let him out to sit in the sun that’s shining today, giving us hope for a little more time before we have to figure out how to live without him.
Thank you to everyone who has emailed to share sympathy and stories of their favorite pets. I’m happy to report Hondo seems to be doing better on the meds. We are going to love him every minute we have left with him.
A poem shared with me by one of you, my special readers
The Power of a Dog
By Rudyard Kipling
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
But when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie–
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.
When the fourteen years that nature permits
Are closing in asthma or tumors or fits
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers, or loaded guns.
Then you will find–its your own affair
But–you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will
When the whimper of welcome is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone–wherever it goes–for good,
You still discover how much you care
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.
We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em the more do we grieve;
For when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short time loan is as bad as a long–
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?