Forgive me from straying from my normal topics of fire arts and dance on this site, but I am a writer, if nothing else. And so when my beloved dog got sick this week, I didn’t dance. I didn’t spin fire poi. I wrote.
I wrote about the life my dog has lived, from my limited perspective. I wrote about what I feared, what will likely be her ultimate end. By writing the worst, I felt some relief. And my dog is doing okay. 🙂
I opened the hatchback trunk of my Subaru, where my dog lay, her tail unthumping, unwagging. Let’s go, girl, I say to her as I gently place the collar back on her neck, coaxing her to stand so that I can put my arms under her body and lift up, then put her on the ground. She lets me, then sniffs the ground for signs of other dogs that have walked the same path before.
Which one? We couldn’t decide. Each dog needed a home, a forever home. Pups and mutts, and then, a ten-week-old Australian Shepherd. Gray, white, black, fluffy, and softer than soft. I had a dog just like that when I was young, said another potential owner as he eyed her greedily. We’ll take her, I said.
We’ll just need you to sign in on this sheet, and then if you don’t mind, go ahead and fill out these forms so we can update our records. The receptionist’s words were textbook professional, but her eyes were sympathetic. She was familiar with this moment, this appointment that dog owners and cat owners and animal owners/lovers hope they can somehow avoid.
Pixie? I love The Pixies.
No, she doesn’t look like a “Pixie.”
(An unapproving look.)
It’s so hard, to name an animal. To come up with what we’ll always call her . . . Cowgirl?
Yes, yes, that’s it. She’s “Cowgirl.”
Haha – “Even Cowgirl Gets the Blues.” Perfect.
She’s a beautiful dog. What is she?
Part Aussie, part Collie. She’s a good girl. I tilted my head back down to the clipboard as though it were interesting.
One of the smartest breeds I’ve ever known. How old is she?
She’s twelve and a half. She’s . . . not feeling well.
A respectful silence as the other pet owner nods. Despite our, situation, I return the kindness.
Your dog’s very cute. Sweet little thing. Then I go back to the clipboard, rewriting my unchanged name, unchanged address, unchanged phone number.
Look at her trying to get up the steps!
They’re too steep for her little legs. We’ll have to carry her until she’s a little bigger.
The vet’s assistant peeked her head into the waiting room. Cowgirl? We’re ready for you. Her eyes showed regret. Ma’am, if you don’t mind, it’s best to pay in advance, so you don’t have to fool with it afterward.
Of course. I fumbled with my purse, my wallet, my credit card, handing over the plastic with one hand, and holding her leash with the other, feeling a sickness of remorse for having to make this choice for her, for paying to have it done.
Sit. Siii-iiiit. Sit. SIT! Good puppy! Such a good girl! You’re so smart. You’re the smartest doggie in the world!
Now, staaay. Stay. St- Don’t move. Staaay. Stay there. (pause) Good girl! Cowgirl, you’re so good!
Speak, quiet, down, come, wait, crawl, wave, shake, turn in a circle, say your prayers, and balance this book your head. We taught her every trick we heard of. She learned every one. She performed each with an undying willingness to please, no matter how many times we asked or told her to do something.
Blue ribbons, trophies, endless dog treats and neck scratches for such a good dog.
She would play hard, and sleep hard, even running in her dreams as her paws tapped into the air while her eyes fluttered in her slumber.
This is never easy. The vet was kind, but that’s all she could be. But there always come a time, and we know she’s suffering. I hope you know that you’re doing the right thing.
I nod my head, knowing that if I try to say anything that the tears will be let loose. Feeling that any words from my mouth, at this time, are reserved only for saying I love you, I love you, I’m sorry, I’ll miss you, you were such a good dog.
I’ll give you a moment. And she did, leaving the examination room, which was filled with a thick atmosphere of grief.
I sat on the couch, lazily laying back against the seat, flipping through TV channels, waiting for my water to break. She stood up from her nearly permanent place at the front door, where she kept us safe from intruders and squirrels, and walked over to me, laying her long nose across the swell of my belly. She looked up at me from the corner of her eyes, as if she knew that life would forever change at any moment, although neither of us were sure exactly how.
I know you know, I said to my dog in the exam room. She looked up at me, then put her head down, resting it just between my knees as I leaned forward and buried my face in the fur of her neck.
We should have a birthday party when he turns 10 this month. I just blinked, and here he is, in the double digits.
What’ll we do with Cowgirl when the kids are here? She’s too grumpy these days to let her out when there’s a bunch of kids running around.
Can’t we put her upstairs in the bedroom?
She can’t walk up the stairs anymore.
Are you ready, Ms. Haas?
I nod my head. Unable to speak, I put my arms around my dog and hold her steady.
The day was made of two parts: Blue sky above and green grass below. My dog and I sat on the bottom half of the colors, watching the clouds go by. She was off leash, unattached to anything, free to go anywhere in the world. But I knew she couldn’t, and wouldn’t, go far. I pet her, laying down next to me, her ears perked as various sounds came and went. Birds, a distant train, then, the sound we were waiting for, the school bus, dropping off my son. She didn’t stand up to greet him, didn’t run down the hill, didn’t bark anymore. I scratched her neck and she thumped her tail as he came to us, dropping his backpack into the grass and falling to his knees to pet her. Knowing without knowing that something was wrong.
Let’s put her on the table. Can you lift her?
I nod my head. The vet goes on to explain what I can expect in the next couple of moments. A slowness of breathing, a final sigh, maybe some slight movements. I run my hands over my dog’s nose, face, head, neck, her front legs, her body, back legs, her tail. Her unwagging, unthumping tail that, for more than a decade, wagged and thumped next to me.
Good girl, I whisper in broken words. You’re such a good girl. Good dog. Good dog.
by Cherie Haas, copyright 2015