It was my last day with my dog.
We woke up that morning and she couldn’t walk.
She was 16.
She was decrepit and couldn’t hold her bladder or bowels any longer. She was losing her sense of hearing and sight. She had been with me since I was 21.
I can’t remember our last day together. It isn’t like I had planned to put her to sleep, so there was no final supper or walk by the bay. I had always known that it would have to happen like that- in an emergency, because I would never be able to make and keep a date to have her put to sleep.
I remember there was snow on the ground, and several days or a week before, she had been outside in the snow, sniffing at my son’s snowman, frolicking like a puppy-rabbit for one second before becoming elderly again.
She was a lab mix. She never got over 36 pounds in her entire life, even though she loved cheese with her whole heart. Although she was initially terrified of water, she grew to love the ocean, and walked the beach hundreds of times with me. She shed black fur everywhere, so I took to wearing mostly black so it would blend in. She slept in my bed, curled up in my arms each night for years when I was single, lonely, and sad.
She was never like my baby, as some people call their pets.
She was my sister.
If there is a hell, and if I am destined to go to there, it will be a movie theater where I have to watch myself mistreat my dog in her elder years over and over for all eternity on a giant screen. I yelled and scared her. I hurt her feelings. I had no patience when her bowels let loose all over my carpet and I slipped in it coming home from work with toddler-Jack in my arms. I was frustrated with her when her toenails click-clacked on the hardwood floors in the middle of the night because she was startled or confused.
I did her wrong.
At one point, someone recommended euthanizing my dog “because you never want to make a bad memory with your dog.” Wiser words have never been spoken, but wisdom was wasted on my shallow ears then. I understand it now. I didn’t have the compassion, energy, or insight to care for a sick and elderly creature.
Maybe karma will reign and I will be mistreated as an elder. Gosh, I hope not, but I suppose it could be a possibility.
When I was much, much younger, before I ever had a dog, someone told me your dog always comes back to you. When your dog dies, they somehow find their way back to their owner. This thought stuck with me for over 20 years. I pondered it quite a bit after my dog died. I even contacted the person online. He was a total stranger after 20 years, 87 years old and living clear across the country. But we struck up a conversation of comfort an faith.
My husband said, if she comes back, it won’t be as a dog. She lived too good a life as a dog to be reincarnated as one.
We gave her a good death, I believe. It was peaceful and kind, and in her final moments, she was happy, in my arms.
It started snowing while we were in the vet’s. I asked if I could take her out to walk her around for a bit before we made the final decision. She limped out with me into the parking lot, making little footprints in the snow. She stumbled, looked up at me, and let me know. Or maybe I projected that onto her, as my husband suggested.
But in that moment, I knew it was time.
I hugged her and thanked her and let her know if she ever wanted to come back to me, I would always be waiting for her. I apologized for being such a horrid human to her and told her I loved her.
After, the grief was intense, mostly because of my previous cruelty, but also because my life had been so shaped by her– feeding and walking her, brushing her tufty old fur so it would shed less, hearing her trip-trapping across the floor to greet me after work. There was an emptiness so vast it took my breath away.
And it still does take my breath away three years later.
Sometimes I dream of her still. Her slightly square jaw poked up at me, her eyes looking at me like I am the only thing in the universe.
I don’t feel her presence in my life, and when I think of her, I am still mostly sad. Sure, the grief has dulled, as it will over time. A week after her death, I went to collect her ashes. They were in a very small, wooden box. Smaller than you would really think is possible. I thought they would give me a sense of closure or peace. They did not.
Someone at the animal crematorium made a print of her paw for me. There was a black hair stuck in the clay. The texture of her gritty, little paw was evident in the print. I held it to my nose, only smelling a faint, chemical smell. I had always loved the smell of her paws; like corn chips rubbed in fresh cut grass. It was the best smell ever.
I keep the paw print with her ashes on a shelf in my bedroom, next to a picture of her and my husband when he and I were first dating.
We have not gotten another dog. I don’t know if I could ever love again, as I loved her. And I don’t know if I am much better of a human, if I could be better to an animal, although I would like to think I could be. I’m sure I don’t deserve another dog.
But here is why I think the universe and karma might not totally be out to get me:
One week after the death of my dog, I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I couldn’t help but wonder. . . and sometimes still can’t help but wonder because Emily has an uncanny affinity for doggies, and an abiding love of cheese.
This post was written as a part of the WordPress Daily post series. http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/daily-prompt-sweet-dreams/