Ode To A Dying Dog
It had always been our way, my ex George’s and mine. I know some pet lovers and animal activists might disagree but, except for Charlie, our first beagle who at fifteen was in pain at the end and who we were able to get a young vet to come over and give him peace, we have let nature take its course with each of our dozen dogs and one cat that followed, and who now lie buried either in our little pet cemetery at one of our properties in Pennsylvania or in urns at our respective homes. So it was to be with Sammy, G’s beagle, though the truth be told, when it came to loving Sammy, he was as much my dog as G’s.
Sammy had been a victim of the incompetence and indifference of the veterinary profession and the animal pharmas. Stricken with Lyme’s Disease while up in PA, he was cured of his ailment with antibiotics but left an arthritic cripple. So the vets prescribed a powerful pain reliever – five different vets with five different recommendations on dosage – that eventually destroyed his liver. Going through periods when it looked like the end was near and others when George labeled him “in remission,” now just a few days before his eleventh birthday it looked like the day of reckoning had arrived for his – our – poor doggie.
Despite the fact we had been “Splitsville” as George termed it since April of 2016 after forty two years of a relationship that could be best described as “tumultuous,” we stayed in touch by phone. (George intentionally did not stay up with latest in communication technology, i.e., texts, Facebook, and the like.) While l had always been there for him throughout his many health care crises though he had not been there for mine, like my back surgery last May, the fact Sammy was dying and Georgie was already a basket case at the prospect of losing him compelled me to leave my happy lazy life and my own three doggies in balmy Fort Lauderdale earlier this month and fly up to PA, which was still in the grips of a winter that wouldn’t quit, to be with him and Sammy. Had l checked the extended forecast before l booked my trip, l probably would have delayed it, but, looking back now, I would have forever regretted if l had.
My twelve hours of travel were an agonizing odyssey, both physically and psychologically. It started with a shared ride to Fort Lauderdale International Airport at 7:30 in the morning of March 9, followed by the cattle car flight on United into Newark, the bus from Newark to Manhattan’s Port Authority, then a walk across town to the Path (Port Authority Trans Hudson) underground train to Hoboken, New Jersey, where l picked up the Metro North railroad that left me off in Port Jervis, New York, about a forty minute drive from our PA house, for which l had to call the local cab service three times before they finally came (no Uber up here in the boonies and night driving was out of the question for G who suffers from macular degeneration). It was almost eight at night when l walked in.
George was genuinely happy about my arrival, and l was grateful Sammy was still alive and reasonably alert to recognize me. In fact, he even got up from the dog bed that would be his deathbed to greet me, but both G and I knew the end was near, having gone through it with a dozen other animals.
Soon, however, our mutual gloom turned predictably to our most frequent pastime – arguing. Not about infidelity or money, the subjects that killed most relationships, despite the fact l had led a life of deceit when G early on no longer wanted sex. No, our’s was the perpetual war of wills. Opposites to begin, with G, the jock, the sports fanatic, and yes the dreamer, and me the nerd, the world traveler (G had a phobia about foreign food and flying), and the perpetual cynic, G had incessantly tried to assert his will on me and how l led my life as l fought back with an increasingly assertive independent streak. We should have called it quits decades ago and now, even with poor Sammy dying in the next room, we continued battling over what was, in hindsight, absolute shit. When l complained about the impending blizzard which in the end delayed my return home by almost a week, George countered by saying that he had never asked me to come up, though l knew him better, and when l had mentioned about delaying my trip by a week because of a doctor’s appointment G had yelled back on the phone, “l need you now, not after he’s dead!” And l knew he was right.
Almost twenty-four hours later on that Friday evening, after a night and day of bittersweet reminiscing about all of our dogs, including my three who were “next in line,” our rocky “marriage, ” punctuated by sobbing sessions kneeling over our innocent boy, Sammy died peacefully and quietly in his favorite dog bed.
As was our tradition with previous canine passings, G opened a bottle of wine – this time it was Merlot – and we got drunk.
Fortunately, after nagging him on the phone, George the week before had gotten some guys from the handyman service we used for the house, young hunks who fit G’s sexual fantasies perfectly – l much preferred my very real seasoned fuck buddies – to dig a grave in the back near the dog statues we had swiped from our first country house up here just five miles down the road that we now rented. And so that Saturday morning, after an overnight snowfall, George carefully carried our sweet departed doggie, lying in his bed and enveloped in his favorite blanket, down the basement stairs and placed him in a wheelbarrow as l cleared the snow. We both lifted his bed from either end, walked over to the gravesite and ever so gently lowered him in. First George, then l, when he began to sob uncontrollably, shifted the dirt from the mound above and covered Sammy’s grave. G had said he would get a figurine the next time he was in Walmart to mark the spot, but for now l moved one of our weathered dog statues to our second pet cemetery in the Poconos, making Sammy’s final resting spot visible from every room in the rear of the house – including George’s bedroom.
“He’s in heaven now with his all his cousins (our previous pets), who are showing him the ropes,” George would mutter intermittently that day and night. “He’s a puppy again with a new body and running and playing like he used to.”
It was moments like these when l regretted being an atheist realist. Perhaps there was something after all of this, after all. If the life force was energy and energy could not be destroyed, Sammy’s life force, the life force that left his crippled body, the same life force that would leave all of our physical beings someday, had to be somewhere. In a newborn puppy, perhaps, or an aging dog given a new lease on life?
In the end my little mission of mercy had morphed into a stressful, extremely emotional roller coaster ride. Yet l never regretted my decision for a moment. Driving me to the train station on my twice rescheduled trip back to the Land of Oz, George thanked me in his own quiet way for coming up. But no thank you was necessary.
You see, I had able to say goodbye to our Sammy while he was still with us, hold his paw and look him straight in those soppy eyes of his, and that was all the thanks l needed.