Also known as Stinky, because he was.
My parents are dogless, as of today. He was 12. It was well overdue, but that doesn’t make it any easier. How can a dog make me this sad?
He was diabetic, and completely blind as a result. He had been getting insulin and home-made dog food for months, because he wouldn’t eat regular dog food. His fur was coming off in big raw patches and he was so wasted and cachectic that he hardly looked canine. We all kept hoping that he would just pass quietly in his sleep, but what we hadn’t counted on was how tenacious he was, always.
I got him from my boyfriend for my 22nd birthday. He was this tiny black, rambunctious puppy. He was my first taste of adulthood. I house-trained him in the middle of the rainiest summer in history. Every four hours, out in the rain, middle of the night, dragging him back out from the shelter of the deck until he peed. It felt like I had a baby, except that I could leave him home alone while I went to school (a safer transition to adulthood, with fewer implications than, say, a real baby…). Of course leaving him home alone wasn’t always the best idea. Once we got Stan, who died in July this year, we had a team of happy, wagging destruction. Gramma often said she wasn’t always sure if the house would survive them. They chewed walls and stairs, ripped up huge sections of carpet, puddled everywhere. No food was safe left out. Stan, the brawn, would haul things off the counter. Booker, the brains, would orchestrate circumstances to get himself treats, usually because he was so small, he couldn’t reach the tasty things up high. I remember the day they came home to find Stan’s chewy bone on the kitchen counter, and a container, licked clean, formerly containing cookies, on the floor. Gramma would come every day and take them out in her car to go for a run in the field. They loved it, all three of them. I remember Booker’s little head popping up from behind snowdrifts and tall hay as he searched for mice and followed fascinating scents, just keeping us in sight, lifting his leg on anything. They always trusted us implicitly.
I have to give Booker credit for widening my world view. Before dog, I was a typical self-centered teenager. Once I had something that relied on me, injustice in the world, mostly against animals, quickly became anathema to me. I would get a sick knot in my stomach when I heard about cruelty and abuse. Eventually this expanded to include humans, but really, it was a giant step toward adulthood to suddenly be responsible for something other than myself.
We had a pool for a while, and Booker would go mental whenever someone was in it, racing around and barking at the top of his little lungs like he wanted to tell us something desperately important. We always wondered if he was cheering us on or trying to save us from drowning. Or when we played pool on the table in the basement, he would race back and forth, popping his little head up to get a look at what was going on. He was so wierd. He blew up his knee one summer by the pool, and always had a limp after that. He was so cute and wild and full of personality. We would get him playing tug-of-war on a big old chew rope, and you could actually lift him off the ground by his teeth. He was strong and he was tenacious, literally and figuratively.
When he got sick last winter, none of us figured he would live until spring, let alone fall. Even the vet commented on how tough he was. We figure he actually died weeks ago but just forgot to stop moving around. He even had a date with the executioner the day Stan died… we were going to take both in at the same time, but after Stan made the decision for us, none of us could bear to bring Booker in. I was so sure it would be yesterday, he looked so awful. But he just kept trucking. Confused, blind, incontinent, but with his ear up, listening for food. My dad said that last night he looked so terrible that he just knew it was time. I wish I could have been the one to take him in. I felt so badly for both of them. We all knew it was long past time, but it is just so hard to do something active. It was hard enough to stop his insulin on the weekend. That was passive, though, because we figured it would cause him to slip into a coma and die peacefully. But he hung on, and my dad was faced with the prospect of actually having him put down. I should have been the one to take him in. The only comfort in the whole thing is that we know we did him a favour, and we know he wasn’t getting better, and we know it would have been any minute anyway. It was the right thing to do. It would have been right months ago, but none of us (except Gramma, who has been quietly lobbying for it for a while) was ready.
So no more pets for them, dad says. Too unbearably sad when they are gone, worse when they are going, and not peacefully. Booker fought all the way. God, if it’s this hard with a pet, how do people who have to make these decisions for a human ever sleep at night? When you know that something is right but it’s the hardest thing you ever had to do, where do you get the courage? I’ve watched families struggle with this at work, but this is the first taste I’ve had of it myself. I guess it’s another favour that little dog did for me, giving me a tiny bit of practice with making hard decisions. I’ve escaped relatively unscathed in life so far, but I can’t help but feel that eventually, I will have my share of rough times, and I really hope I will live up to the challenge. We may have put it off too long, but we redeemed ourselves today by saving him any more suffering, and in return he taught us that life goes on, different and lacking something, but we know wecan carry on, even if at first it doesn’t feel like it’s worth it. But I hope like hell I never have to make a decision with literal vital importance about a human I love. Stopping treatment, pulling the plug, whatever. I don’t know if I am that strong.
But here’s to Booker and his legacy. My mom can reclaim her house. No more cold nose on her leg, begging for scraps in the kitchen. He can woof away in the happy hunting grounds knowing it will be years, if ever, before they ever evict the last dog hair. He lives on.
I will end with an amusing kid story, to lighten the mood.
The other night, Trevor, Aimee and I were playing cards before she went to bed. Aimee lost a hand. “Damn it,” she said.
Our jaws dropped. She’s 7 years old. We raised our eyebrows at each other. “What?” she said, completely innocently on seeing the looks on our faces.
“Aim, that’s kind of a bad word,” I said, trying not to laugh.
“Why? It just means ‘darn it’,” she said.
“Yes, but it’s not a nice way of saying it. You should stick with ‘darn it’,” Trevor said.
“Where did you hear that?” I asked, hoping desperately that she wouldn’t say it was from us.
“From Jenna. She’s in grade one,” she replied. Phew.
We kind of dropped it, stifling giggles. A few minutes later, she lost another hand. “Da… darn it,” she said. Hey, I thought, she heard us. Score one for the parents. Maybe that evens up the cosmic parenting scoreboard a bit for the inattention that allowed her to learn the term in the first place. I am certain Jenna isn’t the only guilty party here.
Hey, at least it wasn’t the “f” word, although she has tried that one on us before. Another story, another time. I’m going to toast my dog now.