For the past 13 years, I have used my dog’s name as a password for all of my technological needs (it was original when I started it). And, yes, you too can now sign in to see the results of my latest pap smear or peak at the negative balance in my savings account. But now, our old lab is well past her expiration date. And like other things that we keep too long (milk, some clothes and decorations, and drawings that I created in 1978) she is getting stinky, difficult to watch, and oh so frail.
The biggest clue was when a passerby in a vehicle pulled over and rolled down (yes, rolled, we live near a lot of elderly folk, don’t judge) his window to ask if she was alright. You know something is bad when people pull over to address it. Pull-overs usually only happen when you need some serious first aid (story for later) or child services (another story for later).
I mean, she’s just a measly dog. But. I have listened to her snoring, smelled her farts, and endured her loud barking since 1999. I remember listening to Prince with her 7 pound body curled on my lap (in my garage, smoking cigarettes... story for later) “I wanna party like...” Nevermind. If you can’t finish that, go change your diaper.
It was 14 years ago in San Diego, early in my teaching career, when a student of mine brought the runt of his latest litter to school one day. The tiny cutie stole my heart and the hubs didn’t stand a chance at talking me out of her. My student told me that they almost “drowned” her (which is farmer talk for something normal, though it surely can’t involve actually drowning?!?! PETA? Am I correct?) In fact, this “runt” outweighed her own mother at only a few years old, not something I think young ladies should necessarily aspire to, but in her case it was a cause of pride.
She was a strong, steady presence in and staple of our lives for many years.
And this is a tough one for me, I confess... I’ve had many changes in my life lately. I am not sure just how to weather this one.
None of my the recent changes has involved disrupting the family unit; in fact, they’ve all worked toward strengthening it. But this silly dog was our first child. We have a freakin photo album of her, for God’s sake. Our Christmas cards used to have her as the focus (she was much cuter than we). I’m not sure I’m in a safe enough place yet to endure such a jolt.
CS Lewis once said that “animals that have enjoyed a positive personal relationship with a human have a better theological chance at immortality.” And I like to think that she’ll be in heaven to greet us. With a big lick and a jump. That jump she just can’t do anymore in this life.
We are all that she has known of life. She never even went to a kennel. We always took her with us or manipulated our neighbors and/or former friends into keeping her when we were away.
And even though I’ve only very recently re-connected with her after the tumultuous years of raising young children (those years when I really wanted her out of my way and out of the house) she did not harbor a grudge. In fact, it was like she never even noticed. She accepted my love in whatever way she could get it. The sadness for me is that she finally became my walking companion, now I don’t have a dog-excuse to justify my night-time meanderings.
There is something to be said about a loyalty that harbors no guilt. It’s a beautiful portrait of unconditional love. Julian of Norwich once said, “In God’s voice, I never hear a hint of blame.” Not that I’m comparing my dog to God. But I am. Sort of. They share the loyalty thing. And the blamelessness. I never had to worry what Daisy thought of me, or had to apologize for three hours about all the ways I let her down. She had so few expectations of me. She taught me how to lower my own expectations of other humans.
In the end, dogs end up teaching us about our own capacity to love--they are willing receptacles (or dumping grounds) of all our leftover emotions. Sometimes they get the best of us, sometimes the worst.
This morning, we had Daisy put down.
She enjoyed a long, beautiful life. A life full of adventure: snow and ocean and lake and hills and dead bodies (story for later) and mountains and parks and lots and lots and lots of walks. We let her leave this life before her suffering became too unbearable to endure. She was always such a tough gal, I’m sure she’d have lasted even longer in her mind than her failing body would allow; however, it’s a strange choice to make...now I’m about to compare myself to God. No, I won’t go there.
I will always picture her running on a path just ahead, or snoring at my feet millimeters away or wagging her tail violently. For who now will tell me when someone is at the door? Or walking in front of our house?
It will be eerily quiet here.