At 18 years of age, it is not a tragedy that our dear dog has departed for his next great adventure. Without ambivalence about it being the right time, the sadness that remains is pure, and will abate in time, replaced by our connection with him.
Anyone with a pet knows about the exquisite nature of this relationship: the silent communication that invites them in when we are hurting, and the unbridled joy when celebrating, or finding a tiny scrap of chicken on the floor. There is little fear of misunderstanding when conversing with your dog; they are incapable of guile and it is clear where they stand once you know the signals.
Our former dog did train us by wagging at the back door, where we would never deny her egress. Then sometimes she would move to where her treat were, with a “Now that you’re up…” smile at us. This dog, Mr. 18, Charlie, hailed from Puerto Rico, and arrived in Massachusetts courtesy of American Airlines who had an agreement with a shelter there. Evidently their stray dog problem had reached epic proportions and surely they offered them beef or chicken dinners on their way north.
It was obvious he was from the street as he marked every room in the house, ricocheting around like a pinball and then reared back and hurled himself halfway up the stairs before he figured out how to negotiate them. The most mortifying moment occurred during training, which happened at our home, as our trainer wished to reward people choosing shelter dogs with training at home. It was the last of the six sessions, and Charlie decided that the trainer’s wife was part of his territory, and marked her accordingly. She was unflapped, stating that the only other dog to do that was their own. As a host there is not a way to un-do this honor; only offers of washing or cake or a gift certificate.
Charlie proved that dogs can have nine lives, coming through multiple bouts with pancreatitis, two ACL surgeries, and wicked old age. His unrelenting confidence that the fridge may yield treats persisted through even his deafest times. This kind of diehard optimism demands respect and the very occasional spoonful of peanut butter, which gave us as much joy to watch as it gave him to extract from his mouth. His eyes remained fixed on us lest he miss another offering.
As his arthritis increased, along with more regular and embarrassing episodes of incontinence and frequent falls it became clear that we would just need to choose a day for him to find the Rainbow Bridge. The pain that was evident in his face, along with difficulty finding a way to be comfortable made us feel like we were offering him a kindness, a last loving gesture for his long and colorful life.
The emptiness is palpable now, even though I feel certain that we will feel him close at hand when cracking a can of cat food, or opening the window to let the breeze blow across his favorite bench. Both cats climbed up on the bed to sleep with us last night, a very unusual event, as they do not typically sleep near each other, or even sleep on the bed regularly, and they were tail to tail between us.
We wish Mr. Dog well on his journey and promise that we will plant a tree to mark the new growth that he generously brought to us each and every day.
Meg Stafford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org