My dog is gone. After 14 years, 3 months and 14 days, he took his last breaths. I was 1900 miles away this morning when my mom texted me. We had known it would be soon - he was barely able to get up anymore and in the past couple of days he had stopped eating.
I understand. It happens. In fact, I have to deal with this kind of thing at work every day. Those difficult decisions, the sentences that start with "quality of life" and end with a phone call to the vet. And so. My favorite vet, the one I looked up to all through my childhood years, the one I shadowed once I knew I wanted to be a vet - he came out this morning, to my parents' place in Iowa, where it was bright and sunny and lovely. It was the right decision, and 14 years is a heck of a life for a Lab/Shepherd cross. I know. I know. But knowing never makes it easier. And the tears won't stop for a while yet. I want to sit down and write about him - all the good memories, from the time we drove him home - that black bundle in a cardboard box on my lap - to the time he puked spaghetti in the bathtub, the time he was hit by a semi and lived - and all the times he laid in the warm Iowa grass, under a bright sun and a gentle wind, and dreamed his deep dog dreams. But the full writing of those memories will have to wait; it is too much for me today.
I wrote this poem some time ago. It seems fitting to share it now. Ah, Dakota. You were one of the best ones I have known, or ever will.
The Lives of Dogs
I have known dogs -
bowlegged pups with rounded bellies,
the wrigglers and the yippers,
the velvety-muzzled and pointy-teethed nippers
all tumbling and bumbling
through their puppyhood lives.
I have known dogs in the prime of their lives -
the eager park goers,
the racers, the lopers,
the ones that leap stairs
in a single unflinching bound,
the fetchers and catchers,
the sturdy and sleek,
those invincible dogs,
dogs at their peak.
I have known dogs at the end of their days -
the fading old, the ones that slow
to catch their breaths and sink
to the ground. With bones that creak,
and hips that sway, their muzzles overtaken
with bristling grey.
The cloudy-eyed and muscle-wasted.
The ones with lumps and bumps,
and spines that hump, hard of hearing,
yet still they find a way to push
their cold noses into an empty hand,
and when at last they can no longer stand
and I am called to end their too-short lives,
it is never with permission. Their tails
still thump the floor. Soft whines
and begging eyes implore us still to play.
I have known dogs - the weight
of their heads in my lap.
Their hearts that beat and slow
and beat and slow and stop.
Their final sighs. The way we stroke
their heads to say goodbye.