A slow goodbye to my dog.
Date: 07 April 2020
Category: Meandering Thoughts and Ponderings.
Caring for Dogs
Over the last twenty-four years of my life I have cared for dogs. In that span, I have had six dogs that moved with me from Rochester to Buffalo, Buffalo to Oswego, and finally from Oswego to Toronto. All of my dogs have been rescues. My dogs have walked with me through some of the darkest losses of my life. But my dogs have also been the greatest source of comfort, unconditional love, and so many times a source of amusement too.
Later today, I will say my final goodbye to my last dog of five years—the old gal Chloe. I adopted Chloe to help out with Copper. Copper was another beagle who had struggled with profound losses in his life too. Chloe turned out to be a great companion during a tumultuous departure from Oswego and transition to Toronto. With Chloe, particularly these last two to three years, she weathered all sorts of change, three homes, and a lot of riding in the truck. But we did it together.
Amidst all this chaos and grief of a pandemic it seems odd to begin to mourn the passing of a dog. But then again, grief is grief. Over these twenty-four years, I have learned so much from all of my dogs. But with Chloe, we have had a long slow and somewhat painful goodbye. This past weekend was hard because I knew the time had come to let her rest for good. And I worry that I missed the signs earlier and that this goodbye should have happened sooner than it did; but then Chloe like always was steadfast in own way.
For the first time in all these many years, roughly half of my life, I will not go out and find another dog to continue this journey through life. I can process it intellectually, but I also know that gravity of this decision hasn’t fully hit me yet—and may not for a few days. I also know that while another dog would be most welcomed, my life for the next few years will host a lot of demands where I am away from home, and thus for another potential dog—and that simply isn’t fair to the dog.
A long slow goodbye
Chloe now gently lays sleeping near me as I write, as she has done for weeks now. In fact, that was one of the realizations that makes today necessary. She sleeps all the time, but her pain has begun to make it harder and harder for her to sleep. The pain medications only seem to dull the pain but not remove it completely. And while it seems in her will and spirit to wish to live on, her body cannot do so much longer—and it is only fair to her to ease this burden of continual pain. Because she has been a great companion throughout the transition of the last three years, I am firmly rooted in my life in Toronto now, and so she can rest.
I will miss her. I will miss her goofy grin and howls after our walks—slow though they may be. It took two plus years of our last five together to make a sound with me; so, I fully enjoy the silly side of her that howls as a sign of happiness. And I will most assuredly miss that with her—and her as of late gusto for eating.
But this entry is an attempt to honor all the dogs of my adult life. Each had such a unique personality and goofy side to them. Some came to me not trusting, but together we learned to trust and love each other. Others came uncertain of what we would do together—but we always had adventures. And I can say unabashedly that each of these magnificent dogs have seen me at my most vulnerable moments and through the many tears that flowed quietly in my life—they, the dogs all comforted me during those troubling times.
There was my first dog Bubba, as she became known—due to my sister. I had actually named her “Lady” at first, but once Bubba hit—she would only answer to Bubba. Bubba was a Shepard-mix, perhaps with Collie. She was wicked smart and intuitive, and we learned some hard lessons together. I adored her. And like Chloe, she was a very difficult decision to make when it came time for her to rest for the final time.
But there are so many stories with Bubba. The hay bales, for example. We never knew what she saw them as, but when we drove past fields that had just been hayed and rolled for storage—she would go nuts. You think they were some giant monster she must die to protect us from in the car.
Then one day, we decided to pull over and see what she’d do if I walked her up to one. And sure enough, she got uncertain the closer we got to it. From a distance she was growling and barking and carrying on in general. Then as we closed in on the hay bale, she got lower to the ground and much quieter and tried to finally gently sniffed it. She suddenly realized that it was just hay. She cocked her head to one side, and then tried to walk away like it was no big deal.
The funniest part of the story is that whenever we’d point out a hay bale to her in another car ride, she’d simply hang her head—and her eyes would seem to say, “Et tu, Bruté.” But she never did bark at a hay bale again.
Then came Boomer. Boomer was a black lab. Someone had simply abandoned him at a historic site I worked at back then. The only command he never obeyed again was “stay.” Once he met Bubba back at my apartment in Buffalo, I called the folks who asked me to care from him temporarily—and told them not to worry about, he fit perfectly with Bubba and I in our apartment. Boomer would go on to be my longest companion of ten years. And he was perhaps my best writing buddy throughout grad school.
Boomer would often sleep on the curb-rescued love seat. He’d gently sleep, sometimes looking at me to make sure that I was still working. He was a quiet kind of task master like that while I wrote. It would take me some time to realize that he knew when I was stuck and flustered with writing—and he’d start his ritual.
Boomer would stretch and then quietly saunter out of the room. He’d turn around and pad back to the doorway—and then loudly plop down and sigh. I’d pretend I didn’t see him. So, he’d exit the room again, turn around and this time he’d come about halfway to the chair I was often writing in—and again, dramatically plop down and let out a bit louder sigh. I’d pretend once again not to seem him and continue to write. He’d exit the room for the final time, only to return, but this time he’d plop down-right next to me, the laptop, and my chair.
Then he’d let out the longest loud sigh he could muster and flop his head across the keyboard. At this point, I’d laugh, and his tail would start to thump the ground—and we’d go for a walk. Boomer was always a bit overly dramatic.
But, sure enough, we’d return from the walk and my thoughts and thinking would be much clearer-and I would then continue to write with more focus. And Boomer would go back to sleep on the crappy loveseat. But that was the Boomer—a good writing companion—perhaps the best one.
Just before I left Buffalo for Oswego, Boomer and I lived in an apartment where my neighbor had three dogs. So, we were neighborly and cared for each other’s dogs—by simply letting them out in the back yard to romp around and play. When Boomer and I moved to Oswego to start my new job, I mistook Boomer simply being older for being lonely—because he went from having playmates in the backyard to being alone with me again. That was how Belle entered our lives.
In Oswego, I adopted Belle from the city pound. I had to rename her—because the pound had taken to calling her Spooky. She had the most brilliant blue eyes—a Shepard-husky mix for sure. And at night, as dogs with blue eyes tend to do—their eyes turn red not the green most dog’s eyes do when reflecting low level light.
She was feisty from the moment we left the pound—but once we sorted out where she fit into our pack, she became Boomer’s and mine protector. The pound believed she lived on the street in Fulton, where a little boy cared for her by buying her a can of dog food every day. She was super gently but fiercely protective.
A prime example of this roll for her came into play within our first few walks—the three of us—Boomer, Belle, and me. For whatever reason, Boomer was terrified of little dogs. Boomer went damn near 100 lbs., but when a little dog came along, Boomer would take off at a dead sprint in the opposite direction.
I remember this one particular dachshund that just lived to torment Boomer on our walks. This little dog would nip Boomer’s toes and he’d sprint away. Belle looked at Boomer with her head cocked to the side like she was trying to understand. Belle then looked at me with eyes that suggested, “Is he for real? This is a wee little annoying dog.”
Belle then proceeded to head butt the dachshund and roll it like a hot dog towards the curb. The little dog came up yipping at being so disrespected and charged back across the street. The dachshund’s owner came out and tried to yell at me—but I reminded her that my dogs were on a leash.
Belle sat down and grinned ear to ear—and of course I praised her. After that her role was settled for us. Both Boomer and Belle would live out their lives in the first home I ever owned in Oswego. Both dogs would eventually go to sleep for the final time at twelve years or older—I never knew their real ages.
A puppy named Bodhi
Many folks who knew me encouraged me to take some time before getting another dog after Boomer and Belle. Being a nerd, I did my research on it too. I found out that I ought to try and give it six months between the passing of Boomer and Belle before adopting another dog—so I didn’t overlay my expectations and mannerisms on the new dog based on my experiences with Boomer and Belle.
I only lasted a few short weeks. It was too quiet in my house. It was simply too lonely without a dog. But this time I told myself I would adopt a true puppy. And I did just that too.
I called the Oswego pound again and asked them to call me back when they had a true puppy ready for adoption. I adopted Belle from the pound, so they knew me somewhat. And as luck, fate, or the universe would have it, a true puppy had just come into the pound. But he needed to be there two weeks to allow the original owners to try and claim him.
It was the longest two weeks of my life.
Then Bodhi came into my life—a true puppy. And yes, I had a thing with B names for dogs. Bodhi would be my boy for his short life. He only lived to about six years old due to cancer and a ruptured spleen. And it broke my heart, like I am sure Chloe will do later today.
My Bodhi story is simply a puppy learning to bark. I worked with my mailman to teach him when it was ok to bark versus when not to bark at someone. I would learn from my neighbor that Bodhi had cried and barked while I was at work for the first several weeks. Yet, Bodhi never made a sound when I was home.
One day the mailman was delivering the mail. I had come out of bedroom just in time to see Bodhi peeking around the corner at the front door. When I got a little closer to Bodhi, I heard a low grumble—like he wanted to bark but wasn’t sure he should. I wanted to teach him that it was ok if someone was at the front door.
So, I caught up to the mailman and asked for his help to train Bodhi. And he was game, so long as I didn’t teach Bodhi to chase the mailman. You sometimes gotta love mail carrier’s humor. But he helped me teach Bodhi to bark.
The next day the mailman came back and made just enough ruckus to get Bodhi’s attention. Bodhi had been napping but once again came to edge of the hallway and peered quietly around the corner while lowly grumbling. I told Bodhi it was ok to bark—go ahead I gently encouraged him.
So, Bodhi did—mustered his biggest woof. But before he even finished the full bark, he was sprinting towards the bedroom. I think he scared his own self. And for the next couple of days the mailman and I worked with Bodhi to find his courage, that is was ok to bark a couple of times, and then wait for me to answer the door. Bodhi beamed each day with growing confidence and the help of the mail carrier.
Copper the regal beagle
Copper came into the house when his owner had passed, and her son could not care for him. By far, Copper was one of my more difficult dogs to forge a bond with and gain his trust. But we did in the end. Though we had some battles too.
Copper was a pill, wicked smart, and such a food thief. That was our biggest battle. Copper would come under the coffee table, snake his head out and steal something off my plate and be back under the table gobbling down the food—often meat—before I could react. This went on for weeks, until he finally learned to trust me that I was going to feed him; and yes, share people food with him.
Bodhi and Copper were an unlikely duo. Bodhi was mischievous with Copper. I will never forget the indignity that Copper felt over being man handled by Bodhi. Copper was a fat little beagle—not much for running and playing, Copper was all about the food. Bodhi loved to play fetch. So, we let Copper do his thing in the backyard—just wander about and sleep in the shade.
One day, Copper was quietly sitting in the shade minding his own business simply smelling scents on the breeze that day. Bodhi and I were involved in a good game of fetch. After a while, Bodhi grew a little bored and wanted to Copper to play too. Copper was simply not interested.
So, Bodhi let a couple of the tosses go by and as I told Bodhi to get his toy—he looked at me, then at Copper. With little warning, as I encouraged Bodhi again to get his toy—Bodhi runs over to Copper and puts his big old mouth over Copper’s head and tried then drag him towards me.
Copper was not amused and let out the most indignant bark and began to chase Bodhi about the yard. I have long suspected that was Bodhi’s motive. And Copper was so frustrated with his little stubby legs versus Bodhi’s longer legs and stride. It was no match, but Copper knew to take the angles to cut Bodhi off.
It never failed; Bodhi would outdistance Copper. But Copper took the angle to cut Bodhi off on the near side of the shed. And sure enough, as Bodhi rounded the shed there was the inevitable look of surprise on Bodhi’s face. Then came the graceful leap over the top of Copper and the chase would resume much to Copper’s consternation.
About six months after I lost Bodhi, I realized that Copper was too lonely. I came home one day from work and found that Copper had quite literally shredded the sleeper sofa. The look of pure defiance about it told me I needed to find Copper a companion to pass the time—he was lost with Bodhi. That was how Chloe came into our lives.
Chloe the little mama
Chloe was another dog adopted from the Oswego pound. After the first weekend, I took to calling her the little mama. She intuitively knew what Copper needed; and would later on know what I needed too apparently. But it took two of the five years we’ve been together to fully gain her trust.
I still remember returning to work after a long weekend where Copper and Chloe got to know each other. Copper knew I was heading to work. He jumped on the futon and flopped down with a loud sigh—and the saddest expression. Chloe gently jumped on the couch and gingerly walked over to where Copper was laying down.
She then laid down herself and gently placed her head on his hind quarters. You could see the tension and anxiety drain away from Copper. She stayed there as I left for work. I am going to admit, it brought a tear to my eye. Because I knew Copper would be in good hands with her there. Chloe and I would lose Copper just before I started a research fellowship in Canada for seven months in 2017.
Over the last three years Chloe and I journeyed all the time between Grand River, Brantford, Ontario, and Oswego. She was my constant companion. She saw me through all the turmoil leaving a job of 17 years at Oswego. She comforted me through the hurt of being given such a cold shoulder from my campus job. And she helped me settle into a new life in Toronto.
More than once Chloe comforted the contractor who helped me fix my house up for sale. He once commented that she had a way of looking into your eyes and seeing deep into your soul. I couldn’t agree with him more on that particular statement. That was why I called her the little mama—she knew how to comfort others and nurture the soul.
While she has gotten me through a lot over these last three years. We have had our adventures too beyond all the miles we covered. But once we were here in Toronto, she began to slow down a lot. Over the last nine months she has struggled through too much pain. And we have come to the time where the kindest thing I can do is ease her suffering by letting her go to sleep one last time.
A sweet Chloe story to end this reflection on. One of the advantages of Toronto were dog walkers. On one of my early walks with a new dog walker, Chloe became rather stubborn. It had grown busy on the sidewalk—and neither Chloe nor I fully comprehended the intensity of the foot traffic at peak hours. One of her things in those moments was to simply freeze in place.
But I didn’t want to take up too much of the dog walker’s time as it was only a meet and greet to make sure Chloe and the walker got along. To keep things moving, I picked up Chloe. She gave me the wickedest side eye and proceeded to lock her legs out in front of her. The walker chuckled, and gently asked if she was in fact frustrated. And I knew she was—and I’d pay for it later at home.
But more recently, in the last several weeks, she tired so quickly on a shortened version of that same walk. She has grown accustomed to the crowds and continues her deep sniffs regardless of how many people pass us by on the sidewalks. Now though, when is tired, she stands still and looks at me pleadingly. So, I pick her up to carry her back home.
This time, instead of locking her legs rigidly, and giving me a wicked side-eye, she simply relaxes and ever so gently sighs. She lets her legs gently bounce with each step and waits patiently to be let down on the top step of our back door. The time has come to say our goodbyes now; and almost as if she understands, she walked on for quite a bit this morning. But every so often she seemed to stop and take it all in; as if she knew it was for the last time.
In a little while, I will take her the vet. But for now, she gently sleeps under the open window as I write. Much like Boomer, she has been a terrific writing and traveling companion. I will miss her deeply.