Our dog died today. She was old. She had lived for over fifteen years, by our estimates. We awoke this morning to find her having one long continuous seizure in her bed. My husband held her for most of the morning. She calmed down in his arms and in his soothing presence. However, the seizures never really stopped. After a while, we both knew they weren’t just seizures; these were death throes. We both spoke to her reassuringly, telling her it was o.k. It was all o.k. She was accepted as she was, and that whatever she did at this point was all right by us. We explained to our daughter what was happening. She wanted to pet the doggie.
I never liked the dog. I never felt like she liked me. She was extremely aggressive when I met her; surprisingly so. I’d grown up all my life with pets of various sorts, and have always gotten along well with animals in general… I was not prepared for the negative energy I felt coming from her. Years ago, she jumped up and bit the skin off the shin of one of my husband’s guests at a party, completely unprovoked, right in front of me. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it.
She bit me once. Only once. But it was memorable enough that I didn’t make any effort to get close to her again.
She belonged to my husband’s mother, and she gave her to us to take care of for a while. “For a while” turned into forever due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. And thus began a journey of resentment for the both of us. She would take dumps in random locations of the house, almost out of spite, it seemed. She also used to mark territory with her urine pretty much wherever it would create the most work possible. So we learned to use baby gates judiciously far before we ever conceived a baby. Life with her became one long, unpleasant, perpetual clean-up ritual.
The older she got, the more two things happened: (a) the more random her soiling became (thankfully by this point it was only confined to the kitchen at night and cold days and the backyard for the majority of the time), and (b) the more calm and less aggressive she became. I began to realize she was letting go of whatever resentment she had been holding onto all these years. And as I watched her calm down, so did I, even as I cleaned up yet another turd and mopped up yet another puddle of urine. I no longer resented her. I almost liked her, except for the fact that she stank horribly even immediately after a bath. Also, by this point she not only would squeeze out turds in random locations of the kitchen (usually nowhere near the wee-wee pads I’d put down for her, in the same place so as not to confuse her) but she now would step on her solid waste and grind it into the linoleum. And walk in a circle. And re-grind her own feces into the linoleum yet again. If I wasn’t right there when she took a shit, I paid for it later. So she became a constant source of background stress for me. She probably took about 3-5 dumps in one day, all random, almost all of them destined for linoleum-grinding if I didn’t run and pick them up immediately. No amount of scrubbing of that kitchen floor made it feel clean enough to me, because she would re-soil it within a couple of hours anytime she was indoors. I couldn’t let my baby’s feet touch the kitchen floor because I feared she may contract parasites from the dog’s feces through her delicate feet. So the baby gate was there not only to keep the dog (and feces) contained in the kitchen, but to keep my precious baby out of harm’s way, in more ways than one.
I didn’t notice how much of the stress created by this reality I was taking on until she finally passed on. It feels like an enormous relief to not have this burden anymore.
Yet I am sad. My daughter knew we had a dog. During those times when she’d see her beyond the gate, she’d look at her, point, and say, happily, “Woo-woo-woo!” (Her word for “dog”.) During those times when I had the temerity to allow her in the kitchen (with shoes on, of course, and body armor — …O.k., I’m exaggerating a little about the body armor, but not by much), she’d go straight for the dog. And she’d pat her softly. And she’d hug her gently. She knew she needed to be gentle, because the dog was old and frail. My baby loved that dog. The dog never bit her, never even seriously tried (though she did bare her teeth at her a little a couple of times, which would have made me nervous, if not for the fact that the dog had only about a dozen teeth left in her entire mouth). If my baby could love her, how could I not?
This afternoon, when we noticed the dog wasn’t seizing anymore, wasn’t breathing anymore, and her eyes started misting over with the characteristic look of death, I decided I needed to bathe her one last time. There were fleas, stubborn fleas that were apparently resistant to Advantage and Frontline, fleas who now realized the body they were feasting on no longer had enough warmth to attract them anymore. I carried her flea-ridden body, bed and all (that’s where she passed on — in her own comfy bed after being held and petted for a good long time) upstairs to the tub. I ran the water until it was hot and drizzled some baby shampoo in it. I washed her rigid body in the hot soapy water, keeping her nose above the water line, just in case there was still life there. The heat of the water made her body pliable again, everything but her legs, which were tense and unyielding like small old tree branches. Afraid of snapping them off, I left them mostly alone and worked on scrubbing the fleas out of the rest of her. I watched the fleas drown, glad that they were no longer on her anymore. I want nothing to interrupt her rest as long as she is still with us. I rinsed her body, surprised that her formerly misty eyes now looked bright and dark brown again, as though she were still alive. Could it be, I thought, that the heat from the bath is bringing her back to life somehow? I looked for a good long time for any sign of life, a twitch, anything. All I saw was those bright eyes staring into the distance, looking strangely alive. I kept her nose above the water, just in case.
My husband brought me some towels. He felt grateful that I was doing this, that I was reconciling with her. He knew about our history, and he wanted closure for us as much as I did. I wrapped our dog in the towels, tightly, like a burrito. I made sure her nose was sticking out, but nothing else. I wanted to keep the warmth of the bath in her for a good long time. I held her like a newborn and spoke to her, a few things just for her to hear. I placed her in her clean bed again, in the kitchen where she was accustomed to sleeping, and she is still there. Her body will stiffen once more, as she lays there peacefully, flea-free this time, unburdened of her past and surrounded by the love of her family.
Tomorrow we will bury her in the backyard. She will go back into the Earth, into her original mother, everyone’s original mother. There will be nothing separating her from it — no plastic bag, no cloth, nothing. She will go back as it should be: authentically. No bullshit. We may say a few words for our dog, but no words really need to be spoken. The Earth knows what she does, and we trust her enough not to tell her how to do her job.
We are probably not going to be getting another dog anytime soon. In all likelihood, our lives will run much more smoothly now that cleaning the kitchen floor will mean that it will stay clean for longer than 12 hours. Still, there is a sadness there, a void. It will pass eventually, and when it does, it will be a new day indeed.