July 14, 2013

North Cairn: At least this dog should go to heaven

Now the gentle plans unfold, harsh as shards of granite beneath the skin, splintering every nerve.

The dog is ready to rest.

Meanwhile, resisting with every cell still storming, I try to organize the arrangements I hoped I would never have to specify -- the site and manner of death, dealing with the body and burial, holding her one last time.

The golden retriever, gone far beyond epilepsy now, is already fractionally departed -- or so she appears most of the time, slipping further into dream, whimpering as she sleeps in pain she can no longer for my benefit hide, dragging herself outdoors only to fail and fall on the stairs, sitting up only to gaze at me for long moments, communicating what I already know. She is, at the last, as ever, waiting for me to catch up.

She is dying; she is dying, I think with leaden repetition: Saying is believing. But I do not want this going, my life opening on this clearing, this liberation of my leisure hours, this exemption from constant sweeping of dog hair from every corner, every coat. I do not wish this rearrangement of all my internal furniture, my heart an empty room, the absence the antics of a dog.

She has not eaten for five days and the vet has decreed that intervention to give her a little more time cannot be delayed even a week. But I am suspending it forever. I know it is time to leave.

I have done my best to deny the ending that is coming, surely as sunset or a turning tide. I have indulged myself in pointless, perky rituals to reverse the real physical conditions -- broiling steaks for her, baking chicken in the 95-degree heat of high summer, boiling hamburger and rice, slipping bologna slices the diameter of DVDs out of a deli jacket and offering them rolled into a hollow cigar shape, uncoiled from edge to center like a yo-yo, flung through the air like little Frisbees -- all to coax from her a gesture of interest in life.

These are terrible days, fraught with this finishing, though all around us, friends and a few family, neighbors and veterinarians, are kind, compassionate and patient -- the three great virtues in departure. Many intimates have called to extend that odd permission we seem always to require, even when ending suffering, because, we know, once the decision is executed, nothing will ever be quite the same again.

Frankly, I cannot focus on images of how days will go with her big, slow, red presence erased from the frames. She has been the fixture in my heart, in my home, in my understanding, education and experience of life, for a decade. In part because her health was an almost constant challenge since puppyhood, our time together involved chronic attention, a symbiosis that creates a charged and emotional bond, a fight every hour not to hold your happiness and heart in check -- but to keep each other in sight.

I have been watching my dog die for years, it seems, the anxious fate of having an epileptic animal as companion and friend. I have sat with her for many hours over the years as she quaked and roiled, lay on her side and paddled with her massive uncontrollable paws. I have told her a hundred times to go if she wanted, praised her with Homeric monotony, stroked her red hair thick as bear fur, sang to her the joy of our time together.

(Continued on page 2)

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