My dog is dying.
As I sat outside with my furry friend last night, grateful for the unseasonably warm weather, I reflected on our life together. This pup stole my heart. He drew me from my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot, implored me to cuddle his little furball body, and begged me to take him home. We already have a dog, I said weakly. We will be great friends, he seemed to answer through his puppy dog eyes.
As these things can’t be decided alone, I waited for my husband outside the store. Please, I said. He can be my Christmas present, I said. I tried the pup’s tactic of pleading eyes. My husband was powerless, and we were the proud new owners of a mottled ball of fur.
True to his promise, the pup and our existing dog, Paintbrush, became the best of friends, and under the caring hands of our kid-riddled family, he soon grew into a beautiful, 60 lb gentle guard dog. We named him Ranger, a good name, but fortunately not a fitting name, as he liked to stay close to home.
One day, Paintbrush, an escape artist who we would lock into the large kennel only to later find on the doorstep, tried to show him her technique for getting out of that kennel. We watched from behind the garage as she coaxed him from the top of the kennel down to a hole in the field fencing. She looked at him as if to say, Here it is. Follow me. Then she climbed up and slid through. He just looked at her, then sauntered back to his cozy dog house. Ranger was a homebody.
He loved being at home, surrounded by the noise and activity of our young children. When we would spread a blanket under the maple tree to read, Ranger would find his spot and cuddle up next to the kids. He wasn’t the playful type. He wouldn’t chase anything. We can’t say the same for any other dog who has entered and exited our lives. We’ve had cat chasers and chicken chasers. The fun ones are the ball and frisbee chasers. Ranger was happy just to be. He was the Ferdinand of the dog world, content to sit under the shade of the maple tree.
Dogs came and tragically left our family, yet Ranger remained. Over the years he started wobbling as he walked. He fell behind on walks through the field. He looked up at us as if he didn’t understand what was happening. We would call for someone to bring the pick-up to the back of the field, but when they got there, Ranger would find the spark within and begin loping toward home in an arthritic, stubborn old-man way. A couple of years ago, I thought we were going to lose him. The dogs were being rambunctious, knocking him down over and over again, so I opened the gate and brought him to the front yard for relief. As soon as we were on the other side of the fence, he perked up, hopped arthritically, and headed toward the road. In his mind we were going on a walk. What else could I do? If it killed him, at least he’d die happy.
He didn’t die. He’s plugged away for another two years. Like any old creature, he has thought he could do things he can no longer do. It was a sad day when we went for a walk in the field only to have him stop twenty feet from the gate and look around. He couldn’t go any further. He was done. His poor hips had become too stiff and uncooperative, but his heart so wanted to go.
Little by little, Ranger’s world changed. One by one, his kids left or opted for a screen over a smiling dog face. He would lay by the back door waiting for them to come out. Sometimes Goose would walk away from the computer and head outside with his old friend. Through the years he would tell me that we should clone Ranger. I told him I liked that idea; if only it weren’t so expensive. We wondered if a cloned Ranger would result in the same dog. Smartypants and Sunshine would come home for a visit, and Ranger would show signs of his old self. His ears would perk up and he would grin his doggy grin and nuzzle under their willing hands until they went away and left him alone again.
This time it’s real.
Last night I covered my old friend in a blanket. I propped his head on my leg and spent hours petting him and talking to him. I thought about the time gone by and how much both of our lives had changed. I thought of how fleeting love is, of how we take for granted that the good things we hold dear will always exist for us. As he relaxed into my leg, I willed him to let go, but his heart is too tightly bound us.
This weekend we will have to make the hard decision to put him down. I will miss my canine friend, this furry little sidekick to what’s been an amazing part of my life. It’s time to say good-bye, to hug his frail, furry body one last time, to pet that mottled snout and give him that scratch behind the ears he’s always longing for. I will miss this dog, as I miss this part of life, yet in the unfairness of life, clinging tightly to something you love doesn’t prevent it sifting though your fingers.
I hope there’s a dog heaven. If any dog deserves to go, Ranger does. I picture Paintbrush eagerly waiting for him. She must have some really great things to show him by now.