(I wrote this the day before my dog died.)
My dog is dying. I won’t try to put that up there with the pain that some of you have faced losing people, losing children and parents and siblings. It’s not.
But let me tell you about my dog and why I’m devastated.
Back in 2005, when I’d been battling infertility for three years and had no idea I still had two years to go and some of the hardest challenges I’d ever faced before I’d earn the title Mom, I was really low.
My husband, who never wanted a pet, surprised me one night at dinner in the Georgetown section of D.C. with an unexpected jewelry box, the kind that holds diamond rings. I already had one of those on my finger, so I couldn’t imagine what it was or how glittery jewelry could fix the emptiness of unfulfilled desires.
When I opened the velvet box, I found the surest act of his selflessness inside. He had engraved a shiny silver dog tag with the name I always wanted for a dog.
He’d arranged to have an itty bitty Yorkie bear the big name of Spike, whose namesake also goes by William the Bloody, my favorite vampire on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Spike may have been named for a demon, but he’s been my angel for nine years. When people tell me they don’t understand why people have pets, I counter that my dog saved my life, because in many ways, he did. He has.
Infertility and depression are ugly, difficult things. They play tricks on your mind and make you believe you shouldn’t be here. They made me wonder if I should slip away from the land of the living and let Hubby find more fertile soil for sowing.
Maybe a farming metaphor is kind of ooky in this scenario.
My veterinarian daddy flew up to our house with a little bag full of fluffy puppy love. My first child, my furry baby. Spike woke me up at night crying, and I rocked him in our ugly recliner at 3am. I slept with my fingers by his face to assure him he wasn’t alone. I’d never taken care of anything before, and this new friend was the first thing that ever needed me.
For months that became years, Spike curled into my body as I festered on the couch, and he followed me from room to room in my darkened house where I refused to let the light shine in.
He came to me at my darkest time and has stood by me through the depths and hopes of children. He sniffed Elliott carefully when he came home from the hospital and made Evie laugh when everything else made her cry and he broke through the language barrier with Ana with the universal language of licking.
This fluffy gift has been my constant companion through infertility treatments and the long, winding road to build our family. He’s comforted me with his soft tongue lapping my feet as I cried from failed procedures and unrealized adoptions.
He still follows me from room to room. Until a few days ago, when his weakened body finally couldn’t. He lifted his head and watched me walk out the door, and for the first time, he stayed put. I paused, noted the moment, and something inside me cracked.
About a year ago my dad told me Spike’s kidneys were failing and he didn’t have long. It made no sense that he was functioning as well as he was, as if his body didn’t know it was supposed to be dying.
When we got the call to fly to Latvia for three weeks back in November, I worried that I wouldn’t be there for him when his kidneys finally quit. But Spike kept going, kept loving, and greeted our newest member of the family when Ana arrived with us in December.
We finalized her adoption in June, and it was almost at that moment that Spike, my angel, knew I’d be okay. He knew it was okay to leave me.
Now that our family is complete (as far as we know now), he’s finally succumbing to his fate, knowing I’m at peace. He’s stayed with me through the journey, and now his work is done and my little angel is flying home. My dog saved my life, and he held on until our kids were all together before he laid down his furry head for the last time.
For my fellow pet-lovers, these animals are with us as companions through the hard and good times, aren’t they?
Pets don’t try to fix us. They just curl up and share our pain.
They serve as fuzzy markers of our memories, and my mind is flooded with good ones from the last decade. I’m back in D.C. carrying puppy Spike in my purse to my job in the costume shop at The Shakespeare Theatre. The time he pooped on the floor in front of my boss, the time he started humping his toy when I was taking measurements of an actress. The way his body fit perfectly into the curve of mine at 6am when I wasn’t quite ready to face the day. The way we’d share popcorn at night and how he’d tear around the house soaking wet after a bath.
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“Spike,” I sobbed, “Please don’t go. I’m not ready. It’s not enough time. Stay. Please stay with me.”
Spike looked at me through fading eyes as if to say, “You can do this. You’re ready. I’ve given you everything I have.”
I touched his dry, blackened tongue, once soft and bubblegum pink. I placed my hand on his heart, thumping deep in his sunken chest, and I felt it slow and stop beating.
He was gone.
I keep seeing him out of the corner of my eye, as if he’s just gotten up to leave the room. A bag rustles on the table and I look up, thinking it’s my friend. I hear his paw on the front door and check the corner for his body curled up asleep.
He isn’t here anymore.
But my three kids are. They giggle as they practice cartwheels in the kitchen and I might not be there to see them if it weren’t for a little Yorkie who gave me the strength and companionship to wait. To hold on, to stroke his soft hair, breathe into the waiting, pray for perseverance with tears dripping onto his back, and make it to this moment, when I finally possessed the strength to say good-bye.
Our next dog will be for them, for the precious kids shrieking through my house. A rough and tumble, friendly and rowdy kind of kids’ dog. Spike…well, Spike was for me. We were each other’s, and his memories will nestle in my happy heart forever.
I am grieving. But even in my grief there is gratitude for the friend that stood by me to the end.