Man's best friend was this girl's too.
|I picked up the shovel and started digging. It was Friday afternoon. It had been a hot summer, but the late September sun was more forgiving and the trees above provided plenty of shade, so I figured I could handle the job myself before Dad got home. He said he would help, but I wanted to do it myself. It was my responsibility.
I paused to look into the pair of brown eyes that were watching from a few feet away, and almost smiled at how I always joked that they were so like my own. He knows what I'm doing, I thought. "Why don't you go lie down in the garage? It's cooler in there." I can't do this with him watching!
The owner of the eyes merely grunted and snuffed in reply, stating his intent to supervise, so I started digging again.
The hole was about 4'l x 3'w x 2'd when I noticed a yellow paw attempting to reach a yellow ear from the corner of my eye. The summer had gone, but the flies lingered and persisted in their attack on the poor creature. They knew he couldn't fend them off anymore, and they hovered like tiny vultures. Outraged, I dropped the shovel and shouted, "Leave him alone!" As if they understood.
I stepped over to where my dog lay, and took a tube of ointment from my back pocket, applying some to his ear. "There," I gave him a good rub up and down his spine and his tail wagged wildly, like always. "They won't be able to bother you much longer old friend." He turned his eyes back to the hole, and placed his chin on his paws. "All right, I'll get back to it," and so I did.
This time, as I was digging, the memories flooded my mind and tears began to roll down my cheeks.
The first I ever saw of him was that wily tail poking out from under Dad's arm in the car seat. It was just before my 7th birthday, and I finally got my wish after three years - my very own puppy! A year later, that fuzzy ball of golden fluff had grown into a full fledged dog. One day while taking one of his hyperactive tears through the yard he knocked me flat on my back. In his eagerness to see if I was okay, he started walking all over me, and the klutz cut my right eyelid open. (I still bear the faintest scar even now, twenty two years later, maybe I always will.)
I remembered the day he had his first seizure, he was only about 8 months old and was sitting in the sandbox when the tremors started. I was traumatized, and thought that my puppy was going to die just like the dog we had when I was a baby. My father was furious, and called the woman he got the dog from. She admitted that the dog's mother had epilepsy, and that there was a good chance some or all of the puppies would too. She did not apologize for withholding the information beforehand. Dad, being a pharmacist, consulted with his golf buddy, our vet, and we began the dog on a regimen of Dilantin. It stopped most, but not all of the seizures, and the ones he did have were usually pretty bad.
My neighbor would call if he saw Smokey stumbling about in the yard without me, and I would go out and wrestle the 120 lb. dog to the ground, holding him there while the seizure ran its course. It was either that or he would be running into walls, or who knows what else, unable to control his body. The worst one ever lasted over three hours, and I held him fast the entire time, as a mother would hold the child that she had birthed from her very womb. I learned that if I sang him lullabies, he wouldn't be as afraid, and it wouldn't last as long. His favorite was "Lullaby, and Goodnight," but I always forgot the words so I just hummed the tune mostly.
Once in a while we would go for walks in the neighborhood, a little girl could still do that then with relatively little worry, but I am sure that my parents felt better knowing Smokey was with me anyway. He wasn't very bright, but they knew he would protect me no matter what. Smokey never was very well trained, the best I could get out of him was to sit, usually, and to stay for about thirty seconds tops. Needless to say, when we walked, he never heeled. We would be walking along, and he would fall behind with his nose to the ground. Before I would realize it, the leash would pull taught almost causing me to lose my balance, and I would turn to find Smokey marking his territory. Not on a tree or fire hydrant, no my dog preferred car tires. It never mattered what kind of car, except I never saw him lift his leg on a Chevy or a Ford. If I was lucky, he would only hit four or five cars before we got home, hence the walks being an occasional occurrence.
Twelve and a half years of playing in the sun, him waiting on the stoop for me to come home from school to tell him of my day, how he would race around the yard for joy when we returned home from vacation: it was all there at once and I thought my heart would burst.
I finished digging, and sat in the dirt and leaves next to my dog, right arm draped over his neck. "You are the best friend I will ever have," I whispered in his ear. He turned his nose up quickly and licked my cheek as if to say, "You're mine too," and I knew that.
He always read my mood, and would react accordingly. If I was sad he would listen, if I was happy he would play. I was often misunderstood by most everyone around me, but never him. Had he been allowed in the house, he probably would have slept under the sheets with me in my bed. We were inseparable.
That last summer was the hardest for him. The duck had gone the year before, so he was lonely waiting for me to come home from work. He had gotten some foxtails between his toes, and the foot became infected. I had to drain the green puss from the wound at least twice a day for two weeks, and keep it clean and wrapped. It wasn't until the end of August that his neck began to swell.
Dr. Smith said, "I'm sorry honey, it's too far advanced." After a quick examination and just feeling in the right places, he identified at least another dozen tumors in my lab's frail body besides the golf ball sized ones under his chin.
"Is it too cruel to wait a few days, so my brothers can say goodbye?" They were long since grown and moved out, but they all loved Smokey too. He was never really just mine.
"No," the Doctor said, "I think you all need that." It was a Wednesday, we arranged to come in as the last appointment on Saturday, that way the office would be empty.
It was Friday evening. We sat until it started to get dark, and I was called in for supper. I went though I wasn't hungry. When I went back out, the neighbor's wife was feeding her rabbits. "I hope you don't mind," she said over the fence, "I've been slippin' Smokey some scraps and steak. He's been looking awful skinny." It struck me that I hadn't told them. They were the ones who fed him and made sure he had his meds when we were away. "I'm so sorry hon. I know how much you love that dog." That dog. He was so much more than that.
I stayed with him that night; we slept curled up together on the dusty blankets in the garage. Mom came out to check on me before she turned in, and I told her I would be fine. We only had hours left together, and I didn't want a moment wasted being apart.
Mom went with me to the vet's office the next morning, Dad had to work. The last of the other patients was walking out the door. "Hey there, Killer," Maria, the technician, gave me a weak smile. She called him that affectionately because he was always so ferocious when we went in, barking and snarling as he never did otherwise. In fact usually we didn't even go in the office, the vet would come outside to give him his vaccinations because otherwise he would go into a seizure. But "Killer" wasn't there on this day; Smokey had made his peace. Maria squeezed my shoulder and didn't say anything else.
I opted to stay in the room - a lot of people don't which surprises me to this day. Mom stayed with us too. Before Dr. Smith gave the injection, I took Smokey's face in my hands one last time. "Thank you for always being there for me. You will forever be in my heart, my beloved friend." I kissed him between the eyes, and his tongue caught the end of my nose for the last time. "I love you." His eyes said "I know."
One tear rolled down my cheek when his last breath escaped. My dog was gone.
The kennel boy helped me wrap him in his blanket, and put him in the car. At home, Mom helped me, and somehow we managed to get him in the backyard, to where I had been digging the day before. I laid my pet, my dog, my best friend in the ground with an old tennis ball and a camellia. I sent Mom away while I filled in the hole.
I remember sitting there for hours, reflecting on my childhood, and all the good times. I always knew this day would come; we had lost cats, fish, and a duck. But none of them came close to sharing the place in my heart Smokey had. I don't think any animal ever will.
I buried my childhood with my dog that day, and I began to see the world through adult eyes for the first time. I didn't like it. I still don't.
A few days later, back at work, I caught myself letting a few bittersweet tears of remembrance pass while cleaning in the back. I overheard one of the other girls say to one of my friends, "Is she still crying over that dog?" She giggled, and by the time she said "Come on, I mean, it was just a dog," I was right behind her, my face flaming with fury.
"You never had a dog, did you?" I asked. I already knew the answer.
She spun around, obviously embarrassed, "Well, no...I..."
Suddenly my anger turned to pity; she would probably never understand unconditional love. "I'm so sorry," I said, and went back to my cleaning and my memories. I smiled, and softly hummed "Lullaby, and Good Night" to myself.