Ginger was my first pet. This is a remembrance of her.
|I awoke to my dad’s voice, shouting about something. Well, that wasn’t unusual. As I crept stealthily down the stairs, to see what was going on, the sickly stench of urine overwhelmed my senses. Dad was grumbling as he labored over a damp spot on our dining room rug. I saw our elderly dog, Ginger, curled up in a dark corner nearby, looking guilty and ashamed. I moved over to her and buried my face in the thick golden fur around her neck. “Shh, it’s okay, Ginger. You’re such a good girl, yes you are ....” I cooed and petted her for a while, but then I had to get ready for school.
When my brother, Wyatt, and I got home later that day, Ginger was on the front porch, struggling to greet us, tail wagging exuberantly. She wasn’t ready to give up yet. Mom, from the rocking chair on the porch, eyed Ginger sadly. “The medication isn’t helping,” she told me later. “We made an appointment for her on Saturday.” I knew what “appointment” meant. We had discussed this. But Ginger didn’t seem ready to go - she still had bright eyes, she was still trying. We had to use a towel like a sling under her belly to help her walk, since her back legs were so arthritic, but she was still making an effort to live.
The next day, Wednesday, September 17, 2008, we took Ginger to the vet. She’d barely moved all day, her eyes were sad, and she clearly was not going to improve. I reached over the backseat of the van to stroke her fur on the way to the vet’s office. She seemed scared, but she’d never liked car rides. Finally, we arrived, and they made us wait. And wait. Mom and I stayed in the van with Ginger while Dad and Wyatt were inside. I did some homework - I remember having a lot that night - and two hours later, when it was getting cold and dark, the doctor came out at last. We agreed to have the procedure done right there, in the back of the car, where Ginger was comfortable. Mom, Dad, and Wyatt backed away, but I remained were I was, seated at my dog’s head. Dr. Knight began to test the needle, and Ginger snapped at him. She didn’t trust strange men, never had (smart girl). The female assistant hugged Ginger tighter around the neck to hold her still. I just kept stroking the fur on her chest, and then Mom stretched across the backseat to cradle Ginger’s head gently. She seemed to relax a bit. Then, the needle wouldn’t go in, so Dr. Knight left to get a new one. Ginger wasn’t making this easy. Suddenly, I didn’t want to do this. I was convinced this must be a sign we were doing something wrong. It should be easier than this.
Memories flashed through my mind. Ginger, a little puppy dwarfed by a beloved bean bag chair, which she later destroyed, scattering clingy beans everywhere. Ginger, meeting Wyatt and me getting off the school bus every day and wagging her tail so hard her whole body moved. Ginger, her happy tail knocking Christmas ornaments off the tree. Ginger, barking when nothing was there, or dancing on her hind legs with my dad. Ginger, having to be rescued by Wyatt when she fell in the river. My dog was all I could think of, and I didn’t want her to go.
“I’m going to give her the injection now.” We all tensed as those words brought us out of our thoughts. Dr. Knight pressed on the syringe, causing the green poison to disappear into Ginger’s veins. She jerked away from the vet, her eyes wild. Mom held her head and comforted her as her eyelids drooped. It hit me then that this would be the last time I saw life in those big brown eyes. In a few minutes she’d be gone. Forever. But she couldn’t be, an irrational voice in my head was protesting. She’s only going to sleep. . . .
But this was reality. And in reality I saw the life leave those eyes that never closed. Dr. Knight placed his stethoscope against Ginger’s chest. “She’s gone,” he confirmed as he drew her eyelids down. “There’s no heartbeat.” Tears rolled freely down all our faces, and the doctors left. Ginger let out a final, horrible gasp, half whimper, eyes popping wide open again, staring at me, lifeless and dull. I just sat there, feeling Ginger’s weight on me, unable to move. Somehow, I did. We left the vet’s office - the ride was unending, the silence unbearable. But then we were home, and everything looked the same, yet it was all different.
Burying Ginger took a long time. Wyatt had gone a little deep on the grave, but I could tell he was just glad to have something to do. Ginger was cold and alone in the pit, wrapped in an old Winnie-the-Pooh blanket. Wyatt shoveled some dirt in, and the thud as it landed on my dog’s body was sickening. Dad helped him. It seemed to take an eternity to fill that gaping hole. In reality it must only have been minutes, yet time no longer had any measure. Mom and I watched, crying and shivering in the chill wind, breathing in the dampness of fall, when all things come to an end. When the burial was finished we planted mums and ferns over the fresh grave. I heard a dog’s bark - it was Riley, our younger yellow lab, forgotten in his kennel.
For a long time after that day, I saw Ginger everywhere. I’d see her hobbling to greet us whenever we got home. I’d see her out of the corner of my eye, in a hallway, only to turn and remember she was no longer there. The hardest part was when someone would call her, forgetting that sad day. Yet time, as they say, heals all wounds. And though that may be clichéd, it’s true. By Christmas, we had a new puppy - a shelter pet, like Ginger was. We named her Gemma, and sometimes we’d swear she was our Ginger’s reincarnation, though in appearance they are opposites.
There are many lessons to be learned from family pets. Ginger never stopped loving us, and she was extremely loyal. She never gave up, yet she knew when it was time to let go. I will always love her, miss her, and most of all remember her as the dog who gave back so much more than we ever expected. Rest in peace, Ginger.