Sunday, February 2, 2014

Gone to the Dogs

I saw this last night and once again tears flowed.

They call them Canine Commandments, but really, I think a dog would call the Polite Canine Requests.

It was the tenth one that hurts. I'm crying again right now.

It's been over six years and, well, you know. Even when it's time and it's the right thing to do, the decision will haunt you. In my case, literally.

I have pictures.

This was Mollie. She was the first dog that I had as an adult. She was a shelter dog. It was a no-kill shelter, so some dogs stayed there for a long time.

Mollie was there six months. That was probably half her life to that point.

She was a horribly damaged dog. Physically she was fine. Emotionally, not so much. 

If you've ever been to the shelter, you know all the dogs come to the front of the cages and bark, "Choose me! Choose me!" Mollie just hunched over in the back of the cage and shook.

We brought her home on MLK Day 2007. She wouldn't walk on her own. I carried her to the car. When we got her home, she hid in a corner and shook.

That night, her first night of freedom in many months, we went to bed and she stayed in the living room. She was welcome in the master bedroom, we just couldn't get her in there. Within about ten minutes, she came to life and we could hear her running all over the house at top speed. The next morning, she was sitting on the couch like nothing had happened.

The first week was rough. It turned out she was more or less housebroken, or paper-trained, anyway. But she was scared to death of me. Maybe she was abused in her before time. Hard to say. But, after that first week, she was bonded to me as if with glue. She was only on a leash for formality. She had no desire to be anywhere but with me. 

When we moved back to Ohio, she rode 5000 miles in the only part of the car not occupied by luggage and stuff moving with us and, well, us, her head out the window the whole way. Rain, shine, wind, snow, she would whine like crazy until her window was rolled down.

She was very shy about going to the potty in front of people. It wasn't until we were in Louisiana, a week into the trip, that we actually saw her go. That was the first time in the year we'd had her. I think whoever had her before gave her grief over it.

The only time I remember her doing anything remotely close to running away was when a section of fence fell in our backyard. She'd chased squirrels and such at the park, but I don't count that. Anyway, she found the fence down and decided to explore. I was asleep/ We usually left the back door open if the weather was nice, so she could go in and out as she pleased. Anyway, I had been sleeping for several hours. When I got up, I realized she was missing. I called three times, and on the third, heard her tags jingling about three doors down and she came running. That's as far as she ever went from us.

We moved to a house of our own and when we were just getting settled, she ran in from the wet back yard, across the deck and onto the linoleum floor in the dining room, where her long legs got tied in knots and she slid all the way across the room and whacked into the wall on the far side. The mud splotch is still there. I don't have the heart to clean it. It's a good (and funny) memory, like the kids' height measurements.

Another time, she saw a squirrel on the back fence and lit out the back door like a shot. She ran across the deck and proceeded to get her head stuck in the slats of the deck railing. It only took her a few seconds to free herself, but by that point, I had a good laugh and she learned a valuable lesson.

When the kids came along, we were concerned how she would react. We needn't have worried. I have a picture somewhere of my daughter on Mollie's back like she's body surfing, giant grin in her face. Unfortunately, that was pre-digital camera, so I don't have it to put online. That dog never bit those kids, no matter how much they deserved it.

Those pictures are Mollie and Jake. She was very gentle with the kids. She was a friendly, loving dog to almost everyone outside the house, but inside, she didn't much like other people coming around. She was very protective of her pack.

The next pictures hurt really badly.

All three of these were taken on the last day of her life. She developed an aggressive cancer that was inoperable. It looked like a lump of bloody ground beef hanging from her lower jaw. I Biggie-sized the picture just above. You can see it on her lower lip. It looks like her tongue sticking out, but it's not. We tried to have it removed once, but it took all of the front teeth on her lower jaw and grew back within days. We said goodbye at home, then went to the park for a last walk. She bled all over the trail and all over the car.

We went to Strickland's for chocolate ice cream, because a good dog deserves chocolate at least once in her life. 

Then to the vet. Everybody hugged her and kissed her in the lobby and I went back into the office with her.

And then she was gone.

It only took about ten minutes to kill my best friend.

I held her as her breathing and heart rate slowed. I watched the spark of life fade from her eyes. I laid there on the floor in a puddle of urine holding her body and wailing. I must have stayed there twenty minutes. Then I had to get up and go.

It was the right decision to make, but it still haunts me.

But, interestingly, the story doesn't end there.

I called her as we left the vet's office. Felt a little odd, but also the right thing to do. For the next few years, I could lie in bed and feel footsteps crawling across my legs. I would hear barks. A few times, I saw the mattress actually dimple, as though her feet were pushing it down as she walked across it.

This actually went on for years, through two dogs that didn't work out, until we got our next good dog, Katie. Now, it's been a while. I don't know if she's gone for good or just waiting, but it was nice to know she stayed near. Am I crazy? Probably, ,but I'm not the only one who noticed.

I walk Katie every day, at least a mile. Why? Part of it is guilt: I was raging drunk for the almost the first nine years Mollie was with us. And yes, pretty much every day. I didn't walk her nearly as much as I should have. I don't want that to happen with Katie. Mollie deserved more. 

I love my Katie-dog, but I still miss my Mollie. Katie is not a replacement, but a successor. She has made her own niche: She will never be able to fill Mollie's place, but she occupies a special place all her own.

Mollie's ashes are in a tin in the hutch in my dining room. They will come with me when I move out, and I will call her spirit, just like I did at the vet's office that horrible day. Is she still around? I don't know. But if she is, she's welcome to come along with me when I go.

And I expect that when I am dead, her ashes will be buried with me.

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