18 Aug Eulogy for a Friend
I wrote this in 2010 after the passing of my beloved Australian Shepherd. Can’t bring myself to edit or revise it, so here it is looking just about as it did when I first wrote it:
The wind chimes in the vet’s office window were low and deep like a church bell’s toll. Only they didn’t ring for a lost loved one. They sounded for someone soon to pass. His name was Del. Family dog. Protector. Playmate. Friend. An Australian shepherd, with silver hair spotted black, like ink drops in mercury. A tuft of fur on his chest as pure white as cotton balls.
Thirteen years old, he’d lived a long and proud life. He’d been a father to a litter of puppies. Herded cattle on a Missouri farm. He’d been doted on by my two-year-old daughter who wanted nothing more than for him to love her as much as she loved him. And he let her, most of the time, even when her love involved bows in his hair and the occasional attempt to ride him like a miniature pony. He was never much for fetching a ball. Or doing tricks beyond sit and the rare shake. He just wanted to run. To pounce. And above all, he just wanted someone to pet him—even if he had to trick you into doing it. If you tapped your foot listening to music, he’d plop down right beside you, so your toes brushed him on their way up and down. On the couch, if you sat cross-legged and shook your foot nervously like I do, he’d sneak right up and steal himself a little affection. Smart dog.
But then one day, couldn’t say exactly when it was, he wasn’t quite the Del we were used to. He found no pleasure in a rawhide fresh from the bag. He didn’t run when I took him outside. His bark was gone, as was his appetite. Whether it was the tumors in his throat I don’t know, or the kidney failure that turned his eyes red and made him so thirsty we couldn’t seem to keep his bowl filled with enough water. But it was time, I knew. Beyond time, if I’m honest. I rang the vet but couldn’t muster the words to tell her why I was calling. I knew once I took him there, he wouldn’t be coming back home.
Over his last few days, we tried to ease his obvious pain with treats and a lot of extra love. We fed him chunks of Easter ham neatly carved up for easy consumption. Half a hotdog my daughter didn’t finish for lunch. Slices of provolone cheese. The rest of the new bag of rawhides I’d just bought him a few weeks before. He was brushed and groomed—but no bath. He hated baths. He lied out on the deck with me, basking in the sun. I even helped him up into the hammock for a little afternoon nap. And we all made sure to tell him often how much we loved him, in the high voice that made his tail wag, even though you could tell being happy just wasn’t what came natural anymore.
Then it was time. The latch of the leash clicked onto his collar for the last time. He hopped up into the front seat of my car for the last time. Rode shotgun with me and howled along to Bob Dylan on the radio for the last time. Made the long walk into the vet, and waited in the lobby for the last time. And then, in that room, on an old comforter rolled out on the floor, he licked me on the face, wagged his tail, and took a long, deep breath, all for the last time, too. And as he did, the wind chimes outside the window, the ones like a church bell’s toll, stopped, just like his heart when the euthasol pulsed through it and he fell asleep in my arms. There would be no more sound from his mouth. No barking at the doorbell. No whine to go out or cat-like purr when you rubbed the pink of his belly. He just slowly dropped his head and went to sleep. It really couldn’t have been more peaceful.
We wrapped him in a white bed sheet and carried him to the car on a stretcher. The vet gave me a hug after she helped lift him into the car. Gave me the friendly pat on the back to show how sorry she was. It took me twice as long to get home. The shocks in my car were shot and I didn’t want to hit any bumps that might disturb him. At the house, I pulled up into the side yard, and there at the center of a half circle of oak trees I dug a hole, in the rain, put Del down in it and covered him over. A nice flat piece of sandstone served as his marker. And there still lies the best damn dog there ever was.
When I went back inside, Del wasn’t there to greet me at the door. He wasn’t at my feet as I walked down to my office. Nor is he on the rug by my desk as I write this now, his ears perking up as I read it aloud. He won’t be at the foot of my daughter’s bed tonight when I sing her to sleep. Or there staring me in the face when I wake up in the morning, his long pink tongue hanging from the side of his mouth, waiting for me to give him the first scratch behind the ear of the day. He’ll be somewhere else. Somewhere I hope where there’s always someone to pet him and to feed him Easter ham. Where he can run and jump and play in the mud all day long, and not have to get a bath after. And I’m sure, wherever he is, he’s wearing a perfect pink bow, too, just like my daughter would want it.