A dog's life Is finite; but his hairs are forever
At the very beginning of the summer, we lost our dog, Brutus. He was a black lab and had the noble countenance and gray beard of an old English man. He had lived in three homes: Eric's and my two bedroom apartment, our first house in the ghetto, and our new house. He was 13 and it was his time. He had not been doing very well over the last year and I came home each day hoping that there would not be a puddle of urine or a giant pile of vomit on the floor. There usually was, and I lovingly put hundreds of miles on my rug doctor carpet cleaner.
Now, I am a biologist, and I have a very pragmatic view of animals. I know that they, like us, have a finite life span. I feel, with domesticated pets, that our job is to give them the best life we can, and let them go when they cannot live their lives to the fullest any more. It is our job to give them love and eventually peace. This view does not make losing my Brutus any easier. But here is my story and my process. I hope that many of you can relate. It is cathartic for me to write about it.
He was Eric's and my first baby. We got him in January of the year we got married. He was free (although there is no such thing as a free dog). He was, in a way, a litmus test for how we would handle having children.
I took him out and bought him a bed and toys and everything the next day. In retrospect, Eric should have gone with us, but this was my first voyage into mommyhood and I took the wheel. He was not allowed to sleep with us for a whole like, half an hour, and then he slept in bed with us until he was too old to jump up any more. We took him to training classes and doggy daycare three times a week. We fed him an expensive food, always appropriate for his age. We worried and sat up nights worrying about little things. I gave him supplements and oils to help him with his coat, teeth, muscles and bones I dressed him up in costumes for Halloween (and whenever I wanted). We bought him a life jacket and took him to the lake. In his prime, he did not need the life jacket; then, when he got older, he needed it again. We called the puppy poison control center twice when he ate something weird. We pulled gently on his tail and ears until pulling on his ears became something that he wanted; which was good, because when the kids came along 7 years later, there was lots of ear and tail pulling. He was a finely honed family dog machine. He proved that Eric and I could handle being parents. He proved that we could love something more than ourselves.
Don't get me wrong, he had quirks. He was nervous and barked a lot. But he was our security system. Nobody wanted to mess with a huge black dog with large white teeth. Even delivery people kept their distance until Brutus ran out and ran circles around them, wanting to play.
He was always with me. He followed me from room to room when I got home, laying down and calmly observing everything I did. I made up "Brutus songs" about him and sang to him. Something that I now do with my children (making up nonsensical songs about them). He always looked bemused like he knew I was talking about him. He watched out the window and saved us from being attacked by countless delivery people, joggers, power walkers, mail men, girl scouts, boy scouts, door to door salesmen, birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits.
He cleaned my floors. He became an essential cog in the family machine as soon as William was old enough to eat. No cheerio or dollop of yogurt passed his eagle eyes and nose. No popsicle/pudding covered face went unlicked. No potato chip in the couch cushion went unsnacked upon. No crumb left upon the rug went uninvestigated. His essential role was not apparent until he was gone and I had to start vacuuming the carpet and sweeping my kitchen floor on a daily basis. I had to start VACUUMING THE COUCH AND CHAIRS!! I mean, who has to do that every day? Well, me apparently.
He was a constant. I knew that I could stick my hand out and a soft head and ears would be underneath my fingers in an instant. If I needed to cry, he would lay with me and let my tears soak his fur...no complaints. I knew that if I laid on the floor or ever even attempted to do yoga, I would soon find myself spooning with my giant black dog baby. I knew that if I came down to get a drink in the middle of the night, that a tail would slap the floor in delight as if I had just come home from being away for days. I knew that if I opened a bag of...anything really, my shoulder would soon get heavier or my knee covered in drool as he would appear with those big brown eyes looking at me in that adorable way that says "I'll have what you're having." I knew that if I ever dared to eat a carrot or cheese in front of him that he would "sit pretty" with his ears up, eyes bright, and posture positively perfect...because those were his favorite foods and he would do just about anything to get a taste. I knew that at Christmas, he would open his own gifts and tolerantly wear his fuzzy christmas collar (with the bells)-Christmas was his favorite holiday. I don't know how I know that, I just do.
The day I had to have him put down was one of the hardest days of my life. I knew in my heart that I was doing him a kindness, that he was in pain and miserable. His eyes told me that he WANTED relief, he wanted to go.
My sadness was totally selfish and still is. I wanted him to stay with me, for me. What was I going to do without my emotional support animal? Who was going to do a drive-by fart while I was sitting in my chair? Who was going to hide under my sewing table while I worked. Who was going to lay with me on the couch and make Abby jealous? Who was going to follow me so closely that when I stopped he ran into my butt? Who was going to make the musical click click sound on our new wood floors with his claws? Who was going to schmear his nose goo on the windows? All these selfish questions were going through my mind, even as I held his big old head in my lap for what seemed like hours after he had gone, even though it was less than half an hour.
I immediately wanted another dog. I did not know how to cope with life without one. He was part of my routine, a cog in my family machine. I know that sounds really shitty. No dog could ever replace Brutus, but I wanted something to fill the hole in my heart. If it had just been me alone, I probably would have made the executive decision to go and get another dog and cuddle it until it hated me. But, it wasn't just me, and I couldn't get another dog. It wasn't fair to Brutus, my husband, or kids.
So I schlepped my way back home, dogless, crawled under my covers, and cried myself to sleep. This is unusual for me because I tend to be very stoic. I have not always been this way, for most of my life, my emotions were wild and unpredictable but anxiety medication makes me better able to keep my emotions in check most of the time.
But that is pretty much how the next few days went. Eric and I taking turns crying. The kids confused and disoriented about both losing the dog and their parents being so upset. Me slipping slowly into madness (not really, but I without my medication, this might have actually been the case). My friends encouraged me to get another dog, saying, that replacement was not betrayal. But we couldn't do it.
We left everything where it was for weeks. His food and water dishes, bed, and toys all stayed exactly where they were as if any minute, he would come plodding back into the house. I nearly had a heart attack when my husband moved his water dish and food dish downstairs so that my 90 year old grandma did not trip over them. I actually snapped at him "Where are Brutus's things?!" I felt betrayed (there is the selfishness again) because I was not ready for those things to move. I can honestly tell you, that at the time I wrote this post, his toys are still sitting in their basket, untouched. I am not ready to take them to the animal resource center and I might never be ready.
I brought up getting another dog several times, but my husband was and is resistant until the kids are older. This is probably the most practical decision. However. I grew up surrounded by animals. If they weren't at my house, they were my friends houses. I love animals and they are an essential part of my functioning. So the struggle for me is real. Some of my friends have told me to just go get a dog; and, in their relationships, that would work. They could come home with a dog and their husbands might be a little put out, but in the end, they would accept it without much argument. That is not how Eric's and my relationship works. Making a big decision like getting a dog on my own would be the ultimate betrayal for Eric just like if I said "surprise, I bought a car!" or "Surprise! I sold your kidney on ebay!"
I have yelled at my husband, called him names, and denied him my attention over this issue. It is childish, I know. Eric has said that I am being selfish. I have told him that having a pet is a SELFISH act. We only have pets to satisfy some need in ourselves. He sighs and still says no. He feels that getting another dog so soon is a betrayal and compares it to losing his grandfather. He cannot just go out and get another grandfather. I gently try to tell him that it is not the same thing, but he has to grieve in his own way and I cannot fault him for that.
Before you say it, I can't get a cat. While I love cats, my husband is terribly allergic, so cats are a no. go.
At the time of this post, we are still dogless. Brutus's ashes are in a box on our bookshelf with his collar on top. If I think about it, I still get misty and so does Eric. I sometimes hear Brutus in the house. Echos of his nails clicking on the wood or licking his paw. Sometimes I see a shadow pass that looks like a Brutus shadow. It may sound creepy, but I have been told that it is not unusual, so I know that I am not crazy (and sometimes I need this kind of assurance).
Since I have to vacuum so much now that he is gone, I am still sweeping up Brutus hair. He will probably always be with us follicularly, as his hairs would appear to be eternal. Thanks for Reading!