"No, dear, not right now."
"Because there's a great sadness inside me, and I have to write it down."
I took my dog, Blackacre, to be put down this past Monday, while in Orlando visiting my parents. He was sick and pain medication wasn't able to give him enough relief to walk. X-rays revealed advanced degenerative arthritis and a mass surrounding an enlarged spleen and liver. The vet and I figured his indignities would only get worse, so I put him down before it got too bad.
It was a decision I made with my brain, and clung to with robotic clarity after having made the appropriate moral calculations. Yet in the moment the wonderfully kind vet asked me if I was ready, a sudden great loneliness seized me and I wanted to knock the syringe out of her hand. This dog - this good dog - had been my dog since I was a much younger woman, and suddenly I could not fathom my dear black shadow passing out of this world. I let that moment pass, because I couldn't make a choice based on my comfort at the expense of his.
Since that moment, I have been mourning that big black dog. Oh I know - he was a dog, not a person, and I don't attribute to him any qualities that he didn't have. And it's true, there are far greater sorrows in this world than mine and I have no corner market on grief right now. But it is good, and right, to mourn a creature whose care was mine for over six years, that God gave to me and I returned. Animals are part of Creation, and they reflect something of their Creator, and I'm grateful for that.
I bought him because he was too big and cheerful and out of control for anyone else. I changed his name from Lenny to Blackacre, and learned to run with him by my side. We went all over in my silver Honda Accord, to state parks, on road trips to Florida, to wherever we wanted to go. My last year in law school, I sent him to live with Tom since my new place didn't allow dogs. He bore this separation patiently and thrilled to see me on my breaks. Tom let him lay on the furniture, so I guess he didn't have it too bad.
But Blacks' true nature didn't really shine until after Tom and I were married. After my first miscarriage, I was distraught - I laid in bed and sobbed all day. He laid right by my bed, staring up at me with his deep black eyes, and knitting his eyebrows into a funny face of concern. Then, when we got pregnant with Zuzu, he was even more worried - because all I did was sleep. I'd wake to his face, resting on the bed, staring at me with that same concerned intensity. He was always worried about me.
Now that we're home in Naples, his absence is even more marked. Last night, I rose to nurse David and there was no click of nails following behind me. After nursing, I did my rounds of the house - checking on all the sleeping occupants, double-checking locked doors, peering out windows to make sure all is well on my sleepy street. As I did all this, I had no shadow to double-check my eyes, no alert ears to hear what I missed. There was not the familiar dark shape laying in the door while I nursed the baby, as there always has been, every day since I became a mother. I went into the bathroom and the mats in the bathroom were cold, which was odd because they're always warm since he liked to lay in there instead of on his bed. My floor has more food on it than before, since my floor cleaner is likewise retired. No dog to let out in the morning, no one to hush when UPS drives up, no letting the dog out as the last chore of the night. It's Wednesday, but I don't get to check "wash dog" off my chore chart list. There's no dog to wash, no sweet face pushed into the towel to get dried off. The last time I saw him, he was still and heavy, laying on the floor with his soft head in my lap. That picture comes back to me again and again throughout the day, and I want to break in two because it seems wrong that something so beautiful should end.
My Blackacre Valentine was a good dog and that's why I mourn him. Good things deserve to be marveled at, loved, and then missed - and a good dog no less than any other thing, far greater than some things in fact. In a world where so much seems to shift and move, it is grounding to know - there are still good dogs, and they are true to their nature to the very end.