Until the very end, he trusted us to do the right thing, as we always did. Slumped on the floor, the life slowly leaving his intelligent and caring eyes, he was the only calm presence in the room, while we were all running around in circles, trying to rush him to get help. Too late. To say that he had a good life, that his 11 year run was full of high points, that he was loved and loved in return, is not much of a consolation. When we adopt a pet, we know from the start we will probably outlive him – not a real thought when the cute and tiny puppy is first brought home. Still what they give us outweighs the pain and the emptiness of that bed – even if, right now, it doesn’t feel that way.
My mother was firmly against owning pets, a policy my sister and I had a hard time accepting and which might explain our rush to get a dog as soon as we were in a position to care for one. We are both partial to boxers but Carl was a Rottweiler mix, a giant of a dog who had conflicting feelings on whether he should be a guard dog or a gentle pup. His friendship with Ottie was instantaneous – Ottie was oblivious to his much smaller size and challenged Carl to fast runs, impossible jumps down the stairs and all kinds of physical activities that the usually lazy Carl took up only out of a mild sense competitiveness. The dynamic duo went chasing horses, coyotes, other dogs and anything else that might inadvertently venture on their territory – they would lie side by side on the kitchen floor and Carl would often lick Ottie’s ears in an act of affection that was reciprocated in the concern that Ottie would display whenever Carl wasn’t feeling well.
I lost my two previous dogs to illness and old age and, in both cases, the decision came down to euthanize them. As terrible it is to hold your pet while an injection euphemistically puts him to sleep, I now know it’s far worse when the death is sudden, unexpected and there is no time to wrap your head around what is going to happen, no time to say goodbye.
Ottie kept looking for his best friend until, out of pity, I took him to the back of the garage where the grave had already been dug. I lifted the white sheet and I watched Ottie sniff and look away. And then stare and look away. Over and over and over. When the time came to let Carl lie in his final bed, Ottie approached slowly, tentatively, with his head hung low – he peered over the rim and then walked away. Now he looks forlorn and last night, when it was time to go to sleep, he turned his huge eyes towards me, full of questions I couldn’t answer. To give each other comfort, I let him come up to the bedroom and, waking up in the middle of the night and hearing his breathing and sighing, was indeed soothing.
To love unconditionally means being able to let go and I am hoping the forlorn half of the dynamic duo that is left will show me how.