This past Monday, November 15, it became necessary to put our old dog, Bernard, to sleep. He was fourteen years old, and gray around the muzzle. He was arthritic, partially blind, mostly deaf, and plagued by a large tumor in his side. For all of that he still had some pretty good days. Dog days, but all of his days were dog days.
During the week before we took him in to end his life, he was unable to keep much down in the way of food and water. The tumor had invaded his insides to the point of restricting his stomach. Any future he might have would be an extended period of vomiting and protracted starvation. Though with humans we do not permit a more graceful exit, with dogs a decision can be made and acted upon.
And so it was.
He came to us, fourteen years ago, when my daughter brought a puppy home. I was not thrilled. From the beginning it was necessary for someone to take him out to do his duty, and I was often that person. Over the years the kids moved away, but Bernard stayed. And stayed. And stayed.
He was, for the most part, a good dog. He was a Beagle mix, but mostly looked like a generic hound in black and white. I considered him the first of a new breed, The North American Stupid Hound. He really was not stupid, he was just very doggy. He was also the perennial omega dog. That's the opposite of the Alpha dog. Bernard submitted to everyone else in the pack.
For most of his life I was busy. My job required a lot of my time, and what was left did not often fall to the dog. In spite of the lack of any significant attention, Bernard became increasingly devoted to me. I always thought he got a bad bargain in the relationship, but dogs are dogs and can't help that deep and unthinking devotion.
During this last year I have been retired. I have been increasingly available to Bernard, and that suited him just fine. Over the last six months of his life he was seldom far from me. Indeed, in the last month or two I could walk no more than ten feet from the end of his tether. Beyond that and he responded as if being abandoned forever.
I did not abandon him. I allowed him the dubious benefits of my presence most of the time. I was present as he suffered the last indignity, which was handled gently and compassionately by the vet and her assistant. I watched and kept my hand on his head as he breathed his last.
I loved that old dog. In spite of myself and my devotion to my own cantankerousness and seeming insensitivity, I loved that dog.
No, I don't want another one. They are messy, inconvenient, and restrict mobility. What's more, they worm their way into your heart. Then they precede you into death, leaving you with a void that need never have existed. No, I don't want another one.
Then again, life has taught me to "never say never."
Goodbye, Bernard. You were my friend.
Cruise to nowhere, and a salty cocktail hour
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