I looked into his big brown eyes. They looked back at me. He cocked his eyebrow as if to say, “Go ahead, and get it over with.” I put my arms around his neck, pressed our cheeks together, buried my face into his shoulder and whispered my undying love into his nearest ear. Then it was over. Shep drifted off into oblivion. It was so quick it shook me up. Tears streamed down my face, my nose ran, gurgling sounds escaped from my lips and I crossed my arms over my chest to keep my heart from breaking through. Shep’s pain was over but mine just intensified. I wanted the vet to give me what he’d just given Shep, he looked so peaceful. I’d pay double for the same medicine, sign waivers, do anything, legal or otherwise, just to experience the pain free moment Shep was exposed to right now.
The Vet discreetly left the room to give me time to say my final goodbyes. Final nothing. I would never say good bye to my lifelong walking companion, devoted friend and body guard (not that I had much of a body to guard, one look at mine and attackers fled from me.) And I would never replace him. Never. The pain of loss was too intense.
After I pulled myself together, so to speak, I headed to the receptionist. Questions were hurled at me. Will this be check or credit? Do you want to take Shep home with you or do you want us to bury him? Or do you want to have him cremated? How terribly inappropriate. Decisions had to be made fast, decisions I wasn’t prepared to deal with. I had expected to bring Shep in, get some magic pills or shots, advice on treating lethargy, anemia, and old age, anything that would cure him. I hadn’t expected to hear there was no help, he was too far gone, he was old, there were too many risks in the remedies to cure what was ailing him. He had been prancing around last week, chasing squirrels and errant cats, munching on his treats, walking to the park with me. Now..My shoulders sagged so they were brushing my knees.
I couldn’t carry Shep home, I couldn’t dig a grave his size. Well I could but it would be hard, mentally and physically. Let alone the fact that it was illegal. Illegal if you got caught digging holes at midnight and disposing of bodies. I could see my nosy neighbor peeking out of his curtains now, with the phone in his hand and 911 on auto dial. I opted for cremation; I could dig a hole that small without being noticed. I wanted Shep home with me, in his back yard where he belonged.
I don’t know how I got to my residence, all I know is I had the windshield wipers running full strength till I realized it was only raining inside the car. The heavy cloud was in my heart, not the sky. When I opened the door to my house nothing happened. There was no one there jumping up and down, tail wagging, tongue extended with soft whining sounds welcoming me home. Never again would this feel like a home. Now it was just a lonely address on a map.
I couldn’t sleep. I was used to the rhythmic breathing of Shep as he slumbered on the floor at the foot of my bed where he was ready to pounce on me when I hit the snooze button every morning. Shep was very regimental. He wanted out to do his business in a timely manner; the extra five minutes it took for me to snooze was tortuous for him.
Days of sorrow followed. Days I noticed every bodies, dog, puppy and pot bellied pig. I wanted to yell at all the fools. Get rid of those animals now, before they become such a part of you that you can't live when they're gone. I wanted to yell but I couldn't, my throat would constrict making human sounds sound ...non human.
The vet's clinic called me to pick Shep up, his ashes were back. A nice wooden box, buffed to a glow with his name on a silver metal name plate (for the price I paid it should have been a gold plate) was handed to me. The box had a dainty little lock and key. I took it home and set it on a cabinet. Staring. Staring. Tempted. Tempted. At last I fingered the little key. I fingered the lock. I connected the key and lock. Inside was a sandwich bag filled with lumpy white sand. This wasn't Shep. He was way too big to be in this small a bag. He had been brown, brown with black highlights. He had been plump. His nose had been wet. He had had four enormous feet. This was not Shep. This was someone's idea of a joke. I picked the bag up gingerly and pressed it to my heart. It was Shep. I could feel his love, his bewilderment at his new formless form. I cried again. Shep was home.
Weeks went by, then months. The ache did lessen, but not much. I surfed animal control shelters on the net, just to window shop, Lansing my soul every single time. I would never get another pet. All the shelters mostly had were black dogs or labs anyway. I didn't like black dogs, or labs. They were so common place. Everyone had a lab. Big gangly awkard labs. Jumping in pools, jumping for Frisbees, jumping for sheer joy of life. Everyone that had a lab had to say good bye to it someday. Never would that happen again to me.
I scolded God. Why did he create animals with such short life lines? They didn't eat the fruit off the tree. They hadn't sinned against him, so why? How could people claim animals were therapeutic when their loss was felt so keenly? If I have to go to a therapist for this broken heart, I swear I’ll send God the bill once I Google his billing address..
Three months passed and I was sitting outside on my porch, in the backyard. Shep”s backyard. Stray cats had taken it over, taunting me. They knew Shep was gone and they were safe. They came down out of the trees, sniffing Shep’s old water dish,( I couldn’t bring myself to move it yet) mocking me. They remembered how I use to laugh as they scampered back up the oak’s trunk when Shep came darting around from some bush. Now they were laughing at me.
Suddenly something shot under my chair toppling me over and kept on going, and then cat fur went flying. A combination of meowing and barking ensued followed by a man, tightly gripping a leash and collar, yelling at something wild and out of control. My peaceful backyard had been transformed into bedlam as I tried to help this strange man gain control of his unruly beast.
At last, after a contest of who could stand on their feet the longest before being knocked over again, we had the little demon in a choke hold. He wasn’t intimidated; at least that’s what I gathered as a long pink tongue, at the other end of a wagging tail, kept scratching my face despite my efforts to hide behind my hands.
“Get this thing off me,” I bellowed, from underneath a pink belly. “Then get out of my yard!”
“Lady, I’m sorry. I told my wife this dog would be trouble.” The man wheezed, attempting to catch his breath while he quickly reapplied the beast’s collar. I hoped I didn’t have to do CPR on this old toot.
“Well take the darn thing home!” I ordered trying to not make eye contact with the ….thing.
“No way, I’m taking him to the pound. I warned my wife to not bring home any more strays!” he announced brushing himself off and firmly gripping the dog’s leash.
The pound. Oh my. My interest had been piqued. No. Shep had been a stray once, destined for the pound until he had been offered to me as a parolee. Thirteen years ago. My heart started throbbing again. I felt an anxiety attack coming on. My skin started perspiring; my breathing started coming in short gasps. I was about to…about to….Oh God, no. I said never again and I meant it.
The man was half way out of my yard when I… I can’t believe I did this, “Wait!”
The man slowly turned while the thing at the end of his leash strained with all it’s might to get back to me, raising its front feet high and pawing the air like a stallion. “Never mind.” I said. My heart couldn’t take another pet. The man shrugged and continued on his way.
“No, wait!” I yelled again.
“Lady, make up your mind. I don’t have many birthdays left and I don’t want to spend them here in your back yard.” Oh great, I annoyed him after he ruined my quiet afternoon, and possibly the next thirteen years of my life. Not to mention he was the cause of a pulsating ache on my back side where I landed when he lost control of this four footed demolition derby.
“If you’re going to take him to the pound, let me have him.” There, the words were out. I could still recant them. I’m sure this stranger wouldn’t be surprised if I did. I was coming across as a little schizophrenic.
“Are you sure?” he asked hesitantly. “I’m sure he’ll adopt out pretty quick. He’s just a pup, about three months old. They go fast.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” I said with no conviction as I took possession of the leash and the man left. He’d only been out of sight for a few seconds before it occurred to me… did he say three months?
I rushed to the front yard to catch the stranger before he got away. He was gone. He hadn’t had time to get into a car, to get out of sight. Where did he go? I looked down to see if any craters had opened up in my driveway that could have eaten him alive. Nope. He hadn’t been swallowed up by the earth. I looked up. No helicopter was hovering overhead to whisk someone away.
”Where did that man go?” I hollered to my neighbor, Mr. Busybody, reading the paper next door on his porch so he could keep an eye on the vicinity.
He stared at me. “What man?”
“The guy that chased this dog back here.” I explained. Mr. Busybody never missed anything. He was always on the lookout for gossip or scandal. Our own personal crime watch department and scandalmonger. If he didn’t know the facts, he’d darn sure invent some.
“No one’s been out here but me for the last hour. That dog ran back there by itself.” He stated going back to his morning paper, probably thinking I was just wishing a man had been in my backyard!
Huh! Can people go partially blind, seeing only half of what’s going on? I searched up and down the street. No one. Nothing but…a car rounded the corner. The dog catcher. Animal control, the villains in every movie. They were on the hunt. Driving slowly, looking up and down the same street I had just explored. They were looking for a dog. I was looking for a man, (nothing unusual about that).
They stopped in front of my house and eyed the pup at my side, “Have you seen a stray that looked just like your dog, M’am?” A guy asked from the passenger seat.
“Nope,” I replied truthfully, after all there was no stray here, not anymore! I leaned over to scratch my new walking partner’s ear. My new black lab puppy. The puppy that was born about the same time I lost Shep, three months ago, and evidently delivered by God himself or one of his sales representatives. Looks like I’m going to have to get a pool and some Frisbees. Apparently dogs really are therapeutic because my heart was on the mend and my hand was wet from a slobbery tongue gratefully washing the heck out of it.
I never wanted a black dog and I never wanted a Lab, now I seem to have both. Never again will I say never.