Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Losing the Family Pet

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A week ago, one of my family’s dogs died.

Blackie was a sweet-tempered, forty-two pound Cocker spaniel who enjoyed food, walks, driving in the car, and being around human beings.  We were endlessly fascinating to him, and he to us — especially as he had two younger compatriots to keep an eye on that were always getting into mischief.

Over the last year, Blackie’s health wasn’t as good as it had been before.  He showed obvious signs of aging, including the stark white muzzle contrasting amidst his all-black natural fur coat.  He still ate well, drank plenty of water, and got his exercise . . . but he had obviously slowed down.  He took many more naps.  He didn’t hear as well.  He startled easily.  And he had severe separation anxiety whenever his family members weren’t around, which was worse than all the rest of it put together.

Still, he remained a gentle, good-hearted dog whose only flaw was in how many times he could knock the garbage pail over in his endless search for food.

That is, until last Monday.

Something happened on that day that I cannot explain.  He started feeling poorly.  He did not want to eat, but while I noted it at the time, Blackie did eat a little bit and drank as much water as ever.  He even went outside, as he usually did, and sniffed for a long time at the yard.

That was the last time I saw him go out.

On Tuesday, he mostly lay on the couch.  He was gasping for air, and it grew worse the longer I listened.  But our vet had gone home for the day, and Blackie had only just gotten sick — so we thought we could wait.

A few hours later, Blackie somehow got off the couch and into the kitchen.  By the time I got there, the floor was full of urine-tinged blood.  Blackie lay quietly by the outside door, and before I set to clean up the floor, I petted him for a few minutes.  I told him, my voice breaking, that I knew he’d been trying to go out.  And I told him, “Good dog.”

Then I got out the bleach, put it in some hot water, and started cleaning up the floor.   My Mom helped after a few minutes.

It took quite a while, an undifferentiated moment of eternity, before both of us were able to not only clean the floor, but get Blackie back up again.  We cleaned him as best we could with paper towels as neither of us thought he could stand to be put in the tub, mostly because his legs were shaking and it was obvious he was extremely ill, then got him back up on the couch.

Mom and I discussed what to do.  There is a local animal hospital that takes patients twenty-four hours a day, but it’s also extremely expensive.  And we really wanted Blackie to see his own vet, the vet who knew him, if at all possible.

So we waited.

Overnight, I watched Blackie.  I gave him a little water — maybe he drank a half a cup, if that much — and offered him a bit of bread soaked in milk, as that had calmed him a few times in the past.  Blackie licked a bit at the milk, but could not eat.

This was an ominous sign.

Blackie insisted on being moved to his usual place in the middle of the hallway, where he could keep an eye on everyone.  It wasn’t easy, as he could barely walk by this point, but he and I made our slow and stately way to the hall, where he lay on a freshly laundered, extra-large dogbed.

I needed to get some rest, so my Mom got up to watch Blackie as we waited for the vet’s office to open up.  But when she called, it turned out that our vet was not in the office.  We were referred over to a different animal hospital that’s less expensive than the twenty-four hour one, and prepared to get Blackie ready to go.

However, when Mom wasn’t looking, Blackie must have convulsed.  She asked me to check on him as she was afraid he was dead.  There was vomit on his muzzle by the time I was able to get to him, and he was no longer breathing.  His eyes were open in puzzlement, while the other two dogs stared in shock.

It is not legal to bury your dog in your backyard where I live.  We knew that.  So we called to find out what was legal, and found that cremating your pet in a mass cremation (where you do not get to keep the ashes) would be fifty dollars.  And as that’s far more dignified of an exit than putting poor Blackie in a garbage bag — something we flatly refused to do, even though people do it all the time despite its illegality — we decided to do that.

There was a nearly four-hour wait before we could bring Blackie in to the crematory.  All that time, Blackie lay where he was, until Mom got out a sheet to carry him in.  We got Blackie to the car, where Mom flatly refused to put him in the trunk.  (I didn’t like the idea myself, but thought it might spare Mom what followed.)  Instead, Mom carried Blackie on her lap all the way to the crematory, dressed only in a sheet.

The owner of the crematory was there to help us get Blackie inside, which was a good thing as both of us were about to break down.  The kind man took our money, promised that Blackie would be cremated with dignity, and gave us a flyer about pet loss with several helpful Web sites on it.

Then we drove away again.

I haven’t discussed it publicly until now because it’s been a really rough go.  I’ve been ill with some sort of allergy along with a nasty virus, and grieving Blackie’s loss just puts the snow atop the mountain.

Besides, even though Blackie was a sweet dog, he wasn’t my favorite.

Still, I enjoyed being around him.  Blackie, like me, was a night owl, and an ideal companion for a writer.  He demanded almost nothing, and gave back so very, very much.

Basically, Blackie was a dog that had all the classic Cocker spaniel traits, good and bad.  He was a very kind-hearted dog that made canine and human friends extremely easily.  He loved everyone he met.   He adored being petted.  And he lived the life of Reilly for eleven years, the eleven years he spent in my Mom’s household after being adopted from the Humane Society.

Maybe that’s the best epitaph anyone can ever write for a dog.  “He loved everyone he met.”

I will miss that big, black dog.  And I do hope that someday, maybe in the next world that is said to be far more beautiful than our own, I’ll get to tell him one more time what a good dog he always was.  (Even when he was knocking over the garbage.)

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Written by Barb Caffrey

April 10, 2013 at 4:40 am

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