Forgive me if I’m a bit late this week. We had to have our dog put to sleep and stuff like that really takes the starch out of you. Somehow I always end up with the job. As the designated grim reaper in the family I’ve acquired the reputation as someone who had a cat euthanized once for peeing on the carpet. In my defense, it was far worse than my daughter would have you to believe and I had a vet’s diagnosis to back me up that the cat would probably never change his ways. Excuse me folks, but it does boil down to a matter of who is in charge here. And, with the possible exception of a few television animal stars, I’ve yet to see a dog or cat make a house payment.
The sad thing is that we really don’t miss her that much. Girlfriend occupied a huge place in our family but it was mostly a negative spot, with frequent frustrated admonitions to go away and get out of our faces. She was a good dog—loving and loyal to a fault but with several problems. Her first problem was that she wasn’t Fluffy, the most beloved dog we will ever own. Fluffy was the family dog when our girls were growing up and that’s a tough act for any pet to follow.
Girlfriend came with a whole trunk of abandonment issues worthy of a lifetime of doggie therapy. Out here in the country it is our particular cross to bear that people dump unwanted pets on our dirt roads then drive off. One neighbor even enclosed his carport because strays would hang around his kitchen door.
Ten years ago this house was only used as a weekend retreat cabin. Beaven was about to retire and taking days off will-nilly as the mood struck him. He came out here in the middle of the week by himself and called me at the end of the day to say there was a starving dog hanging around the house. He had fed her every can of soup and stew we had and she still acted hungry. I told him to bring her home with him because we had a friend who worked at the city pound and Cookie could always find a home for her. And I knew in my heart that home would be mine. But the dog was shy and wouldn’t let Beaven near her. It wasn’t until three days later when we went again and found her waiting for more food that she let me approach her.
Thinking back on that day we often yearned for the day when Girlfriend was shy and tentative. Once she settled in with us and became part of our family she turned into a tail wagging, face licking, Alpha dog from hell. She came with a full-blown case of heart worms so bad the vet warned us the treatment to kill them might even kill the dog. But she survived.
The abandonment issues meant we couldn’t open any door, house or car, without her wanting to go in or out with us. If you bent down to tie your shoes, her tongue would find your face. If you sat down to sort through something on the bottom shelf she would end up in your lap. Oh, did I mention she had really, really bad breath? Not the kind you want in your face all the time. And those doggie breath tablets don’t work—none of them. She was the clear alpha dog after we acquired a pack of three. At mealtimes she had to eat first, would finish first, and then push the other dogs away to eat their food. But she could also eat a grasshopper by jumping in the air to catch it in mid-air. And this is where I loved to watch her in action. When I mowed the field, it stirred up the grasshoppers; going in an ever smaller circle it would concentrate the numbers. Girlfriend would join me—sitting under a tree for shade and waiting for the grasshoppers. When they were concentrated enough to suit her she would walk in front of the mower and periodically jump in the air to catch one for a snack. I will miss watching that.
Now that we’ve lived out here almost ten years I can’t imagine owning a dog in the city and having to pen it up inside a fence. Our dogs come and go at will and we never worry about them. Periodically Girlfriend would show up covered in cow shit. She loved to wallow in it. She would flop over on her back and wiggle around to purposely grind it into her back. On our walks we once passed a dead skunk in the road. Every day she would stop to wallow in the skunk carcass. Even after weeks went by and the sun, rain and time had decomposed the carcass into nothing visible, she would still stop at the same spot, apparently she could still smell it. And, while personal hygiene was not a big priority to her, her fur would magically shed dirt and mud within a few hours. When she cleaned up she was a beautiful dog. Mostly white with Dalmatian-type black spots, she was clearly a mixed breed. She had a build of a border collie with the intelligence of a Dalmatian, which is not much to brag about if you’ve heard about Dalmatians. But once she had your attention she never got enough love and would wear out even the most loving guest. People always ended up having to tell her to go find someone else to love.
The only exception to her adoration and devotion was delivery men. She had a totally different personality with strangers and we never could figure out that part about her. As loving as she was with us and our friends she hated outsiders. How on earth does a dog know the difference between the UPS guy and our neighbor? We greet them both the same. I wonder if maybe delivery trucks have a special smell about them. Girlfriend never bothered friends who drove onto our place even people she had never met. But delivery people were a totally different story.
Well, Monday she bit the cable guy. This was after the AC repair man and one UPS driver. We loved that dog in spite of her ways but any lawyer will tell you three strikes and you’re out.
The job of sending off family pets to heaven always falls to me. As hard as it is, I’ve learned to appreciate the act of going to sleep forever. It’s a peaceful and relaxed transition, one you only hope you would have at the end of your own life. I wish there was some sort of legal paper I could sign to request such a service when I get old and difficult. But I know my kids would have me at the vet’s office tomorrow.