We sat on the floor together, holding our big sick dog, the beloved Davey, the dog we had owned as long as we had been married who just that morning had pulled on the leash as we took her for a last walk, and we watched the vet inject one and then another vial of the drugs that would end her life. She died right away, one afternoon in that happy time between Christmas and New Year’s.
Fortified by the belief that we had not let our love for her trump the pain we know she was feeling, we took our dog-less red leash to our car and drove home. That night we went to a hockey game. We had free tickets. And my husband got a free sweatshirt. The game seemed endless and loud, the players crashing into each other and the sideboards, the sticks clacking, deafening, rough. Why hadn’t we chosen something gentle to do?
We sat in our seats in such misery. Our dead dog was only one of our sorrows although the most acute. It was, after all, a death we had caused. We could have done it another day, I kept thinking. It didn’t have to be today, this day. We could have given her painkillers, stretched out her time. Our time. She could have died on her own accord. In the yard or in the kitchen while we were cooking dinner.
The consequence of taking matters into your own hands is that it’s hard to wash off.
Four months later, on Valentine’s Day, my husband took me to the Humane Society. Just to meet a dog, he said. He was looking at dogs, he told me, and he just wanted me to meet one that was really special. Just a visit. Nothing more.
The dog we were meeting was the only dog there. All of the other cages were empty. It was Monday, the staff person said. People adopt pets on the weekend so any dog that people wanted got scooped up Saturday or Sunday. Only this dog was left.
Tiny was a white and brown Australian Shepherd/Collie mix with two different color eyes, one of them the notorious glass eye, a blue-white eye that looked like it could swivel, follow an image up or down or from side to side all on its own without the other eye needing to be involved. It was a curiosity and then it was unnerving. He watched two things at once.
His ears stood straight up, bent at the tips, antennae to catch anything his glass eye missed. He listened to us, our minds working, our guts churning last night’s dinner. If we made a move, he was in front of us, anticipating what was next, being ready, always being ahead of whatever the game was.
In the big play room where the Humane Society staff ‘introduce’ dogs to people, Tiny lay on the floor, his back legs splayed and his front legs crossed like a lady at a country club dance. I had never met a dog who crossed its legs, at the joint don’t you know, so one paw hung so elegantly over the other. He crossed his legs, perked his ears and looked at us with his glass eye, the sunlight from the far window creating kaleidoscope effect.
“He’s your Valentine’s Day present.”
“You already bought him?”
“Sort of. Yes. He’s a great dog, don’t you think?”
“He’s the only dog here!”
“I know. That’s why we should take him.”
The Human Society person explained how Tiny had separation anxiety, that his prior two owners had kept him crated for long stretches and he was frantic if left alone. She told us that he might have problems forming a new attachment because so much had happened to him but that we should start by leashing him to us and having him go everywhere with us in the house.
It seemed excessive to me, being leashed to a dog with a glass-eye and crossed legs, a dog that would be peering at me and sensing me with those ears, whose presence would be constant and large and tense. A crazy dog. He wanted us to adopt a crazy dog because it was Valentine’s Day and the crazy dog was the only one left and we were the only ones crazy enough to take him.
After we got home, I looked for the red leash hanging in the back hall. I fastened the leash to Tiny’s collar and put the end through a loop in my jeans, tied a knot and headed upstairs to my office. He lay on the floor, his back legs splayed and front legs cross and waited for what was next.
That’s how we began.