A Dog Died Today

Her name was Brandi. She was a member of a long line of dogs in our extended family. She was a stray, of indeterminate breeding and age, rescued from the streets of Oakland by my son and his then wife. They have since divorced and, in an act of enormous generosity, he gave the dog that he loved so to his now ex-wife (I will call her Nora in this post).

Brandi was well traveled. She lived in a couple of different households in northern California, in Washington DC, in Manhattan, in New Jersey and in several different households in Minnesota. Brandi even stayed with us for several months while my son and daughter-in-law were relocating from the West Coast to the East Coast. It really did not matter to Brandi where she was, as long as she was with the people that she loved and that in turn loved her.

We all knew that Brandi was getting old and starting to fail. Her hearing was going and she was visibly slower in getting around. My wife and I are sensitive to this, perhaps because our own dog is also slowing down. For Brandi however, the end seemed very near. She was in discomfort and not eating. Yesterday, the doctor at the local veterinary clinic examined Brandi and raised the possibilities of cancer or kidney failure. The technicians took x-rays and an ultrasound and did things to make her comfortable. Nora took Brandi home last night with the expectation that she (Nora) might have to make a decision about euthanasia today when the results were available and analyzed.

We got the call from Nora this morning just after 6 AM. Brandi had died overnight, sleeping at the foot of Nora’s bed. There would be no decision about euthanasia today. In my eyes that is a good thing. It is hard enough to lose a pet and a companion through death without being the direct cause of that death.

We drove to Nora’s apartment, wrapped the body of what had been once a loving dog in a blanket decorated with dog bones, and took the body back to the veterinary clinic. This is a clinic that we have been going to for decades. It is a full service clinic that provides all manner of services for pets. It is staffed by very competent people who care deeply about pets and the people that own them. There were two services that they offered today.

First, the doctor who examined Brandi the day before came in and said that it was clear from the results of the tests that there was really nothing that could have been done for Brandi. It might seem foolish to be standing there discussing these results in the presence of the deceased dog, but if you love someone the way that Brandi was loved, you want to make sure that you have done all of the things that you could have done. It is all too easy for love to descend into guilt. Having a caring doctor tell you that there was nothing else that could have been done provides more comfort than you might imagine.

Second, the technicians made arrangements for Brandi to be cremated. One of the options was for the ashes to be returned to Nora, but after some discussion she decided that she would keep the memories of Brandi alive through pictures.

Afterwards, my wife and I took Nora out to a coffee shop. We talked for a while, mostly about nothing.

A dog died today. Taken by itself, that death would be painful for the people who loved that dog. But that death is part of a larger bargain that we make when we take on the responsibility for a dog. We will love the dog and take care of it and the dog will love us in return. But we humans live at a different rate from our dogs. It is inevitable that we will have to watch them grow old, fail and ultimately die. If my wife and I have any legitimate claim on Brandi as a part-time pet and companion, this is the fourth time that we’ve gone through this cycle. We can see a fifth time approaching as our dog reaches her end of life. And yet we know that it is very likely that we will get another dog. We have been, are and will continue to be “dog people.”

It is unquestionably a time of sadness. But Brandi died being loved. Indeed all of our companions died being loved and loving in return. We love and are loved. There is not much more that needs to be said, not much more that can be said.

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