It’s always been part of my comedy schtick to tell people how much I don’t get along with my dog. People have laughed and so I have continued telling folks what a pain in the neck the dog can be.
Usually, one of us would walk out the back door with Toby each morning. We’d hook him up in the yard for him to do his business.
Sometimes, he’d stand and wait for us to hook him up. At times, he’d venture out in to the yard on his own, but he would be easily summoned back to the leash with a firm command.
On Saturday morning, for some reason, Toby decided he would take a quick walk across the street. I don’t think the driver of the car or Toby himself saw one another. It was all over in a few seconds.
The mass hysteria that followed was horrible and strange. My daughter ran in to tell me, and by the time I got to the street, both the car and Toby were gone. I stood beside him and talked to him. There was nothing I could do.
As I tried to collect my thoughts out in the street, a couple of great guys came by selling wood for fireplaces. They moved the dog from the road while I waited for my wife and son, returning from morning basketball practice, so they wouldn’t view the scene.
I got the girls settled down in the house and met my son and wife on the driveway a few minutes later.
Throughout the day, we continued to mourn and try to make sense of it all. By the time our oldest returned from an overnight youth trip, we played the whole day’s drama over again and helped console him.
The entire day, I walked around with a variety of emotions. Why would I stand in the road with a dog I usually didn’t get along with? Why would I make sure I stood there and protected him when he was obviously breathing his last few breaths? Why, as I got ready to bury him, would I cry and tell him over and over how sorry I was?
tried to think of all the times I wanted this day to come. The many messes I cleaned up. The many times I ran around the neighborhood at all hours looking for him when he got loose. The time we spent money we didn’t have to pay vet bills. The times he got into the pantry (when the door wasn’t closed tightly). I tried to make myself think of what a pain in the neck this dog had been.
But then I had to think of what a smart dog he was. How much joy he gave my kids. The many times that, despite my grumpiness, he hopped up on the couch and snuggled up to me. He really wasn’t such a bad dog.
All weekend I heard his little feet on the floor. I thought about how I needed to pick up my cereal bowl quickly or he’ d jump up on the table and lap up the remaining pieces. His presence was still felt.
So, I can only surmise that somewhere in my supposed disdain for this mutt, I really did care for him. He was, after all, a member of our family for more than a decade. We had taken care of him. Yes, we had loved him.
Because I come from good, solid farm stock, I fancy myself a tough guy when it comes to animals. I realize they all die. Sometimes it’s sudden. Sometimes animals grow old and have to be put down. None of it is pleasant. But, after all, it’s part of life.
I think about how my children have never experienced the loss of anyone close to them and how the death of pets often help prepare us for things like this.
I can’t tell you I think there is an afterlife for pets. I have always thought that fussing over animals was a bit silly. Even now, I read back over my words and think I’ve been a little dramatic and sappy. Oh well. Serves me right for being such a curmudgeon.
Yet here I am, mourning right along with the rest of my family. I am wishing, just like the rest of them, that our little dog was still here, ornery or not.
So long, old pal. You really did bring joy to our house and you were loved. I know you loved all of us, too.