The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master.
Ben Hur Lampman
“Harley! Where are you now, you dumb dog?!”
Once again, I grabbed a leash and headed out the front door. Once again, Harley had squeezed under the back fence to freedom, headed to the soccer park where there were dozens of posts for him to patiently mark. Once again, out of breath, I ran after him; he had enough of a head start to get near the end of the park, headed toward the farm fields a little further west.
Harley was a rescue dog; when he was a pup, the children he lived with decided to do a science experiment. Their method wasn’t very scientific, but their premise was simple enough: Can a puppy fly? The answer, of course, was no; fortunately, Harley escaped mostly unscathed, save for the damaged back that would bother him for the rest of his life. To the very end, he couldn’t stand to be petted on the back near his tail, and nipped at anyone who tried.
We got Harley from another family who had taken him in after his aerial acrobatics. He was almost three years old, and full of piss and vinegar from the start. Except with my wife, of course; he latched on to her lap like he owned it, and not a day went by when he didn’t spend at least an hour just laying there. He was her baby, even though we had four boys of our own, including one who arrived after Harley did.
Harley was good with the boys, and enjoyed spending time with me on our walks. At least, I think he enjoyed it; he certainly marked every telephone pole in the neighborhood every chance he got (including unauthorized walks, as above). He self-identified as a cat, laying in the sun with abandon and sniffing at things like baths and swimming pools. He also started longingly at our middle son’s hamsters, sometimes going from cage to cage like he was window shopping, looking for a late-night snack.
For six years, Harley has been a part of our lives, a constant source of companionship and unconditional love, especially when we started a Keto diet and there was much more bacon to be had around the house. We only thought he was insistently begging at the dinner table; with more savory bacon on our plates, it became a cacophony of demanding every juicy tidbit on the table, reminiscent of the seagulls in Finding Nemo: “Mine! Mine!”
Even when we brought in another puppy, the Raven I mention in my posts, Harley took her under his wing, so to speak. He was the Alpha in the house, no question, waiting at the front door patiently for hours for Momma to return from her cross-border shopping trips, trips which usually included a new squeaky toy for him to destroy within half an hour. Raven looked up to Harley, even as she grew to be three times his size (Shih-Tzu vs. lab-chow mix). He taught her everything she needed to know about laying on Momma’s lap, a skill which Momma didn’t often appreciate as Raven grew to her current fifty-pound size.
But over the last couple of months, I noticed that Harley wasn’t as full of energy as he used to be, trotting instead of running to his favorite marking posts, slowing down on our nightly walks. I chalked it up to age; I don’t expect I’ll be running from telephone pole to telephone pole when I’m in my sixties, either. But what we didn’t know was that Harley was in a lot of pain; he had a bladder stone several times bigger than my last kidney stone (an experience no one should ever have to go through), which was now causing him to pee blood. On top of that, his left eye had developed a weeping ulcer that was making him blind in that eye. The vet’s prognosis wasn’t good; even with surgery, the outlook wasn’t encouraging, and the issues might reoccur. We talked it over for a while, but it came down to the simple fact that Harley was hurting, badly, and there was a good chance it wouldn’t stop even with surgeries. Then, I made the call no pet owner ever wants to make.
“How much will it cost to put him down?”
We elected to wait until Friday; our middle son was away at camp, and we didn’t want him to come home to find out his puppy was gone. But the vet wasn’t open on the weekend, so it had to be late on Friday afternoon. So, I had the wonderful task of picking him up at 4 o’clock after a wonderful week of fun, then tell him the news. His mood went from 60 to zero in two seconds flat, and he cried all the way to the vet.
My wife brought our other two sons (the oldest is away at college and never knew Harley), and we spent the last fifteen minutes of Harley’s life smothering him with equal amounts of love and tears. My tough, heavy-equipment-operating teenage son was bawling his eyes out, while the ten-year old begged us to do something, anything, to keep him from having to lose another pet (the aforementioned hamsters, who had all passed last year). The only one who wasn’t affected was the autistic five-year old; until today, never have I envied his condition.
My wife held Harley right up to the end, and we all stayed as the vet gave him the sedative, then the final injection. A fighter to the end, Harley growled and tried to snap at them, until finally the pain was no more, and he was gone.
That’s a rather inaccurate phrase, isn’t it? “He was gone.” He wasn’t gone, he was right there in front of us, just no longer moving. Or breathing. And never to do so again. And even so, he’s not really gone, because I can see him even as I’m typing this, even as my wife is laying upstairs in bed, an empty space at the foot of the bed to match the one in her heart.
“Where are you, you dumb dog?!” What I wouldn’t give to be able to say that once more. But I don’t have to, because right now he’s in an endless soccer park, with billions of poles all lined up neatly in a row, waiting for him to mark each and every one in his own special way. I like to think it brings him happiness, a fitting reward for six years of faithful love and joy that will remain forever in our hearts.
I love you, you dumb dog. Someday, we’ll go on that endless walk together. You won’t even need the leash.