My dog died.
Dalton was a mutt, a shelter dog, a pound puppy, half greyhound, half coonhound. Fast legs and a wicked nose.
I could tell when he was happy. His long tail would reach skyward and curl. It was a bouncing question mark as he moved.
He was scared of flies and would hide under the table if one got in the house, but he once tried to go after a black bear six times his weight.
He liked to eat poop. Fox and skunk poop were okay. Bear and cow poop, not so much. Ah, but rabbit and deer poop, now those were delicacies! (Fortunately, he left our cats’ poop alone.)
He also ate other… things. One time we startled a rabbit into the road as a car was coming. The car ran over the rabbit. Dalton ate the rabbit before I even said the Dalton part of “Dalton, leave it.” The rabbit was so big Dalton’s throat bulged like a python when he swallowed. Another time we were walking on a dirt road in the rain. I saw two toad’s eyes peeking above the surface of the mud. The rest of the toad’s body was buried. Dalton scooped it up, mud and all, without breaking stride. And the time he ate a dead bird (ew, those crunchy feathers), or a squirrel but not the fuzzy tail. His stomach wasn’t completely cast iron, though. Once he ran off in the woods for a couple of hours, came home, and vomited a deer hoof.
He got along well with our seven cats, the big lab next door, and the tall, Russian wolfhound down the street. But he and the neighbor’s tiny fox terrier were not friends, go figure.
If I took a nap before dinner, he would wake me and nudge my arm upward. Time to get UP. Time for our dinner. But if I was ill, like the time I had the flu, he knew I needed to rest and let me be, well past dinner time.
He had “fussy ears” as the vet used to say, prone to irritation and itchiness, and I had to use a medicated cleanser when his ears acted up. If my right ear hurt, I’d check his right ear. Sure enough, it’d be fussy. If my left ear hurt, his left ear would be fussy. I know this is impossible. I know this. But over the twelve years that I had him, our ear system only failed us twice, when I had swimmer’s ear and his ears were fine.
He helped me train for a Marathon. He was an excellent running companion, and in his later years an excellent walking companion.
He was an excellent writing companion, too. Quiet, contemplative.
He didn’t like to play catch. But he’d sit patiently while I left the room to hide a piece of pepperoni, a kibble, a whatever, and when I said, “Find it!” he’d sniff around the house until he found it.
Twice he refused to go down a familiar, wooded road while we were out on a walk. I trusted his nose. He probably smelled a bobcat or a bear. Or a Bigfoot, I liked to imagine.
He kept me from feeling insane. Like the time I heard a woman scream from an abandoned house. (There was NO ONE there.) Dalton heard it too, stopping in the road, jerking to attention. He stood a long time afterwards, staring at a blank space in the abandoned house’s yard. I saw nothing, but maybe he did. At any rate, he let me know I wasn’t going crazy when I heard weird things.
He slept on a doggy bed on the floor next to my side of the bed. He’d follow me into the bedroom, and when I climbed up on the bed, he’d pad over to his special place. Round and round like dogs do. Then he’d finally drop, tuck in nose and tail and let out a harrumphing sigh. If he was off-center on his cushion, he’d lean against the wall. There’s a mark there on the wall, dirt and oil. I’ve cleaned out his dog paraphernalia, his leftover kibble and whatnot, but I haven’t cleaned the mark off the wall. Not yet.
Yesterday I took an afternoon nap. No one else was in the bedroom. Not even a cat. I settled in bed, closed my eyes, and heard his harrumphing sigh. Dalton is taking a nap too. And then I remembered he was gone. I sat upright, looked around the room; I was alone. I had told him before he died that in doggy heaven he’d chase deer and rabbits to his heart’s content and never get tired (and never catch them, either; after all, it’s deer and rabbit heaven, too). But maybe in heaven he takes naps as well.
He was not an eye-contact, snuggly, kissy dog. But on his last day, he kept making eye contact with his…
definitely not latte
but gingerbread-colored eyes. A little glance. And again. I think he was telling me he needed to go. I rubbed his fussy ears just the way he liked it while the vet did her part. The vet was surprised how fast he went, and with no anxiety. “He was certainly ready,” said the vet. Right afterwards, Dalton’s body was stretched out the way he’d do in a block of sun on the floor, gingerbread eyes still open. He looked content. And I believe he is.