On the Death of an Old Dog
When my son Ben was 12, he came home from school one afternoon with a sad story. His teacher, Mrs. Sawyer, volunteered at the Bangor Humane Society, and told him of an old sad Border collie who had been surrendered. The dog, like Ben, was 12, and had lived in the same home all her life until she’d been turned over to the shelter. Mrs. Sawyer said the dog was depressed: didn’t want to eat, didn’t want to play. No one seemed to want to adopt her, as she was considered a “senior” dog, and was going deaf.
Ben, for all his craziness, has a sympathetic heart. Okay. He’s a sucker. And he knows that I am, too. He knew what would happen when he told me about Star.
It might have been a day or two later when I presented myself at the Humane Society and told them I wanted to meet Star. The attendant left me with her in the visiting room for a while, and in that time, Star rolled over, Star offered a paw to shake, Star acted like–like, well, a star. The attendant returned and said she’d never seen Star behave like that. Obviously, this dog knew a sucker as well as the rest of them. She came home with me that afternoon.
That was more than five years ago. Star took to the kids right away: they became her sheep. She herded them; she would cut between them and force them away from one another if she felt they were not behaving well. She liked Dewey, the beagle cross who is two years younger than she. She learned over time to put up with the cats, though she never really warmed to them. She had a curious habit of rolling onto her back, all four feet in the air, and bouncing across the floor on her spine. She loved going for walks, though of necessity those became shorter and shorter in recent years. She would plow up deep snow in the yard with her snout, searching for sheep so lost we’d never even had them. She grew steadily more and more deaf, until she could not/would not hear anything at all.
She was jealous about food, and would not share–Dewey could have leftovers. To make sure she didn’t have to share, she would lie down with her paws encircling the dinner dishes: Mine! She very rarely barked, and usually then, only at Dewey, to let him know who was boss. Yet, in her dog way, she liked him. She stayed close.
Since the winter, she’s been showing her age. Well, if a dog lives 7 years for every human year, she was well over a hundred, right? Her face had gone all white; her back legs had stiffened up. This past week, though, she was obviously failing. When she went outside, someone had to carry her back up the porch steps to come in. A meticulous dog, her grooming habits went by the board: despite my attempts to bathe and comb and clip her, her fur became matted. Sometimes she fell, especially when she was tired. It was time.
That didn’t make the trip this morning to the vet’s any easier, of course. I wrapped Star up in a fuzzy blanket; she’d lost so much weight I could just tuck her under one arm. The vet came out and gave her the injection where she was curled up in the back of the car. I kept my hand on her old white head. Rosalie stayed with me (you don’t have to do this alone, she said, and I love and admire that 15-year-old for her strength and compassion). Afterwards, we gave Star a proper burial in the back yard under the trees. Rosalie stood a little way off while I filled the grave, and then we put a big rock on top.
I think she had a good life with us. She held on to it long enough. “You did a good job with her,” the vet said, when he patted me on the back before going inside again. I hope so. We tried.
Star is in her heaven now. May all be right in her world.