When my sister called to tell me that our mother had just passed away some years ago, my immediate thought was “I’m not ready.”
I’m thinking about that moment because we are about to say our last goodbye to our beloved dog. I can’t even write the words about the action they’re about to take. I have said them multiple times, but writing them is too much. But I keep thinking “I’m not ready.”
I’ve had 15 years with this dog. He was willed into our lives wholly by my will. I wanted a dog, had always wanted a dog, and had worked for nearly 10 years to convince my husband we should get a dog. He loves animals but had been burned by a bad experience with his ex when they brought a puppy into a household that wasn’t ready to deal with a puppy.
I was ready. I researched. I dreamed. I decided on a breed, Brittany Spaniel, which was different from the breed I had grown up with, Siberian Husky, because we lived in a house with a four-foot fence, and we were right next a busy highway. A Husky would have been gone and then probably smushed.
Dudley came to us from the Brittany rescue, but he was so not Brittany-breed at all. Tall and derpy, with a big black nose and super floofy tail. We surmised he was a Golden mixed with an Irish Red and White Setter, and he was/is/will always be perfect. There has never been a better dog.
I can’t say anything about grief or owning a dog that someone hasn’t already said. They’re all the best dogs ever. They’re all loving and kind and keep all your secrets. Grief always tears you apart from the inside.
Dudley was mine from the start. My pal, my comfort, my ever-present love. He loves so freely and generously. He gave me what I was missing; a playmate, someone to have adventures with, someone to hold while I watched TV. A snuggler.
He came with me on all my most exciting adventures. When he was still strong, he could scale a steep hill without a problem; we went down into Boiler Bay together to get a closer look at the estuary, and he scrambled back up like he’d been doing this his whole life. Up the sides of ravines and down into river valleys, on beaches and mountain lakes he trotted, always waiting patiently for his slower partner — me — to catch up.
We camped together at Lost Lake a few years ago. Inside the tent, I foolishly unhooked his leash, and he immediately found the one tiny opening in the tent and skedaddled out into the night, dark as pitch and full, I was sure, of bears and cougars. He didn’t run too fast, just enough to be out of reach, looking back at me with his impish grin as he found the road that wound around the campsite, like he just wanted one more sniff before bed.
He pulled over about 15 campsites down the road, where a young family was roasting hot dogs over an open fire. Oh, hot dogs. He could never resist those. They kindly grabbed his collar and held him while I stumbled up in my slippers and PJs. I’m still grateful those kids were up at 11 p.m. to catch my dog for me.
We haven’t had one of our adventures in a while. He hasn’t been able to travel in the car for months, so our hikes aren’t happening. He’s become weaker and slower very quickly, and whimpers every night for almost an hour before falling off to sleep. That’s not who he ever was, but that’s who he’s become, and that’s what has convinced me it’s time to say goodbye.
I feel like we’ve had a million adventures, but I want just one more. I want just one chance to sit next to him, both of us panting, and gaze out at the ocean below, conquerors of the smallish hill that felt, at the bottom, like a vast peak. I want to snuggle with him and fall asleep on the couch again. I want him to howl when I play the piano, something he hasn’t done in months, our homemade symphony of joy and love.
I’m not ready. But I think he is.
Grief brings up other grief. The loss of my dog is not equal to the loss of my mother, but both carved out a space in me that is uniquely theirs, and unfillable by anyone else. I still plumb the depths of the loss of my mother at odd moments; a scrap of melody she once sang, an Irish dimple in the crowd, my daughter’s face and fire that’s so like Mom’s. Dudley will come to me on hot, sunny days, when he would long to lie on the grass and pant into the wind.
We just said our last goodbye and poured as much love on him as we could out in the sunshine. No matter what any of you believe about your dog, he was truly the best dog who ever lived. We held him in our arms and sobbed into his fur as the pain left him, and as he left his body. I will miss the feel of his warm breath on my skin, of his insistent paw asking for me to pet him, of his long body curled next to mine as we drift into a nap on a winter’s day.
We’re going to visit one of his favorite places tonight, the sequoia grove Dudley and I found in one of our first exploring adventures here, and miss the jangle of his tags and the swish of his feathered tail up the switchback trail. We’ll carry his fur on our clothes from so recently holding him. He will be with us always, a Dudley-shaped hole carved by the love of this sweet animal who found us and let us take him home.