Willow

Home Without Dogs

On losing life with dogs

On the night of June 11th 2013 my boxer dog, DOON, went through a terrible twelve hours.

What was happening, as far as I can understand, is that his brain was disconnecting from his spinal chord. So his mind could not instruct his body to do anything. And his body seemed to have little autonomic, or involuntary ability to move either. He panted hard, in his bed on the floor, staring, unblinking, at the wall. We sat on the floor beside him watching, soothing, waiting, wishing, and on edge.

Our spirits lifted once at some pre-dawn hour when he abruptly heaved to unsteady feet, to move around the corner into the kitchen to drink. Before reaching his bowl his front legs slid from under him and he hit the floor, first on his throat, then along his side. For this man animal to display his breakage was devastating. The following morning, on a stainless steel table, his healthy heart beating rhythmically, and wide helpless eyes that stared straight ahead into ours, we allowed him to be put to sleep. DOON was nine years old.

We came home to our agitated female boxer, Willow, who had waited the morning in the apartment alone. Excited to see us and undoubtedly wondering where her brother could be, we let her calm down by behaving calmly ourselves. I took her for a walk in a vapor of strangeness that seemed to cover my shoulders and chest, a dark shroud I could not shake. I was walking one dog, not two. For twenty years, it has been two.

We tried to allow a balance to emerge in the house, Willow’s mourning, our own sadness we somehow linked to a show of security and strength that might help her. The days turned slowly. Each morning Willow and I hit the streets and woods for an hour’s walk. Kept the routine as I’d had with both dogs, the two short outings during the day and social time in the park at night. These nights became Willow’s fondest, proudest hour. Playing with ten big dogs, all off leash in the dark, grounded her in the pack and left her physically spent, and socially gratified.

It was now Willow and me. Between walks were the hours together in the same room, my work as a graphic designer keeping me home. We watched each other. She became more obedient and expressive of her love for people. Willow was the magic dog, the one dog in ten that dog owners will always mention in dog stories. I was, and am, crazy about Willow. My fourteenth dog.

On the night of July 21 2013, five weeks after we lost DOON, Willow and I walked into the park, I unclipped her leash and and she took off into the darkness with the big black poodle, Leon, for a dash and chase. After ten minutes I called her, and she came to my feet, panting hard. We walked with the gang of dogs and owners to the fountain, where she sat and waited her turn to drink. Then she hopped up swiftly and I held down the nozzle as she lapped up cold water, splashing it everywhere. She hopped down and began to follow me as I walked on.

Then she sat.

Then she fell over.

My mind went red with worry. We splashed water on to her panting body, and after ten minutes we realized she might not get up on her own. I picked up my heavy wet Willow and carried her out of the park. Something was horribly wrong. We put her on our bed in front of the air conditioner and listened to her panting. I had one hand on her heart which pumped strongly. I was listening to her breathing when I suddenly became aware her heart was no longer beating. Her panting had whispered to nil. Her face was still.

We had lost Willow.

It is exactly two months since that shocking night and I have tears at the top of my throat every day. I cannot walk any sidewalk we walked together. I can’t even look over the road there, where the sidewalk curves up and away. The house is filled with a balloon of emptiness, it is cube shaped, forcing itself into each corner tight, against the molding, and we cannot escape it. It’s not about getting another dog. It’s about standing in the face of the pain. Willow, you lived your dogness. It is still in here, three rooms and a kitchen all in which you had your space.

When some work patterns fall into place another dog will arrive. Until then for the first time in twenty years we have no dogs. All their habitual spots in the home have a vanished sense of spirit. No more food time. No freshening the bowls of water. No walks. No joining your buddies, no dependable early morning lick on my nose to say, Daddy, I gotta go, let’s go for a walk.