There’s another cedar box on the table in my living room.
The table in question is a half-circle console table — half an oval, really, because it’s long and skinny. We all grow up with tables like this one — it stands in front of the picture window and holds a few knick-knacks — tall cut-glass bottles, in my case, and a shell wreath with a candle in the middle, a vase of flowers (roses, at the moment, even though I’m not typically a rose fan), and, at the back, a pair of cedar boxes.
For four years, there was only one cedar box. It arrived after we lost Zorro.
He wasn’t my first dog, but he was the first dog my husband and I had together. He came into our lives about three years after our marriage, when we bought our first home. With him, we lived through a case of garbage gut, a torn ACL, and ongoing epilepsy, though he grew out of that.
Because of Zorro, we learned about canine acupuncture, BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diets, and that even a ten-pound Chihuahua mix can have a bit of melodramatic flair. Case in point: when he popped his knee falling off the bed, it healed in three days, but for nearly a month he’d limp whenever he thought we were looking.
Zorro’s death wasn’t the first loss I’d experienced. It wasn’t even the first pet-loss (I’d had bunnies and parakeets die during my childhood). But his was the first pet death that made me cry.
We had come home from our first adoption day with our first foster dog, and he was coughing blood. We knew, before we even went to the vet, that it was Time, and that the best thing we could do for him was to end it mercifully.
On the way home, we stopped at Starbucks for cocoa, which we drank in the car. The only thing heavier than our hearts, the only thing more prolific than our tears, was the driving rain.
The second cedar box is a more recent addition.
Miss Cleo came into our lives thirteen years ago, and from day one we knew this little black and white puff ball was going to be a force to be reckoned with.
Her “adventures” were less medical and more mischievous. Once, she chewed her way through a live co-axial cable, the kind with the copper core. Another time she ate a shirt. Let me make this clear: she didn’t shred it, she didn’t rip away a part of it; she ate the whole damned shirt.
After we moved to Texas, she demonstrated her terrier nature by becoming an excellent ratter, although, since her kills had no evidence of bloodshed, I’m pretty sure she just scared those poor rodents to death.
Cleo also had an ongoing war with the neighborhood squirrels, which would taunt her through the glass door in my kitchen. Once, one of them grabbed a piece of fluff it had ripped out of a lawn chair cushion, and threw it at her face, hitting her on the nose, and causing her to fall into the swimming pool. She never forgave me for making her swim to the steps and get out on her own. (Well, it was November.)
Once in a while, Cleo and Zorro even worked as a team, like the time they climbed up on the table, ate the toppings and cheese (down to the bare crust) of a whole pizza that we’d bought especially to have as leftovers the next morning, and then closed the box so we wouldn’t know.
Always clingy, and never subtle, Cleo quickly earned the nickname, “The Barking Bitch of Be’elzebub.”
We tried crating her — she ate the hard plastic crate liner. We tried hiring a trainer to teach her not to bark. That only resulted in the trainer leaving our house, shaking her head in confusion. “Her problem is just that she likes to bark,” the woman said. Finally we bought a special toy — a purple and pink squeaky bone — and when we really needed her to be silent, we’d give her that. She wouldn’t play with it, just wanted to hold it in her mouth, which made it a perfect cork.
When Max and Perry joined the family (the former, a week before Zorro’s death, the latter, a month after), Cleo quickly established her role as alpha dog, or, as I liked to call her, “Supreme Bitch-Goddess of the Universe.” She weighed 25 pounds at her heaviest, but by the time my now 80-pound Max was half grown, he knew exactly who was in charge; so did ten-pound Perry.
As she got older, Miss Cleo’s (We added the ‘miss’ to remind her to be polite; it didn’t work.)aggression got worse and worse.
By the time her thirteenth birthday approached, this past April, she was losing her sight, on daily painkillers for the arthritis in her hips, and even getting snappish with my husband. Every vet trip required doggie dope, and even when drugged, she would slip the muzzle and try to eat any fingers within reach.
We discussed options with our vet, who said, “Medically, she’s old, and fading, but there’s no health reason to put her down. Still, no one would judge you if you did.”
“ ‘Quality of life’ applies to the whole family,” he told us.
Our response was to increase the dosage of her pain killers and wait for her to tell us she was ready to go.
And then we got a puppy.
And then I went to Mexico.
And then she tried to kill the puppy, and Max, my gentle giant, tried to stop her and tore a four-inch gash in her neck.
My husband called me from the vet, where she wouldn’t let anyone get close enough to examine the wound.
“I think it’s time,” I told him, imagining the after-care if we had her stitched up — thinking about the way she wouldn’t even let me touch her feet, still, after thirteen years, knowing there would be more vet visits to stress her out — and stress US out. “It’s time,” I said.
Later, he told me they had to make him leave the room so they could even approach her.
I had friends bring my husband dinner and sit with him, so he wouldn’t be alone.
In Mexico, I had a really big margarita, and cried over every street-dog I saw, and tried not to think about how I’d failed my husband and my dog by not being there.
My first day home, we went to the vet, and picked up her ashes.
There are two cedar boxes on the console table in my living room. Neither one is even as big as a brick, and that tiny space doesn’t seem enough to hold the essences of the animals who were my four-footed children for so long. I keep telling people that someday, I’ll move them to another place in the house.
“Someday” isn’t likely to happen any time soon.