A Dog’s Life
Warning: Ending Foretold
I spin the lazy Susan in the corner cabinet of the Ithaca kitchen, scoop out Annie’s Iams dinner, pour it into the silver bowl she’s eaten out of her whole life. I set it on the plastic placemat, the one my daughter Isabel used when she was a toddler, the one a nine-year-old Isabel willed to the yellow Lab puppy she named Annie the day we brought her home from an Amish farm on Seneca Lake.
I don’t hear Annie get up, don’t hear her bound into the kitchen, tail wagging, jumping up and down at the first sound kibble hitting the bowl like she’d done every day of her life. Annie lays plopped in the living room in a ray of evening sun that twinkles, jewel-like. The amber light dissolves into her yellow fur.
“I just wanna lay here, watch TV with you,” she seems to say.
“Huh?” I think. “She’s not getting up for food??”
I grab my cell phone, text Isabel in L.A., where she’d moved last fall for her first job after college.
“Annie’s not getting up for her dinner!”
“Don’t know. She’s been fine. Just pants a lot on her walks, doesn’t go as far.”
“She’s kinda old. How many years now?”
“Thirteen!!! First time she ever passed on dinner!”
“Aww, Annie!!! Hope she’s OK!”
I flip the channel to Bravo, watch some housewives, keep a check on Annie.
9:15 PM. She struggles up. Shifts her weight from back leg to back leg, shuffles to the dining room past her food, past her water, lays in front of the glass door that opens onto the front yard, the woods, the road. Her favorite spot where she guards our home, keeps an eye on the neighborhood’s comings and goings. People and creatures. The squirrels she chases, her chipmunk tormentors, an all-but-invisible skunk family, the herd of deer, the wily coyote — our alarming interloper — who treks the same path through the woods evening times.
I pop open a Black and Tan. Watch TV ‘til 10. Time to take Annie out one last time.
“Come on, girl.”
She turns her head, doesn’t get up. I wrap my arms around her chest, try to help her up. She’s not moving.
“I just wanna lay here,” I think I hear her say.
I go to the door, call again. Nothing. I walk down the driveway to the road, look back at our cinnamon cedar-sided home. I see Annie lying in her spot in the dining room looking out the glass door. This has never happened before. She tours the yard before bed. The moon crests in the west over our house above the white spruce, the fir, the cedars. Above Cayuga Lake. I feel alone on the road, looking up at a million stars.
I shower, check Annie again. Get her to drink some water, but she doesn’t get up.
I text my husband, Jim, who works in Boston after a long tenured stint at Cornell.
“Annie didn’t get up for her dinner or go outside.”
“She never did this before.”
“She’ll be OK tomorrow. Nite xxxooo”
2:00 AM. I get up. Check Annie. She’s in the same spot in the dining room. Panting. A lot. She’s sweaty, wet. I give her more water. She drinks a little. I leave the bowl beside her, put a towel under her head.
5:00 AM. I get up. Check Annie. She’s in the same spot in the dining room. Panting. She doesn’t drink anything.
6:20 AM. I get up. Check Annie. She’s in the same spot in the dining room. Panting. She doesn’t drink anything.
I check the hour the vet opens. 8:00 AM. Good God. I make coffee, spy the sun rising. A topping spring day’s brewing outside, the light filtered through the hundred-foot sugar maple on the south side of the house a murky emerald, otherworldly like new life’s bubbling up, floating in nature’s aquarium. I sit on the deck with the coffee, observe.
8:00 AM. I get on the phone, get the number for a mobile vet who can come to the house.
I’m crying. I call Jim. “Annie’s panting … She doesn’t get up.”
“Call the vet. Maybe get her there if you can.”
“Okay, I think I can lift her.” She weighs seventy-five pounds.
“Maybe get somebody to help you.”
“Okay, love you. Bye.”
“Love you. Bye.”
I get dressed. Wait for the mobile vet to call. It’s like 9:30, and I still haven’t heard from her. Crap. What the hell?
I call our regular vet’s office back; tell them I’m coming.
I go out to the garage, open the door, open the Saab door, spread a blanket on the back seat.
In the house, not a sound. I try to pick up Annie. I get her to the kitchen. I can’t do it. I find another blanket, fit it underneath her, pull her to the front door, a shifting weight I can’t manage to carry. I’ll cross the street, I think, get my neighbor to help me lift her. I look up to the road; a woman riding a bike glides by in the lemony sunshine, stops, returns. She looks right at me, at Annie.
I run out to the driveway. “Can you help me?” I don’t know her.
“Of course. I saw your dog when I rode back, so I came back.” She gets off her bike, rolls it up the driveway.
I ask her where she lives. A few-streets-over explains why I don’t know her. She tells me she loves dogs, owned a black Lab that passed away last month. We cradle Annie in the blanket; get her into the back seat of my car.
I thank her from the bottom of my heart, back out of the driveway, head to Countryside Veterinary Hospital in Dryden. They’ve cared for Annie, kenneled her for us her whole life. I don’t remember much about the twenty-minute ride, except the feel of the knots that swelled in my heart and throat that told me what was wrong, what was going to happen to Annie.
When I pull into Countryside, they come right out with a stretcher. “You have a stretcher for dogs?” I say, never imagining. They carry her into an examining room. I sit on the beige tile floor with her. Wait for Dr. J.
He gives me three options, he’s upset, he’s really telling me what I need to do. He goes out. I take a picture of Annie lying on the floor on the stretcher. She’s unconscious, Dr. J had said. I hug her, tell her how much I love her, how much we’ll miss her, what all she’s meant to us. I know she hears.
The tech tells me they’ll call in two hours to let me know how she’s doing. She takes Annie to the back for tests.
I go sit in the car, get ready to leave. Dr. J comes out to the parking lot. Huh?? I roll down the window. He tells me Annie passed as soon as they took her back. I get out of the car, hug him.
She’d spared me so I’d always remember her alive. Ever the watcher. Ever the protector.
I squeeze my cell phone, wipe my eyes. Call Jim. Call Isabel.