Note: I wrote this last Monday. Life since then has been…sad. Quiet. Very, very clean without the tumbleweeds of dog hair that used to appear on the hallway floor. Those of you who’ve lost beloved pets, I’m so sorry. They love us so much it’s hard not to love them back just as fiercely–and harder still to let them go when we need to.
The kids are all huddled around Luca right now. Saoirse hasn’t even changed out of her school uniform, and for the last hour they’ve been lying beside him, watching a video on my iPad. Saoirse’s been giving him hugs and kisses so often the dog’s sort of smooshed into the corner of the hallway now, loved to exhaustion.
I told the girls this afternoon on the way home from school that we were going to have to put Luca down today. I said to Saoirse, who understands more, that Luca, who was already very old and rundown, had thrown up, collapsed (I said he fell) and lost control of his bladder. This isn’t a shock–Luca’s lower back and back legs don’t work anymore, something’s wrong with his stomach–and we’ve been waiting for this moment to happen, but now we’re here. It doesn’t make it any easier. It doesn’t make the spontaneous crying stop happening.
I told the kids the story today of how we adopted Luca as a three-year-old, a few months after their dad and I got married, from a shelter outside Baltimore. I told the girls how much he loved all of us, and relayed the story of how Saoirse was playing in the snow last winter outside our old house, and when she fell and couldn’t get back up, how Luca immediately circled behind her, nudged his nose under her bottom, and in his own way, “helped” her to rise. Saoirse didn’t know that had happened. She didn’t want to cry, she said, but when I looked at her, there were tears all over her cheeks.
What Saoirse does know is that Luca is the dog that used to pry open packages of cookies as soon as we left the room. He is the dog that had to be on the same floor we were on at all times, who corralled the children when they played outside like a sheepdog circling his herd, who protected us and cared for us and shed giant tumbleweeds of dog hair EVERYWHERE because his fur was so thick and beautiful. She doesn’t remember that he’s also the dog that would run in giant arcs around the yard of my parents’ home, loving his freedom on that big lawn. Or that he’s the dog that hated water, who would stick his head beneath the surface of a pool or fountain and then snatch it back up again, absolutely shocked that there was liquid under there. He’s the dog that was the antithesis of all that bad dog behavior–he didn’t jump, he didn’t bark. He looked scary, but it was our little secret to the strangers that came to the door that he wasn’t scary at all. Just ask our neighbors, because whenever he could sneak out, they were usually the ones he went to visit. He messed with food, of course. We all remember that. My mother-in-law will tell you the story of how she turned her back on him once in the kitchen to stir the sauce for her spaghetti only to discover a couple of minutes later that Luca had eaten an entire loaf of bread (and stick of butter to go with it) off the counter. David and I adopted that three-and-a-half-year-old husky almost twelve years ago. We don’t know married life without him. My family has grown up with him by its side. I look at him, there in his corner, lying in pain beside my children, and I just can’t imagine. I can’t imagine our life from here on out without him.
The girls have asked me if we’ll have another dog after this. And I look at the fur we need to vacuum every day, and the slobber on the floor, and the poop I like to ignore in the yard, and I say yes, yes, of course we will. This dog–this warm, strong animal with the velvety years and fondness for belly rubs–has made our family better. He helped teach my children what truly unselfish love is like, and hopefully got at least a modicum of that in return. Of course we’ll get another dog, I tell them.