Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.
Agnes Sligh Turnbull
I saw it coming. Was helpless. Felt the long bladed dull knife drive to the hilt between my shoulders. The driver stopped. It wasn’t his fault. I motioned for them to leave, picked her up and carried her to the soft, new, spring grass. Instantly, I knew I would once again have to do what I had done years ago. The memory hit me like a train:
Nate was my first dog. He had to be put down. Grandpa said I should do it. I knew he was right. Wished he wasn’t. I was his keeper. I was responsible. It was my job. The tears were mine too. Grandpa knew he was teaching me. Teaching me a lesson I’d need someday. Preparing me for hard times.
Times like now.
Holding her graying muzzle in my hands I noticed they were shaking. She was not. Her eyes, deep and black, were as soft as always. She looked at me like like a hurting soldier looks at a nurse. Like I had a cure. Like she knew I was hurting too and that she needed to provide comfort. That comfort she’d always provided.
This was the day Grandpa’s lesson had been for.
I placed her in the back of the Ranger. We took one last ride. She never whimpered, not a noise. I stopped short of the hilltop, cradled her in my arms, walked slowly, placed her on the ground at the top. She set calmly, never offering to look at me. I knew if she did I could not continue. She knew it too.
I rubbed her head, her shoulders, she looked into the valley. The blackness of the storm approached and the thunder that had always terrified her rolled in behind us like a slow moving train. She remained calm. I dug my fingers deep into her fur.
It had to be done. Done now. Done here. In the woods in the clean air by hands that cared. I was prepared for this part but not for the next; telling my son Bat. That would be harder; as hard as railroad steel in the dead of winter.
They were the same age. Met at two months old. They played in the woods, in the creek. She protected him, protected his sisters, protected us all. She retrieved birds, found deer, could find anything no matter how hard or far it was thrown.
I felt her heart beat. Felt true trust. Felt truly lucky. Every boy – every man – deserves one true dog. Few get it. Fewer appreciate it. I have. I will. We all will.
Lessons are hard things, no matter how many times you have to learn them. I hurt, she hurt worse. I felt calm, she made sure of that. I did not feel lost or alone; Grandpa prepared me for this.
Her feet were on the ground. Her eyes were open. Her nose was in the wind.
I ended it.
There is a Reaper, whose name is Death,
And, with his sickle keen,
He reaps the bearded grain at a breath,
And the flowers that grow between.
The Reaper and the Flowers
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow