Sunday, March 16, 2014

"would you instruct me now?"

Darcy wasn't his actual name. It was what I would have renamed him if he hadn't known his original name: Bear. By the time he came to live with us that name didn't suit him at all - he was the tallest, lankiest, most absurdly wolfy-looking dog you've ever seen - but apparently he'd looked like a polar bear cub as a puppy, and his original owners went with it. I was never fond of the name "Bear", and because he was tall and handsome and I didn't like him at first (multiple behavioral issues which had to be worked out), Darcy was the obvious choice for a new name. But he knew what his name was, and so he was only ever Darcy on this blog, except when he was very bad and then he was Bear Fitzwilliam Darcy YOU BRING THAT PORK LOIN BACK RIGHT NOW.

He'd been slowing down a lot over the last year. Shorter and shorter walks tired him; his lower lids drooped. But the idea of a walk, or an adventure in the car, never stopped causing delight. The morning of his surgical biopsy, when he realized I'd be taking him with me, he bounced like a puppy on the three legs he could use, and dragged me to the car in his eagerness.

He was too old and too big to function on three legs; possibly even recovering from an amputation would have been beyond him. And the tumor grew like gangbusters, swelling huge and horrible out of his poor paw. Starting him on steroids helped a lot, but one morning he rubbed the cone of shame against his paw and the skin broke. We kept the wound clean and bandaged, but it was never going to heal, and we'd been warned that when such a wound formed it was just a matter of time.

This morning we came home from the grocery store to find that, even wearing the cone, he'd gotten the bandage off, and the ulcerated wound had fully opened. I will spare you the details, but it looked like the French Revolution had taken place in our living room. We cleaned him off and wrapped him up as best we could, and put him in the car for one last drive to the vet's. I once promised him, rashly, that I would be there at the end. The only good thing about this is that I was able to keep that promise. 

He was only with me for five years, but they were five of the most challenging and tumultuous of my life: marital disintegration, cancer, divorce, finding myself, and facing the thrill and terror of falling in love again and reshaping my life to make room for another person. Two dogs walked with me every step of the way, shedding and pooping in inconvenient places, and loving and being loved every moment. Always keeping me aware that being around for licks and snuggles and walks was worth all the slings and arrows the rest of the world could throw at me.

I believe that they were five happy years for Bear as well. His first three were pretty rough, and he came to us in bad shape. For the next five years he had a couch, and a playmate, and trips to the ocean, and lots of tummy rubs, and even occasional bacon. Not to mention a house full of books, some of which were apparently quite delicious. And he fell for Berowne perhaps even harder than I did (the occasional bacon may have been a factor in this). I'm so, so thankful that Bear was present and healthy at our wedding, because I sometimes think I married Berowne because of the way my dog looked at him.

He didn't get to run in the snow this winter: by the time the blizzards started, the tumor had already taken up residence. We promised him summer beach swimming that will not come to pass. But I will always have the memories of him leaping through drifts like he was about to bring down an elk, and of him splashing delightedly after us through the ocean (or just in the kiddie pool). I will always remember his beautiful kind face, his whooshing fluffy tail, his huge proud smile when he'd just let out a particularly loud fart. And I'm pretty sure that owners of our home three or four removed from us will still be finding the dog hair tumbleweeds.

A few months back I was walking through town, without the dogs, and encountered two gentlemen with their dogs. I stopped for some scritches, and one of the men asked me, "You own the wolf, don't you?"

I laughed and said, "He's not, but yes." 

There will never be a bigger, wolfier, more magical dog. But down the road there will be another dog, to keep Bingley company and to be loved and given a second chance as the Bear was. I don't know how or when that dog will come into our lives; right now I can't look past the hollow absence in our house where there should be 120 pounds of white fur, pricked-up wolf ears, golden eyes, and a big toothy grin. But I know and I trust that the right dogs will keep coming into my life. 

Mary Oliver's "I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life":

Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
Along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust. 


  1. Oh ow. God it hurts when they go.

    1. I've never before had to be the one making that decision about a beloved pet. Logically, we knew there was nothing more to be done, but it was still so devastating.

    2. I'm glad the decision, and Bear, were in your hands though. That was right.

  2. I'm so sorry. This is beautiful -- he obviously loved so much and was just as deeply loved.