I always remember my principal’s birthday because it falls on the day that Lolo died and I remember scrolling through Facebook on that day and seeing well wishes mixed with grief. My childhood dog, Casey, also died in July, a few days earlier on the 23rd, and now we add one more. Remind me to never book travel during this week in July.
Maybe it was fate that I showed Quinn both Bambi and The Fox and the Hound this week, or maybe there was just a part of me that knew Greta didn’t have much time left. Maybe it was fate that Jenny and Noel took Quinn away to the beach today so that he didn’t have to bare witness to the worst of it, or maybe there was some higher power moving us with Its suggestion.
Regardless, the dog that I told Sean we needed to buy because Lolo always insisted that “every boy needs a dog” to grow up with, died this afternoon. Our kids were 2, 3, and 7 then, and I wanted to add a dog to the mix (I still blame postpartum hormones). There were nine puppies and the breeder scooped up all the females and let them run around a beautiful field with us. I wanted the all-brown one, but Greta sat right in front of Sean and that was it. She chose us.
Shortly after we got her, she ran between my feet as I was hoisting William down the steps on my hip. I tripped over her, shattered the top of my foot (an injury that still causes my foot to swell like a pregnant belly in the dead heat of August), and so I re-named Greta to Re-Greta.
In her later years, Sean called her Tip Tap because her long nails dotted our wooden floors with a ballerina staccato. Combined with the jangling of her dog tags, her sound became the backdrop of our lives. Today, after a few days of not eating too much, she came in the house, stumbled, and collapsed. Later, the vet told us that she likely had a heart attack. Re-Greta was generous enough to live long enough, breathing deeply and steadily, the way all of us do when dying, to allow each of us to give her final hugs and goodbyes. Quinn made her a fort and spread his blanket next to hers and they had one last long nap together. Quinn raised his head, looked at her and said, “Greta. I think it’s time you go back to the barn.”
We sat with our fading dog until I caught her gaze. It’s a gaze I have seen both of my dying grandmothers hold. It reads, “I am dying and it’s okay, ” but it is also full of longing and love and bravery. It was then that I called the vet.
We pulled the seats out of the van and Sean carried her to sleep on its floor. She slid all the way beneath his seat when he drove and so I pulled her back and wrapped my feet around her to hold her still and to whisper words that were well wishes mixed with grief. I let her floppy ears slip between my fingers and I pressed on each paw. Sean and I, just the two of us, sat in the parking lot of the vet and cried. He carried her in.
As soon as we walked through the door, there was a young man standing there with another German Shorthaired pointer. We could tell he was uncomfortable, standing there awkwardly with his healthy, young, waggling dog, while we held our geriatric dog of the same breed in a blanket. He had to wait for his paperwork while we explained we couldn’t get Greta on the scale because she could no longer stand. He looked down when they asked us which type of wooden box we wanted her ashes in. We sat. He was about to leave, his bouncy, beautiful dog in tow, when he hesitated, looked at me, and walked his dog over to Greta. This stranger started to cry. He gave Greta a pat and he hugged me, hugged Sean. It was such a cool, silent transaction and all of us could feel the human connection. Heart threads.
They let us hold her as they killed her. They held her with us. We told stories about her. The vet told us that her heart had stopped and we left her there, in the shape of a long staple. Leaving was the hard part.
Mostly, Greta, I just wanted you to know that I don’t regret you. I couldn’t go to sleep until I told you that. You were the dog the kids grew up with. You leaving us now, weeks before Luke heads to college, is a beautiful reminder that life is short and important and fleeting, and that the most important risk worth taking is love. Say hi to Lolo for me. I hope heaven is filled with slow rabbits.