Well, my husband and I have done it again. We have befriended a neighborhood dog who has quickly turned into our surrogate. His name is Tucker and I don’t know how this happened, but we keep doing this even after we have taken vows not to do it again. Since last summer, when our last dog died, we have sworn off pets, lest our hearts be broken yet again. You see, when our Yellow Labrador, Bubba died in 2014, the pieces of us that lived inside his heart died right along with him. Over a year has passed since that heavy July day but, still, every time I enter my house, I glance into the corner of the kitchen where his bed lived for 14 years. Still, on the quietest of evenings, I could swear that I hear his collar jingle from downstairs as he scratches away at his left ear. When he was still with us, I knew that the scratching meant that he had somehow procured a nibble of something that activated his allergies. He had been on a very strict hypoallergenic diet forever in order to keep him from scratching himself raw. Scratching meant that someone had thrown a potato chip over our fence, or I had dropped a piece of chicken on the floor as I cooked, or any other plethora of possibilities. Scratching meant that it may be weeks before he stopped itching so badly. So yes, sometimes I hear the jingle and, I could swear that he is still here.
The last day of his life was spent at the veterinarian’s office. It was blazing hot outside and Bubba was having trouble breathing. This particular vet had become a special person in our family over the years. She had been there when our other pups had reached their ends of days and she had treated them all with loving care along the way. Once, she had hosted a birthday party for her own dog, and had invited our Bubba, who won the costume contest as King Bubba, crown and all. That last day, she let us stay with him throughout the day until she had time to perform her duties gently, thoughtfully and lovingly, offering the dignity that Bubba deserved. Her courageous presence was the bolster we needed to get through the day.
Once we made the collective decision that “it was time,” she checked her patient list for the day so that she could ease Bubba into the afterlife in a manner that was not rushed. She told us that the best time would be late afternoon, after her last patient. She didn’t think that she could work further that day after she took care of Bubba. She loved him a lot, you see. That gave us almost two solid hours to spend with Bubba. So we agreed and I assumed that Tom and I would both remain with our dog until it was time. Tom surprised me however, when he announced that he had to leave. He had to go somewhere. He was vague, and it made no sense to me, but I accepted it because everyone copes with sadness in their own way. So I laid myself on the floor next to Bubba until Tom returned. He didn’t show up empty handed though, for clenched in his fist was a white paper bag with a logo across the front. Burger King.
The doctor explained to us that she would first administer to Bubba a sedative to put him to sleep. Then she would give him the second shot, which would stop his heart. The sedative would simply lull him off gently, preparing him for the second. It would take less than a minute for him to drift off to sleep and their would be no anxiety or pain. There would be no fear or discomfort. Dr. _____ alerted us when she began administering the first shot. At that same time, Tom opened the white bag and removed from it a Double Whopper, which he began to feed to Bubba one gentle bite at a time until he slept soundly, with a mouth full of beef and cheese. It was the first really decadent meal he had enjoyed in years. It was the first intentional food he had tasted that didn’t feel hard and bland. Can you imagine? It must have been the most unexpected surprise ever. It must have been unreal. It must have been heaven for him. As a mater of fact, I am sure it was. I know it was. Without a doubt, it was heaven.