By Tom Wachunas
“I guess you don't really own a dog, you rent them, and you have to be thankful that you had a long lease.” - Joe Garagiola
“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.”
- Alice Sligh Turnbull
My previous post on the sculptures of James Mellick was yet another reminder of just how much my life has gone to the dogs of late. So for those of you who might find the following to be so much (mush?) sentimental journalizing, tough. Get over it. And while I’m at it, I might as well tell you that I cry at movies, too.
Anyway, one morning three weeks ago, just before leaving home to run some errands, I went to the fridge as usual to get out a couple of balogna pieces to stuff into our dog Spanky’s bone. “Spanky,” I called out, “I got yer treat!” This had been a habit for the past 13 years or so – his cue to dutifully (and hungrily – my, oh my, how they’re always hungry) scamper to his cage where he snacked and snuggled when we were away from the house. Almost immediately it hit me - a feeling of disorientation and emptiness, followed quickly by a jolt of overwhelming melancholy. Spanky wasn’t going to have his treat that day, or any thenceforth, because he simply…wasn’t.
There have been other similar moments – teary-eyed episodes, really - in my days since that one. Days flooded with the realization of just how many rhythms, rituals, and routines in our daily lives were built on Spanky’s presence.
Days flooded with memories joyous and bittersweet. On the day that my wife, Martha, and I went to the breeder’s house in March of 2003, he was at first nowhere to be seen as we looked over his four siblings playing in the living room. We were right on the verge of choosing one of those black-and-white cuties to take home. Then, there he was, all of eight weeks old and the largest of the litter. A fluffy flurry of brindle-colored fur came tumbling down the steps from upstairs, gathered himself, and strutted into the room with all the dignity of royalty. Thereafter he commanded, and got, our affections.
Memories. Like those first few weeks when I could hold him sitting upright in the palm of my hand. Or his first encounter with snow deeper than he was tall. By the time he trekked back into the house, he was completely encased in a coat of perfectly-formed tiny snowballs. Or the staccato clicking of his nails on the kitchen floor as he dashed for the side door and waited eagerly every time one of us asked him, “Wanna go for a walk?”
Though the oppressive heat of August is still a few months away, my dog days began on the evening of May 6, when Martha and I returned home from the vet, gingerly lifted Spanky’s blanket-wrapped body out of the car, and buried our beloved Shih Tzu. The Little Lion now rests with the Tiger Lillies in our back yard. A star has fallen from the firmament of our lives, and we are Siriusly saddened. I wonder, can dogs appreciate puns?
Whimsical queries aside, I’ve been wondering a great deal about what dogs might be given to appreciate after living out their lives of blessing their human companions with countless soul-soothing delights. I think it’s neither presumptuous nor heretical to imagine that the all-merciful and loving Creator of Everything would in turn provide a haven of happiness for creatures such as this. Is the Scriptural promise of eternal reward meant only for us humans?
Spanky’s last few months were increasingly heartbreaking to witness. A number of ailments had put him into a dark and silent place. But his final moments on the vet’s table were mercifully quick, and without pain or struggle. And though blind and deaf when he left this place, I imagine his regal strut all over again as he saw the open arms of his Creator and heard his words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Followed, of course, with, “Spanky! I got yer treat!”