You know that ever running gag in TV and movies where a family dog dies while the kids are away and the parents deal with and then offhand mention it to their kids at a later date as though it doesn’t really matter? I do, because that shit happens.
My father has always been difficult to get presents for. He’s the kind of guy who has the things he needs, and if he doesn’t then he’ll go out and get them. He doesn’t care for the fancy or the novelty the same way most other people seem to. It’s a respectable trait, if you ask me but it’s what makes him hard to shop for. When he says he doesn’t need anything or to get him nothing, he truly means it.
As a middle school aged child, I had some ridiculous and not very well thought out ideas. For example, in the sixth grade, I thought it would be a good idea to use the Exacto knives we were using in class slash at random through a pile of newspapers instead of using them to cut styrofoam into bricks to build a castle like we were supposed to. I can still remember holding my bleeding finger up to my teacher and with a straight face saying, “Ouch”. In the seventh grade, my friend and I would use our lunchtime breaks to play what we called bi-plane. I would carry him on my back, the both of us with our arms stretched wide and we would pretend to be an airplane. Also in the seventh grade, I decided that I would end my father’s lack of gift ideas by threatening him.
When we got Rosi, we thought we had hit the jackpot. We finally had gotten a dog after years and years of begging and pleading and promising we would take care of her (that’s the standard practice for anyone out there who needs to convince someone to get a dog). The thought of having a second dog wasn’t even on our radar but that’s what I used as my threat to my father. If he wouldn’t tell us what he wanted for his Christmas gift that year, I was going to get him a puppy.
Most people would have assumed I was bluffing. At first glance, you wouldn’t assume a thirteen year old would be able to get a dog for his dad for Christmas, I would have needed to go through the parental committee for an action life that. But somehow, it got approved by my mother after telling her that I knew of the very place I could get a puppy. My best friend’s across the street neighbor’s dog had recently gotten knocked up on one of her grand escapes into the neighborhood. I had asked if I could have one of the puppies, and it was approved. Approved all around. After they were born, November 15, and before Christmas, I went over and picked out the runt of the litter.
That year, for Christmas, my father got his threat. He got Mabel.
Rosi was always my first love. She was my first dog and she was fierce and protective and we had a mutual understanding of each other. Everything about her, however, seemed to be the opposite of Mabel. Where Rosi was hard, Mabel was soft. Where Rosi was lean and strong, Mabel was plump yet strong. In the ever rare event you could get a kiss from Rosi, her tongue was soft. If Mabel saw you, she would lick you with a much more coarse tongue. Rosi would greet everyone who came to the house with intimidating barks, Mabel would greet them looking for a good back scratching. Rosi would bark at anything that passed the house. Mabel would bark at nothing because she thought that’s all Rosi was doing. They were very much different dogs and as I mentioned a couple of years ago, they tolerated each other at first and became the best of friends in their lives.
It was curious then, when we brought her home that Mabel and Rosi shared a common feature, a feature which I think made them far more beautiful and unique than any other dogs I’ve met. Rosi and Mabel both had one blue eye on the left and a brown one on the right.
Mabel pushed her way into my life. I was completely content with having only Rosi even though Rosi wasn’t the cuddler like I had always hoped she would be. I think Mabel picked up on this and she sought to fill that gap for me. She liked to be close to people. She liked to be have attention. Once, I left her gated on our back porch as a puppy while I went up front with my father for only a few minutes and since she had a need to be by people, she jumped off the 7-8 foot high porch to come find us.
When she got big, her full-grown weight was always somewhere around 70-80, she still considered herself a lap dog. You could sit on a chair and she’d come over and put her chin on your knee, waiting for an invitation to climb up. Outside, she threw her weight into her playing. She’d barrel on and on, a hulk of a dog who you could tell was just enjoying her life. But for me, the most important way Mabel showed me she needed to be by me was by climbing in my bed with me at night. I’ve always been a tall 6’1″ and she’s an 80 pound mass of fur and muscle, but somehow the two of us could comfortable sleep in a twin bed. She would curl up between my feet.
I knew Mabel loved me by the way she would get excited for me when I came home from school, or work, or Ukraine. She’d squeal and wag her whole body in delight to see me. She’d run from one end of the house to the other to be there when the door opened, more than once hitting her head unknowingly. Once, she was sitting outside as I left to walk to the bank. She got up to follow me, but I told her to wait and that I’d be back. I was gone for fifteen minutes and when I got back, she was waiting for me in the same spot I left her.
At Christmas, Mabel wore a Christmas light headband. At Halloween, she was a daisy.
We could cover her in blankets, coats and clothes. She would take it in stride, or nap. She wasn’t bothered by much of anything. Once, when it was rather hot for a Wisconsin summer, we decided to dress her up in a fleece vest. Instead of squirming and putting up a fuss, she let it happen and would have gladly posed for pictures had anyone had a camera at that time.
When she was hungry or thirsty and her bowls were empty, we knew. She would push them around the kitchen with her nose and her paw. I can still hear the metallic scraping of the bowls on the floor. It was just as effective as when Rosi used to softly bark at us for the same reasons, just a different approach from a different pooch.
She would sit next to you while you sat in a chair or on the couch and give you those big old puppy dog eyes while slightly whimpering because she wanted you to scratch her head. Or maybe not even that, she just wanted to be touched and reassured she was loved.
In her later years, she loved to go for walks. She always loved to go for walks but she would demand them in her later years. She bark for them and once she knew she was going, she would bark with delight to let anyone and everyone know how happy she was to be going for a walk.
But then the walks got slower and shorter. The pace slowed down–she used to pull so hard on walks that we’d need to stop to let her breathe because the collar/lease were too tight because she pulled so hard. She hobbled then limped. When she got home she gulped water and passed out.
She didn’t run any more. She wanted to cuddle, but she couldn’t climb up to the chair so you had to go to her chair. She couldn’t climb stairs. She couldn’t climb into beds.
Then she started licking her belly. Her belly got raw and she was taken to the vet. The vet said she had a tumor but didn’t know what it was. They could do a biopsy, but for a dog her age, would it be worth it if she was going to die of natural causes only a year later? She lost weight, fast. The hulk who used to bound through the yard to find her favorite bits of grass to munch on, the hulk who was covered in muscle and soft fur, was bony. You could feel her ribs and see her hips pointing out. Her spine started to arc. A ridge formed on the top of her skull. She no longer got up to greet me when I came home for visits. That’s when I knew it was bad.
I knew it was bad, but I wanted to live in denial. I had always said that Mabel would live forever just for the sake of demanding us to pet her and love her and be near her, more as a nuisance that you could never get away from. I had said it and hoped it. When I saw her, I babied her. I fed her scraps from the table even though I never shared my food with her. I sat with her and talked to her while she slept. I wanted her to make it another month or another week or just another day. Always one more day would have been better than not.
But then, Friday, after work I got a call from my mother. She started with small talk and deep down I knew it wasn’t about that and told her to cut to the chase. She told me they had taken Mabel in to the vet for a scheduled visit to the vet to have her leg checked out. It had been swollen and she was having trouble walking. I was told she slept and when she didn’t, she would get up to drink and to step out the door to pee and then come back in. Her meals were brought to her. The vet saw her and forgot what she was there for.
It was decided that she needed to be put to sleep to ease her suffering. And so she was.
When I heard the news, I was outraged. I was still in denial. Maybe, if I had seen her one more time, she would feel better and keep on going. At the very least, we could have said our goodbyes to each other. That’s all I ask, to tell my pooch, my Mabel one last time that I love her. Truly, I do.
So sometimes that shit on TV happens. It’s not ideal for everyone. Some people really need to be able to say goodbye and they feel robbed of that opportunity like I did. But when this happens it’s because it’s easier for the people who immediately need to deal with the situation. It’s done without thought of everyone, only for the one whose time has come. It was done not to make my life more difficult but to make Mabel’s life easier.