Through the Fence 3-1-10
They say that one human year equals seven dog years. I think it should be the other way around. I wish Honey, my yellow Labrador, could have lived with me my whole life. When she was younger, she went to work with me every day since I was self-employed. She slept on my bed every night. She never got tired of retrieving tennis balls, sticks and Frisbees. After I got married, she dove into frigid waters to bring back a duck we’d shot and plowed through dense brush to find a downed quail or dove. She seemed to have unlimited energy. Honey tolerated but never accepted my husband as another master. She always looked at me inquisitively when he gave her a command as if to say, “Do I have to?”
When she started getting old, I tried not to notice it. But her golden hair turned white around the muzzle, and she could no longer hop into the back of the truck. When I threw a ball to her, instead of leaping up 5 feet and catching it in midair, she’d wait for it to hit the ground.
The truth finally dawned on me one day. We were living in a tiny farm house several miles down a dirt road. My children were still small, and we were home-schooling at the time. We found creative ways to spend our afternoons after the class work and chores were done. One day the kids and I walked down to the creek that joined our property. Honey and my husband’s Lab, Bubba, joined us. I picked up a stick and flung it out in the water for her to retrieve. Instead of baling into the murky water enthusiastically, Honey stood quietly on the bank and watched it float away. I realized that was the beginning of the end.
Soon it became almost impossible for her to climb the porch stairs, and she started losing weight. When I took her to the vet, he told me that Honey had a mass on her liver. There was nothing he could do; Honey was dying. As for her loss of appetite, he told me I could cook her food and feed it to her by hand. I drove home too sad to cry.
A few more weeks went by, and then the terrible day came. Early one morning when I went outside, I found Honey lying on the floor of the tool shed in a semi-comatose state. She was trembling slightly and staring. She didn’t respond to me. I called the vet and begged him to come and put her down. Like most country vets, he was too swamped with sick cows and horses that day. He told me it would be a couple of days before he could come out. I knew that would be too late. I was angry. I was heartbroken. I wanted to scream, to cry, to blame someone. But there was no one to blame but myself. Why didn’t I admit how things were before Honey got in such terrible shape?
I couldn’t move her. I couldn’t help her. So I sat down beside her in my nightgown and waited as she lay shivering on that cold concrete floor. I didn’t have to wait long. In a few moments, she was still. I stroked her soft head and looked into the precious brown eyes of a friend who’d loved me unconditionally for 13 years. I walked back into the house and laid my head on the kitchen table and sobbed. One by one, the kids came to me and laid their little hands tenderly on my back. They’d never seen me like that. They were bewildered. To add to the melancholy, Bubba realized that Honey had died and started howling.
I don’t know how I ever made it through that sad day. I felt an overwhelming sense of loss – that an irreplaceable part of my life was gone. It was years before I could see a yellow Lab in the back of a truck without crying. But all the grieving was worth the joy she gave me during the time we had. I should apply that lesson to those I love that I will lose one day.