Cid, our dog, died last Tuesday, at approximately 5:45 p.m. in a private family visiting room at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey. He died of an increasingly prevalent form of cancer called splenic hemangiosarcoma. Splenic because his spleen ruptured and was pouring blood into his abdomen, which was distended noticeably by the time he died. We were assured he was not in pain, just terribly weak.
Now I’m sitting here wondering how the hell to say anything intelligent about the difference this wonderful dog made in my life. About how funny he could be. About his moments of distress, sympathy, and compassion. About his joie de vivre. And about (again) the lessons he taught me that one day I may actually learn.
I loved him. I didn’t always but I came to. He taught me a lot about love. And at the end I was sobbing while I stroked him, and then after his warrior’s heart and breathing stopped. Wednesday morning and the days since felt like a vast and empty space, some sort of emotional Red Square. I live in a house of both grief and gratitude for the loss of a creature who made me glad I knew him for over nine years.
A few months ago I fell in the house, and landed on my right kneecap. I learned later it was a torn meniscus, and was terribly painful. I screamed, felt I was going to get sick, and then crawled into the bedroom. Cid, who usually withdrew from loud noises, came over to me and licked my face. He didn’t fix my knee but he helped fix my head and my soul.
Why Cid, by the way. My Companion adopted him from the local SPCA and gave him the name of the great Spanish hero. Granted, Cid looked like neither Charlton Heston nor Placido Domingo. He looked like his handsome and extremely mixed lineage, as nearly as we could tell German Shepherd and American Rottweiler plus God knows what else was in the gene pool. While we were waiting for Cid’s inked paw-print after he died, we saw a beautiful American Rottie in the hospital waiting area, and she had Cid’s face. It was uncanny and yet comforting.
I suspect Cid wasn’t that far removed from his wolf ancestry. I missed one display because I slept through it, but there was an afternoon several months ago when I was working in my home office and Cid was napping on the bed. Suddenly I heard these incredible howls that sounded like we had a werewolf in the next room. I ran into the bedroom. “Cid???” He was a bit groggy but awake. He’d been dreaming, and somewhere in his dream he’d gone back into his ancestry and located his “inner wolf.”
After you say “wow,” what’s left?
Just these disconnected thoughts:
I have lost two cats in my life, and both times the deaths were painful experiences. With Cid, I hardly know how to describe the awful feeling of free-fall while wearing lead shoes. Dogs tend to be more emotionally demonstrative than cats. They are not smarter but seem to be more human-readable, i.e., they can read us as well as we can read them. Maybe better.
Cid taught me about life in the moment. No yesterday, no tomorrow, just now. He taught me that there is no reason to carry a grudge. He embodied unconditional love and absolute forgiveness. Human beings should be that lucky.
Dogs know what we try to do for them. Cid awakened last Tuesday morning unable to walk without extreme effort. He had no appetite and was incontinent in the kitchen. He was content to just lay on the bedroom floor. Which is where, early in the afternoon, I said to him what was inside me, feeling that he would understand.
“Cid, we love you. We want you to stay with us. But if it’s time for you to leave, then we will help you to die.” Must I underscore this by saying I was barely able to get out the last words? You may assume it. I suppose it was a form of giving Cid permission to do what his body was asking him to do.
He could not walk well but he managed to walk out of the house and down the steps (with much help), where he helped us get him into the back of my car for the ride to the vet, and then to the animal medical center where he would be evaluated and then released from the ruins of his body.
Did he know what was coming? He looked at my companion Marie, she whom he placed at the top of his “chain of being,” and he licked her face. Was it a way to acknowledge the gift of release, a way to kiss her goodbye, or simply a way to say “I love you”? Or was it all?
So the smoke has cleared a bit. It’s late Saturday night as I write this. Marie brought home Cid’s ashes yesterday in a cherrywood box. We may or may not take him down to the beach after Labor Day, invite some of Cid’s friends–including my older son, who adored him (it was mutual)–and scatter his ashes over the ocean. He ran the beach often, without a leash, and it was then that I believe he felt free.
If we send him into the air over the water, we will free him yet again.
Goodbye, adored friend. I loved you and love you still.