I need to write this today. We lost our dog last night, and there are a mixture of emotions I am trying to sort out, accepting some new insight into life.
Not a Pet Person
I remember the day I heard the news. To a lanky teenager curled like a pretzel on the living room sofa in our rural East Texas home, my Dad broke the news that my collie, Dexter, had been hit by a car. His crushed body was out back in the wheel barrow. He needed to be buried. Did I want to say goodbye? I didn’t. I didn’t even want to see him. So, Dad buried him and that was that.
All my childhood I’d grown up with pets, goldfish, dog after dog, a canary, rabbits, turtles, cats, a rooster, even a goat and a few horses. One after one, they died, many of them brutal deaths. The goldfish overpopulated the tank and all the babies jumped out and died on the floor next to my bed one night. One of the few snowy mornings in Texas, I saw the neighbor’s black Doberman Pinscher with my black rabbit in his mouth, stolen from the cage in our backyard. Seared in my memory is the furry blackness of both animals, one killing and one dying, and the unusually white landscape splashed with red, me staring wide-eyed and unable to get out a scream as the school bus drove me away.
My rooster, Herby? I adopted him because he got in a fight and lost an eye. I taught him to ride on my skateboard and Pink Panther bike handlebars. I found him labelled in the freezer by my very practical Dad, and later on my plate by my equally practical Mom. He died for my super, the least I could do was eat. We did. I probably shouldn’t have named him if it made it harder to eat him.
My orphaned goat, Charlene, was named after my father who saved her at birth even though the mother and her twin brother died. She loved me so much, she hung herself between the boards of the stall trying to bleat after me when I left her one afternoon, having just mastered some circus tricks, destined to fame. My horse, Buzz, who could run the barrels with me hanging on tight in the saddle, had to be sold for soap after he hurt his leg on barbed-wire in a fight. We won a lot of trophies together, 99% the result of Dad’s hard work for the children he loved.
By the time I was a young adult though, I’d pretty much lost the desire for any more pets, a pretty logical conclusion I figured. Why bother loving something that’s just going to die? And so most of my adult life I just was not a pet person. I never really gave it another thought until recently.
Becoming Our Family Dog
When I met my husband, Jose Trasancos, a little over ten years ago, he had adopted a rescue dog, a Tennessee Walker Hound named Rufus. He had been bred very well, but by an irresponsible breeder who let the dogs run wherever they wanted. Rufus was rescued eating a dead deer by the side of a highway. That puppy and young dog had been Jose’s best friend during some very lonely times. When we married, Rufus became the family dog, though my husband was still always his #1 best friend. I mostly kept my distance. As long as Rufus didn’t slobber on me or eat my pasta salad, we were good. House time, limited.
Rufus, being a hound dog and all, could not control his nose. True to his nature, any time he was outside he would catch on to a cold blood scent and go running. He had to be contained. His keenness for a chasing a scent would lead him right into the street, even through an electric fence with one of the neck-shocking dog collars. Didn’t affect him at all. So in our first house near a golf course, he had half the basement and lots of scenic walks. In our second house on a cliff overlooking the city with an acre of land, we paid handsomely to build him a fence. He jumped it in the first ten minutes and headed for town. My husband caught him, not once, but three times that day, and so…we put him in the basement again. In our third house in a Boston suburb, Rufus occupied the third garage space.
For twelve years, my husband and Rufus have taken walk after walk, morning and night. This was Jose’s time to pray in God’s glory. He and Rufus saw the moon and sun come and go, they saw the first frost in winter and the first bud in spring. It was a regular sight to see those two walking long walks. It’s how Jose relaxed in the evening, it’s how he started his day. At times the kids walked him too as they grew older, but mostly alpha male Daddy did the walking and caring and feeding and cleaning.
My oldest two kids grew to love him and helped with him quite a bit, it was good for them. They learned to care for an animal, a member of the family. The younger five simply have never known life without Rufus. They’ve grown up with him.
In 2012, our family had a pretty eventful year. We had to move the family across state lines. Having come to the realization that neighborhood life just wasn’t for us, we found ourselves moving last summer to some land in the Adirondack Mountains. We fell in love with the lake, the hills, the paths, the forest, the 100 year old lodge, and the lifestyle. The 10-foot high plank-to-plank, solid-to-the-ground wood fence with a sizable backyard sealed the deal. Finally, Rufus could run in his own backyard!
Last summer the five small children, then ages 8, 7, 6, 4, and 1 spent hours and hours playing with their dog in the backyard, as dogs and children are supposed to do. They played until they were all exhausted and then they’d collapse in the grass and just pet him.
Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that I’d become a dog person. I loved that dog, we all did, and he was truly a member of our family. Maybe it was the way he loved my family and they loved him, maybe it was time, maybe it was maturity.
We noticed a lump on his leg a few months ago, and when it did not go away, the vet informed us that Rufus, a pretty old dog at 13, had bone cancer. He had a few months to live, and he deteriorated before our eyes. A few weeks ago, he could barely stand and Jose, doing his best not to break down, made the decision to call the vet and have Rufus “put to sleep.” He was suffering. “At least he had last summer,” I’ll never forget him choking out. Indeed.
Then Something Happened
I gathered the kids that morning and tried to prepare them for what was coming that day, but as I started explaining it and answering their questions, I began to doubt the wisdom of what we were about to do. The small children did not understand, and they cried as much for the loss as for the way it would happen. So, we prayed. After an explanation about “lifting Rufus up in prayer” we prayed that our guardian angels and St. Francis would lift Rufus up, hold him in a special way, and comfort him. We prayed that Rufus would not feel any pain, and that he would know we loved him.
By the time Jose got home from work, Rufus was walking around the yard again and eating and drinking. He was tired, but noticeably improved. His tail was wagging, and we agreed that it was not possible to take a dog with a wagging tail to the vet to end his life. So, we moved Rufus indoors and decided to care for him, waiting to see what happened.
Rufus, I believe it with all my heart, had a will to live. We gave him whatever he would eat, bologna became his favorite. He drank out of the toilets and slept in his own room most of the day. But mostly, Rufus loved being with his family. How strong that dog was! He continued to deteriorate and began to sleep most of the time. He wouldn’t go on his walks, but he never lost his ability to go out and potty and to make brief appearances to play with the kids, until the last day. He never once whimpered.
Yesterday, he was no longer able to even stand. He tried, he fell, and we carried him back to his bed. Instead of sleeping all day, however, he remained with his head raised high. He was so weak he laid on sprawled legs, he could barely see out of his eyes, his body was skin and bones, he no longer would eat, but he continued to respond with doggy happiness when we were around, even glancing around anxiously if we closed the door to his room. He was awake with us all day. An hour before my husband got home from work, I gave him water, petted him, we all told him we loved him. Jose got home at 6:00, his usual time. At 6:10, with all us home, Rufus literally took his last breath, closed his eyes, laid down his head for the first time all day, and died.
Now, I know that dogs do not have rational souls like man. I know they cannot love as we can, or think as we can. But I also know that whatever heights of loyalty and honor can be reached by a sensitive soul who is loved and valued and shown compassion, our dog reached in those last few weeks. Rufus taught us so much, he taught me to rethink what I thought I knew about animals, to see that they too, are God’s creatures capable of loving in their own way. They are not commodities, they are beings. I honestly can say, that perhaps Rufus even taught me a thing or two about serving my family.
We will miss him, but we will never forget him.
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