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Dog, gone

April 23, 2006|Stanley Gray | STANLEY GRAY is an ex-screenwriter living in San Gabriel.

I HAD TO have my dog euthanized. I like that word. It sounds so gentle. My wife says he was put out of his misery. My daughter says he went to dog heaven, and my granddaughter just says, "Dog gone!"

Out of respect I won't use his name, which he had before we got him. It was a name that no self-respecting dog would answer to. And he didn't.

He was the most neurotic dog I ever saw. When I fed him, he removed the food from his dish, dropped it on the floor, and then ate it. He only drank water three laps at a time. He understood English and Spanish but often pretended not to. If I didn't throw the ball the way he liked, he wouldn't bring it back. And he ate live bees.

His persistence was heroic. He finally convinced me that he needed a doggie door and that he should never, ever be left home alone during fireworks or lightning storms. Once we worked these issues out, he became my best friend. He pretended to guard my property and person with a ferociousness that belied his 35 pounds.

Then, out of nowhere, he started having epileptic seizures. Despite medication, one day he just stopped eating and walking; his body started shutting down. I fed him chicken noodle soup with a dropper, but nothing changed. I laid his favorite snack in front of his nose, and it was still there in the morning. When he couldn't muster even a little bark for the mailman, I knew that his end was near. (The mailman was my dog's Moby Dick: "Ye damn postman!")

I'm never sure how to mourn. Three years ago, I had a false alarm and believed I was going to die. I was pleased to discover I didn't do a lot of mourning over my expected demise. So my question is, "If I didn't mourn my own death, how much should I mourn my dog's?"

We sat in the parking lot for a while. I held him and scratched his ears and said my goodbyes. I was glad he couldn't understand me, because I was saying some stupid stuff. Finally, pretending to be stoic, I carried him into the office.

The vet assured me that I was doing the right thing and expressed his condolences. His assistant, a young lady who had "animal lover" written all over her, helped me hold my dog. I cradled his head as the doctor administered the shot.

I was still in my stoic mode when, suddenly, the girl started crying. Oh geez! I looked to the doctor for some manly support, and damn if his eyes weren't all welled up. I hate it when grown men cry.

In an attempt to lighten my wife's grief, I tried to remove the reminders my dog had left behind. His food and water dishes, his doggie snacks, leashes, sleeping pillow. Every time I thought I'd gotten it all, I would discover something else. It felt like I was at a crime scene in a TV movie, trying to get rid of evidence.

I finally realized it was impossible to remove everything. He used to bury bones (a lost art). Then, after a few days, he would get paranoid, dig the bone up and relocate it, leaving us all those holes to remember him by. And my wife stumbled on more evidence I had overlooked, like the fact that he was her screensaver.

The memories and habits won't be easy to shake. When I went out to the yard, he went out to the yard. When I came into the house, he came into the house. When I worked at my computer, he would lie at my feet, making me feel like a Norman Rockwell writer.

My wife took it a lot harder than I pretended not to. I don't like seeing her sad, so on the fourth day, I met her at the gate, on my hands and knees, with Kahlua's (oops) favorite toy in my mouth, jumping at the fence like he used to do. She just sat there in the car, slowly shaking her head in disbelief (we've been married for 30 years). Then, after a very long beat, a smile slowly appeared.

And this too shall pass.

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