My dog died; last May, when the flowers surrounding the yard where he had played reached for the sky, a full twelve foot wall of vibrant blossoms; rhododendrons exploding in deep purples, soft pinks, pure white and brilliant magenta.
Having experienced it more than enough times, the story is always the same; you lament their short life span, you bury your dog, and you move on. Except this time was different.
“Rocky” came into our lives as an abandoned pup in a shoe box, rescued by a policeman friend after he was found wandering along a busy curb of a local video rental store. He was almost twelve when he left us. He knew lots of words, including “buzzard” which really got him going with barking fits when they circled overhead. For our occasional overnight outings, he would be left at the folks’ house, and many times they recounted how he would know our return was imminent, to the hour, on the day we were due.
Dr. Dan the vet diagnosed a cancerous tumor. Briefly but gently, he explained ”your dog has two months to live.” This was followed by what seemed to be a period of remission. Except for a few not so good days, he stayed the same and did not deteriorate. There was no spiraling downhill trend. Then, without any warning signs, exactly two months to the day from Dr. Dan’s prediction, the furry faced terrier mutt with the heart shaped patch on his side dragged himself across the floor to his special corner of the carpet, lay motionless for twelve hours or so, and passed on.
As my routine shop work commenced three days later, I noticed something bright white emerging from the muddy gravel of the back lot, about fifteen feet from the big bay door that I use daily. I keep this area clean of debris on a regular basis, walk by every day, and this white object was new and out of place. Further inspection found it to be a hard plastic “chewy” toy bone poking up that must have been buried there for years. Pulling it from the mud, I brushed it off and in a fit of emotion, contemplated the hard worn teeth marks made in my dog’s youth.
Soon, the uncanny appearance of this toy began to sink in, since he only brought his toys up to the shop in his younger years, and never in the latter years of his life. The bay door area merged into a track into the woods, where a 69,000 pound excavator had been working only six months earlier. It had driven over and parked frequently right where the bone emerged. Over the years, new layers of gravel had been laid in that same spot, and myrtle logs were dragged over the area routinely. I could not fathom how this “Rocky Relic” had emerged so suddenly from what must have been deep layers of earth.
Two weeks later, I enjoyed a typical bike ride three miles down to the bay. An arrow straight slough parallels the road for the last mile before emptying out bayside, and an expansive pasture buffers the coast range foothills on the roads opposite side. It is a peaceful country ride with many marshland birds and wildlife sightings, and this day was no exception. From the corner of my eye, I discerned a brown, deer like figure out in this pasture, but it began darting around in a non- deer like fashion. Stopping my bike, I saw that it was a coyote running away, but looking back at me over his shoulder. Then it sat on its haunches and stared back at me. When I moved my bike closer, off the pavement, the young looking coyote ran away over the subtle berms of the field. But then he would stop and look back.
Amused at his antics, I played cat and mouse with him by moving my bike up and down the road, chasing him from a distance. He would run away parallel to my movements, and then come back again, sitting and staring. When I tired of the game and proceeded towards the bay, he followed me. Finally, I left the playful coyote behind, and enjoyed a brief stop with vistas of the bay. But on my return ride, there he was again, chasing along as I rode homewards and mused over this random canine connection that came so shortly after losing my dog.
Ten days before he left us, I took Rocky in the jeep for a few miles of driving along the edge of the ocean, and let him run on the sandy beach and sniff among the driftwood piles, two things he loved to do. We drove to the top of a sand dune, with miles of sand and ocean in view.
His final days weren’t the way they were supposed to be. The dog seemed healthy until his last twenty four hours, and, unfortunately, I was at an art show in Southern California and absent from his final day. My wife was alone with him instead of me on that morning; it was only right that I should have been there to share in the good bye, and to relieve some of her emotional trauma, but life and death does not follow any convenient script. As he lay motionless on his corner of the living room carpet, I was there with him at the end of a phone line a thousand miles away, and while my wife and I shared the trauma, he seemed to recognize my voice from a cell phone, and knowing his final links to life were complete, he let go.
The long trip home was a blur, and at the bay so close to the end of the journey I made a stop. I found a big jagged rock appropriate for Rocky’s marker, and tossed it in the truck. Because your canine pet is always around, always glad to see you, and always wanting to play, he becomes an extension of yourself, and when they are gone, a part of you goes with them.
I wrapped him in his special “home” blanket and laid him to rest. All of our county icons were there, printed on the throw blanket that was his for many years; a fishing boat, logging truck, sand dunes, ocean beaches, and the long bridge over the bay. My wife laid his favorite toy, a raggy stuffed duck, in front of him and said in a whimsical tone “he looks as if he were lying asleep on the floor.”
I caressed a long, floppy ear, those comical ears that would stick up and out of place until he would shake them so they would fall back and hang down where they belonged. I gently folded the errant ear back into place over the side of his face, stood up and let the shovel erase all but the memories.
What on Earth?! Dog with the heart shaped patch on his side.