The boys stood on our porch, one barefoot, the other holding a chubby yellow puppy, all three pelted by the rain. I had them step inside, these neighbor boys with the tweaker dad. The apartment building across the street, blight of the neighborhood, had been sold. The good news was we’d be free of the 2 a.m. clanging and banging — it seems that if you’re on speed the best thing to do at 2 a.m. is dismantle and rebuild your old truck engine — and we wouldn’t have to listen to the dad screaming “Assholes!” at the kids as they scurried to the bus stop. The bad news was the eviction would only increase the struggle these boys faced. Also, the problem of the dog.
“Our dad says we have to f-f-find a home,” the boy holding the puppy sobbed. “Or he’ll g-g-get rid of her himself.”
The pup had no idea of her sketchy situation, but wriggled in his arms as if she were auditioning for the cover of an LLBean catalog. But I’ve been faced with puppies before and even this avalanche of cuteness could not immediately move me. Silently, I listed all the reasons we could not take a puppy.
1. We were struggling to feed three kids already.
2. Puppies are insane: messy, needy, chewing everything up.
3. I was still devastated over losing the dog we’d brought with up to Humboldt — she’d been hit by a car a month after arrival.
So I told the boys, “Look, boys, I’m so sorry. You’ll have to come back when Bobby’s here and ask him.”
They showed up bright and early the next morning. Bright and early enough that Bobby was still in bed. I shooed them into the bedroom. “Bobby, Bobby, wake up. The boys from across the street want to ask you something.”
Of course it was unfair. And I regretted it a few times, especially at the beginning. This scene took place while I was in the thick of finals at CR, a couple weeks before Christmas. I yelled a lot. I was not patient with the housetraining.
But it all worked out. Sandy tussled with Nick as if he were her littermate — he was only three at the time, so he’s barely known life without her. The girls doted on her. She was a sweet dog without being a fussy one. Smart enough and well-mannered. And she made her love for us known constantly. I didn’t have to worry about her jumping the fence or running off — which is how our other dog ended up killed. Sandy didn’t like getting in the car very much, but we hauled her to the river, the beach, anyway. She would start whining as soon as she smelled the salt, the water. She was always anxious to play. Sandy loved her people.
When we moved to the beach, Sandy’s life was complete. She would fetch sticks as long as you could stand throwing them, lope after birds, along water’s edge. Most of my best memories of her look like this: A clear sky, sunshine lighting up the damp sand, waves receding all white foam and blue-green motion. Those flocks of tiny birds that fly in unison skittering along the wave slope. Sandy would see them, her legs would speed up and she’d burst into a run, golden ears flapping, muscles rippling, her entire body stretched out, full speed ahead. Of course, she never got close to the birds — they’d launch into the air, a singular mass flashing black and white, soar away, then split into two groups, reverse direction and fly right back at her, envelop her momentarily as she skidded on the sand, unable to turn as fast as they flew by. She had a great grin, our Sandy.
She hadn’t run like that for a long time. Her legs grew old with the rest of her and her eyesight went enough that I don’t think she noticed the birds. But she still loved going for walks, shorter ones, slower ones. Bobby was the best about taking her in the recent years. I would be wrapped up in work or thinking I should clean the house first. Now the walks untaken haunt me.
Several months ago, after a long afternoon at the beach, Sandy had a seizure. We thought the end had come. But she bounced back. She kept getting older, though, and her hearing was clearly shot — no longer did she bark when cars rolled into the driveway. You could park, walk up the porch and step over her sleeping form without her noticing at all. When a tumor showed up, we took her to the vet. They praised her otherwise good health, confirmed she was not in pain and said nothing could be done except to keep an eye on her comfort. So we did.
The girls have been off in the world for months. I had to break the news that Sandy was not long for this life via Facebook message, then keep them updated the same way. Bobby and I argued about when to determine “it was time” — both of us knew making the call when necessary would be the right thing to do, but neither one of us wanted to be the one who said, “Let’s get rid of the dog.” I was more bothered by the ick factor of the tumor and afraid I’d put her down when things grew yuckier than I could stand. Every day Sandy still wagged her tail, still smiled, kept waving her paw for belly rubs.
Sunday morning, as I prepared to leave for a work trip to Mendocino, things turned worse. I gave Bobby the number of the vet who would come to the house, but I asked him to please wait if he could. I’d neglected her walks; I wanted to at least be there at the end.
They couldn’t wait. She was falling over, off her food, failing fast. I finished my work rounds and drove back to the hotel to await the call. It came. “It was really peaceful,” he said.
She had such a good life. It was the right thing to do.
And now I don’t have a dog any more.