Tag Archives: Dogs

Dante’

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photoThe man brushes the dog gently and watches as the white puffs of fur spiral softly down the street like clouds of cotton. He has placed a blanket on the new, tender grass near the front of his house, and he and his young son sit there with their dog, Dante’. The boy’s body is wrapped like a spoon around the old dog, all kid arms and legs and white fur intertwined. It’s a beautiful, warm July day, full of sun and just a whisper of a breeze, and the man, boy and dog are bathed in a sweet, yellow light.

It is the last few hours of the dog’s life.

He is an old dog, now – over 15 – and he trembles slightly, his body worn out. The man knows the dog’s vision and hearing are long gone, but it is only recently that Dante’ has truly failed, his body shuddering on idle, waiting to turn off.

There had been a series of strokes over the last year… small moments at first but ever growing and more serious until the man decided he could no longer bear to put his dog through one more. And yet, the dog ate his full breakfast that morning and it was just yesterday that he was able to walk down to the corner and back with only two rest breaks. The man wants to believe that Dante is ok, that he’d still be fine for a few months longer, but he knows better.

A woman drives up in a red sedan and stops in front of the man’s house. She exits the car carrying a flower – a yellow orchid in a clay pot. The man and the boy watch her walk towards them. The dog, who no longer sees, stares directly ahead, his head shaking with a Parkinson’s-like tremor. When the woman is near, she hands the man the plant without a word and he smiles.

“Look Dante’,” he says sweetly to his dog. “Isn’t this nice? It’s a flower.”

And the dog somehow knows to move his nose towards the petals and sniff just a bit. He is still there, being a good dog, smelling the flower for his master. But he is ready. The old dog is ready to go.

“The vet will be here in a few minutes,” the man says to his visitor and she nods her head solemnly.

She bends to pet the dog and gives him a kiss on the head. She knows the man wants to be alone with Dante’ and she turns and leaves them to continue their sweet and painful countdown.

Eventually man’s son rises from the blanket, bored and restless, and goes into the house to find his older brother. They both come back out front, baseball gloves in hand, and play catch in the road, very near the man and his dog. There is laughter from the street – the sounds of everyday children at play who are trying very hard not to think about losing their dog. There is only so long you can think about things like that before you have to get up and throw a ball.

Very shortly a light-colored SUV appears and out pops a small woman carrying a red case. She is both a welcome and terrible sight but the man knows that this vet is a good human being just here to ease the dog’s pain, to ease everyone’s pain.

They move in a small processional, the vet, the man and his two sons, towards the back of the house for privacy. The man has picked up the dog and cradles him close as he shuffles forward in his slow, pre-funeral walk. His head is bowed, his face close to his dog.

Later that night after the two boys are asleep the man finds himself staring down at the place where his old dog used to lay, the spot right next to the couch by the window that gets the late afternoon sun. The man kneels down and pats the floor as though the dog, himself, were still lying there. When his two sons bound down the stairs in the morning, excited yet again for another warm, summer day, they find the man lying on the floor next to the couch, curled into a ball. He is sleeping soundly, one of Dante’s old toys brought into service as a pillow. The two boys giggle at their father and then grab their mitts and dash out into the sun.

 

Ladies in the park…

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I walk my black lab down to the The Ponds, our small neighborhood park on the south side of town near Morgan and York. I am hurrying on my way, intent on fitting in some exercise for my dog in the few minutes I have for lunch. Ceasar is pulling me towards his mid-day heaven, the place where he chases and jumps and catches the Frisbee with ease. He carries the doggie disk in his mouth, prancing ever faster towards his destination, never ever getting there fast enough.

As we approach the park I glance at the two elderly ladies sitting on the bench and they look up at us as we walk past, speaking quickly in Chinese, their heads tilted near each other. I hope they won’t be upset when I let Ceasar off his leash. I know it’s against the local leash law but running for the Frisbee for ten minutes at lunch is the only time Ceasar gets his exercise. And like any good, self-respecting lab, all he wants to do is play.

I walk to the edge of the grass and unhook the dog from the leash. Behind me I hear the Chinese ladies again, murmuring, louder now, from a breeze to the wind.

“Crap,” I think. “One of them is going yell at me any minute.”

Quickly I decide to get in a few good throws for the dog before the reckoning happens. I whip the Frisbee forward and Ceasar darts after it, no longer just an everyday lab but now a beacon in space, zipping at the speed of time. He is good at this – it’s his thing – and in these moments he looks so fluid and smooth, like Lake Michigan on a calm day. When Ceasar poises to jump, the humming from the women behind me pitches up an octave. And when, in midair, he finally clutches the disk between his teeth, the ladies in the park start to clap, delighted by his performance, happy for the entertainment. I turn around surprised and laugh, delighted by them. I make a mental note to myself to stop expecting the worse.

We continue in that manner for the next ten minutes, the dog running for the Frisbee, the ladies humming their anticipatory song and then the hardy clapping for a job well done whether Ceasar makes the catch or not. It is a warm and sunny day and the four of us are thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

As we start home, Ceasar panting happily, his face drawn back into a doggie-smile, I turn and wave at our two-person audience. The two ladies in the park wave back excitedly, chattering in a language I can’t understand, smiling and happy.  Before we’re out of earshot I hear one of the ladies in the park call out in broken English,

“Good dog!”