From Ellen in Gdynia, Poland: As one who’s consistently had canine companionship for over thirty years, I can say I’ve loved every single mutt (none, by the way, ever thought s/he was “human”, each very much a dog), but the relationship you have with the pet with you through a spouse’s illness, death and your survival is different. It’s the difference between going home to a vacuum and retaining a touch with life. And throughout all the fits of rage, storms of tears and loneliness, they are there. Not necessarily doting or approving, but present when no one else can be.
Some of us who met via WidowNet with dogs who have likewise met, speculated on what they might communicate to one another about us, their hysterical guardians. Michelle, deeply attached to her Shaka, suggested the following:
Shaka: “Does yours do that screaming stuff?”
April: “Yeah, sometimes. I just ignore it now.”
Billy: “But one thing, they give lots of treats when they feel better!”
Shaka: “Yeah, but what about all that crying stuff? It gets old. I mean, if I have to lick one more tear I’ll gag!”
Sophie: “I like the salt!”
Billy: “All that hugging, geesh! I’m not a pillow, for god’s sake!”
Sophie: “I like the squishes!”
Billy – treats would enter into his imaginary conversation. A handsome black Lab belonging to Lynda, my British friend, he’s always been a passionate foodie. Conscious of the Lab’s tendency to overweight in senior years, she’s strived to keep him svelte and succeeded admirably.
On my first visit to her two years ago, I was very taken by him. Everyone is. Scenting a sucker, he positioned himself beside me as we ate, not whining, just eyeing me appealingly.
“Don’t give him anything,” Lynda said sharply. “And don’t turn your back on him – he’s a thief!”
His sly thefts were the subject of first embarrassment, then laughter, when we took a long trip to Northumberland. Breaking for five minutes at a station to buy drinks, he managed to devour the entire content of a box of treats. Late at night, relaxing in the tiny pub of our B&B in Berwick, Lynda and I were deep into conversation when she suddenly paused and said, “Where is Billy?” She raced towards the darkened kitchen, calling. Billy emerged, licking his lips and grinning. The following day, she asked the owner, a harassed South African struggling to manage solo in his wife’s absence, whether he was missing any supplies. He said he wasn’t…however, he told us later that bacon was off the breakfast menu. Could have sworn he had bought it just the other day and didn’t know what had happened to it. Lynda and I looked at each other and at Billy. We knew, all right.
Some months ago she had a scare. He ignored his carefully measured breakfast. Instead of devouring it, wagging his tail throughout as is his custom, he sighed and leaned against her. Just as she was reaching for the phone to call her veterinarian, she noticed two empty tubs of butter.
Thieving ways aside, he’s a wonderful animal, so well behaved he’s accepted wherever Lynda goes. Nothing mawkish about their relationship, but it’s as deep as it gets between human and canine. Planning to visit me in two weeks, as usual she had no problem finding a place for him to stay. In fact, there’s always competition. Her brother dotes on him as well as all her friends.
As of yesterday, her trip is off. Billy has tumors, probably malignant. She is understandably devastated…but not so devastated to elect for desperate measures. No chemo, no extensive surgery, just life as usual until its quality begins to ebb and pain to set in. Then it’s the mercy shot.
If my dog April doesn’t outlive me, I plan to be equally realistic…wondering, as I think about it, why our pets are granted an end of life option we are not.