I grew up on a farm, and one of my earliest memories is of animals dying, and of my mother saying, It's just a dog. Or, it's just a cat. Or it's just a calf, meaning, Stop crying. Death is just a part of life. And besides, there is a whole barnyard of other pets.
My mother was tough. Or, as my father put it, She's from New England. She almost never cried and was rarely emotional.
I remember watching her unflinching face as she loaded her horse onto a trailer to be trucked off to the glue factory. Or when she found a few of her heifers, dead from the bloat after eating alfalfa. Only in her later years did she become teary over the death of her Rottweiler, and even then, it was just a solitary tear, blinked back with a stoic expression, It happens to all of us, as if it were just the fact of death that we needed to get used to, not the loss of some part of ourselves, of some kind of communion we have with our animal friends.
My father was different. He expressed his feelings of both rage and grief openly. In fact, he had trouble controlling himself at times and could be a like a can of hot, shook Coke.
I remember the two of us holding his boxer, Tonic, while the dog died. We wept while my mother looked on, appalled by our outpouring.
It was that memory of my father and I and Tonic that came to me in a dream, a healing dream I had a few years after my father passed away. I wanted so badly to remember the dream, I bought a puppy the next week and named it Sadie, which was a name that was somehow a part of that dream.
In the first year of her life, Sadie was so sickly, one vet suggested she might not survive. During that year I often dreamt of my father. We had had our issues, you could say, but little by little over that year, the issues began to dissipate. I dreamt of him less and less. And Sadie's health began to improve. By the time Sadie was a year old, the father dreams had stopped, and Sadie was a healthy dog.
Don't get me wrong, I know these parallels are merely coincidental, but the link is there in my mind. I think of Sadie as a healing force, but I think most dogs are just that.
Sadie became my writing companion, my walking companion, and my best listener as well. Over the last thirteen years, she has heard every poem I have ever written at least twenty times. You could say that she is my most patient and devoted listener. She looks up at me, alert, as if interested in every word.
After a year, I bought her a friend, Froda, and the two dogs are inseparable. They have kept me going, hour and hour, day after day.
In the fall of 2015, Sadie was diagnosed with kidney disease. At the diagnosis, we were told to expect less than a year because her numbers were very bad. But she has been going strong in spite of those numbers with a few setbacks . . .
until this week. I can hear my mother telling me, She's just a dog. And of course she is. Just like I am just a woman.
It is unspeakably sad for me.
Farm-girl that I was, I have never taken as animal to be put down. The farm dogs simply died, as did the cats. Some went off to corners. Some were held as Tonic was. But I never chose the day they would leave.