I don’t like dogs. I know how that sounds. It says something about a person, they say. It says something about a person if she doesn’t like dogs. People who don’t like dogs are the kind of people who hold a stick out from their bodies and say, “Stay away,” and “Keep your distance.” This is not the kind of person I aim to be. I am ashamed of it. At the same time, I am fascinated by it, this mystery. Who doesn’t like dogs? Why don’t I?

I know it started before the 900th poop I picked up after 6 months of snow on the ground last winter started thaw out. I think it started before the bi-weekly vacuuming for 10 years was required—hours of effort, the whole time knowing that the hair I was choking on would be back in a few days. It might have started around the time when my dog decided to “unzip” a 4 foot strip in my berber carpet after I had sold my condo but the day before the final walkthrough was scheduled. Maybe it was sometime around then.

My anger was kindled by two big dogs, our chocolate lab and golden retriever, getting older every day, surrounding me with vet bills and puke cleanups and poop scooping and dog slurps and smells and mounds and mounds of hair. I couldn’t like even these nice dogs. They took up so much of my time that I didn’t have time to enjoy them.

EllieButtercupTogetherOur dogs are Ellie, the chocolate lab, and Buttercup, the golden retriever. I never would have chosen to be a two-dog household (doubling all of the kindling I mentioned above), but my husband Wally and I each came to the relationship with a dog. Ellie, his manly and alpha chocolate lab was appropriately named Elwood, a boy’s name for a girl dog who stopped to mark over other dog pee as we walked. She was fiercely loyal and devoted to Wally—they belonged to each other. And Buttercup, my totally submissive and happily stupid golden retriever, who failed puppy school and once tried to crawl under a miniature dachshund the size of a hot dog to prove her submission. We called them “the girls.” They were a perfect little pack—the alpha and the submissive—a beautiful, God-ordained pairing.

My five year old son, Wally 5, acquired my taste for dogs and kept his general distance from them. My two year old daughter loved them. She called them her best friends and her sisters (even though she couldn’t keep straight which one was named Buttercup and which was Ellie).

I am speaking in the past tense because yesterday we had to put Ellie down. We had known it was coming. We discovered over the summer that she had kidney failure and she was given up to a year to live. She lost half her weight over the past year, and things started looking grim for her last week when she couldn’t stop violently sneezing whenever she did any activity. We were going to get her checked out the day after New Years to see if they could figure out the cause.

The night before we were going to take her in, I woke up to find Wally kneeling on the ground by Ellie. “What’s wrong?” I asked, fearing we had gone too long and she had passed. “She’s shaking,” he said. He didn’t know what to do. I put my hand on her. I felt her boney back. Her skin was vibrating. This was the dog who showed no pain ever—the dog who would fetch sticks in freezing Lake Michigan for so long that her tail would break and sag behind her for a few days, and she still would want more. She was trying to hide her pain still, the tough little cracker. This was it, I thought.

And I was ashamed. I tried to speak to her through my hands as I pet her. I’m sorry, my hands said. I’m sorry I got mad at you for being a dog. I’m sorry I didn’t notice that you could hurt as you do now. I’m sorry that I didn’t appreciate often enough that you breathe and enjoy and love. I’m sorry that you are suffering, and I’m sorry that I can’t take it away. I’m sorry that it’s too late.

The next morning, when Wally met with the vet, she said that we could run all sorts of tests, but that there would be no solution that we would be able to provide to make her feel better. He called me to tell me it was time, and we decided that I should take the kids and Buttercup in to say goodbye. Buttercup was a nervous wreck and went into a vet-setting induced panic. I missed the kids goodbyes because I was trying to calm her down. Vivvi didn’t seem to understand fully (evidenced later when she asked me why “Buttercup” was still at the vet—she meant Ellie). When it was my turn, I grabbed Ellie’s face and whispered my goodbye. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Thank you for being such a good dog for the kids. And thank you for being so good at being Wally’s dog.” We left so Wally could say his final goodbyes and stay with her.

Buttercup seems a little lost ever since. She’s sniffed around a lot. She’s cried a few times in her sleep.

You know the big juicy steak that taunts the dogs in old cartoons? That’s how my heart feels. Because somehow, although I told myself that I was over the dogs, Ellie worked her way in there. The absence of her steps, her sounds and smells, her empty bowl—every one of them is a pound on my beaten heart. It has left me feeling raw. I miss her—I really do.

I forgot to mention—on the car ride home from the vet, Wally Ben said, “I told Ellie ‘See you in a long long time.’ Because I’ll see her in heaven.” Yes, Wally 5, I believe you will.

Ellie BeachEllie running

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