When I was a little girl and we lived in Alaska, I loved animals more than people. Our dogs, Abra and Ozark, were everything to me. I remember taking them out on dark, wintry walks with my family and obsessively dressing them up in hats and scarves. When my mom left Alaska to search for a new house, she gave me a sticker to place on our calendar for each day she would be gone and told me to take care of our dogs. I watched them obsessively while she was away, because she always joked that Abra didn’t love my dad as much as me. When she came back with news that she had purchased a home in Michigan, nothing excited me more than meeting the dogs there. In particular, I was ecstatic about my grandma’s black and white Springer Spaniel, Lucy.
During the long trip from Anchorage to Howell, Lucy was on my mind. When we arrived, our first order of business was purchasing treats for Lucy so her first impression of me would be a good one. It was.
I have been in Howell for almost thirteen years, which is how long Lucy has been a part of my life. My grandpa told me the story of how he picked Lucy out from a litter of others: he said she had an unusual white spot on her black fur, and it was shaped like a heart. He knew right away that Lucy needed him, and he took her home.
Many of my childhood memories involve walking Lucy in the countryside with my family. Once while out on a walk, Lucy tore away from us and plunged into a pond completely covered in green algae. She emerged completely green, and I thought she would remain that way forever and I couldn’t stop laughing. Another time, we found a huge turtle on the railroad tracks together and Lucy apprehensively approached it. She was skittish and her dance around the turtle was absolutely hysterical.
I have always accepted that part of loving a dog is that they have to die one day. I just hoped that all of the good memories would outweigh the pain I felt when that day arrived. I believed that I would always remember every little thing I loved about my dog, and I would be able to recall those memories when I missed her.
I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying. I heard my mom talking on the telephone, but I couldn’t understand her words until I fought off the sleep that still lingered over me. When the sentences began to make sense, I pulled the blankets over my head as if I could stop time. But the situation was still painfully apparent when she walked quietly into my room and asked me to come with her.
I drove to my grandma’s house slowly. It was dark and gloomy, and the weather suited the day perfectly. The clouds hung over the treetops like steam and I imagined that I was encased in a gloomy snow globe. We let ourselves in as if it was any other day. Lucy was behind her favorite green armchair and she wasn’t whimpering like usual. She picked her head up slowly as we walked in, and then placed it back down as if she was resigned, and ready.
I have never seen an animal die before. I have been lucky not to be touched by death much at all. When my gecko Ike passed away, and I saw his little pink body lying limp in his box, I remember pondering the strangeness of death. Before the wave of pain and guilt hit me, he just looked like he was sleeping and completely at peace. I hope that’s how I look when I die.
I carried Lucy unceremoniously into the brightly lit room. When I tried to set her on the ground, her back two legs crumpled underneath her and she hit the ground with a resounding smack. Up until that point, I wasn’t crying, but watching her lie there completely vulnerable and helpless opened the floodgate of tears that had been building up as her condition deteriorated. I lifted her onto the table and her puffy shoulder was scrutinized. What we thought was swelling in her joint, was actually a tumor.
The very patient veterinarian explained that Lucy would be given an overdose of medication that would stop her heart. He said it was not unusual for dogs to gasp for air during their last seconds to fight for life. Lucy watched me helplessly as my mom petted her head and described the wonders of heaven.
“You’re going somewhere better, Lucy. You’ll be able to run there, without getting tired. You’ll be able to eat as much as you want. You’ll be loved there, and you won’t have to worry,” she said. Lucy stared back, almost pleadingly. “We had a good run, didn’t we Luc?” She said.
While the vet prepared the medicine, I didn’t look at him. I watched Lucy instead. Up until then, I had never realized how large her brown eyes were or really scrutinized the heart shape on her back. Her head that had been resting in my mom’s hands suddenly fell limp. There had been no gasping for air or any panic like the vet had warned. Instead she slipped off peacefully. As if she was ready.
As we drove home, the rain stopped and the roads glistened in the dark. Lights danced along the road as we drove, and I watched a man briskly walking his dog along the sidewalk, as if he were mocking me. Memories of Lucy flashed through my head, and ended with the memory of her huge brown eyes, glossed over and unseeing.
Usually I search for a deeper meaning in my experiences growing up. I ponder until I understand, but the death of man’s best friend is simply a part of life, and grieving too much or wallowing in self pity doesn’t change that indisputable fact. Lucy didn’t love a lot of people, but I know she loved me, and that’s what gives me comfort now that she’s gone. I imagine her running with abandon in a place without pain, and that’s what gets me through. I imagine her eating as much as she wants and playing for as long as she can. I imagine her making circles and lying down on a cloud among the angels.