I knew this day was coming.
Today, I had to take our dog Pal to the vet and have him put down. If you know anything about me, you know how…complicated my relationship with this pooch has been.
About nine years ago, when Hadley was in the 5th grade, I believe, she went through this phase where she would get the Sunday paper and go through the classifieds, looking at the dogs for sale. Whenever there were photos, she’d cut them out and keep them in a folder. Up to this point, I’d always been adamant about not getting a dog, but seeing Hadley doing all that started to melt my resolve.
One weekend, around that same time, I heard where the local shelters were doing “free” dog adoptions. That is, they were waiving the adoption fees. You still had to pay for shots, chips and a million other hidden charges that go into taking a dog home. It was like buying a new car.
But I digress.
The first place we stopped was the Feeder’s Supply near our house, and the first dog we saw was this sad looking, 4 or 5 year old mutt that smelled and had sore places from where he’d nervously scratched himself too much. I remember commenting that the only place he was going was the gas chamber.
We skipped past that dog in search of a smaller, cuter, less smelly dog that somehow fit Hadley’s fantasy of the kind of dog she wanted.
That fantasy dog wasn’t at Feeder’s Supply. Nor was it at any of the shelters or any other of the four or five places we went looking for dogs. The only dogs we saw were barkers, biters or some other red-flag waving canine that was not going to call Savannah Road home.
But I’d painted myself into a corner, declaring that we would be getting a “free” dog that day.
Someone, I can’t remember who, mentioned that poor old dog we’d seen first. The one I’d pegged for an early death. The clock was ticking, as it was nearing evening time, so we headed back to Feeder’s Supply to re-consider the selection there.
Sure enough, the smelly old dog was still there, looking sadder than ever. The tag on his kennel said his name was “Pal.” And of course, we took him home.
To say that Pal was nothing but trouble is both understatement AND overstatement at the same time.
We brought him home intending for him to be 80% inside dog and 20% outside dog, or some ratio in that ballpark. I figured we could wash the smell out of him, and after numerous attempts at expensive shampoos, special dog food and supplements, we resigned ourselves to having a smelly dog.
That wouldn’t have been so bad had it not been for the fact that he was also an entitled dog.
The first thing he did when we brought him home was to run into the den and jump up on the couch and make himself comfortable. Oh. And he also shed. And shed. And shed. His hair would soon be everywhere in the house. We have hardwood floors, and we’d laugh at the smelly hairball/tumbleweeds that would blow through the dining and living rooms. It was disgusting.
Angell and the kids were softies, and it fell to me to be the bad cop where Pal was concerned, a role I grew to relish for all his hardheadedness.
No amount of scolding would keep him off the couches. When we tried to make him sleep in the basement, he barked all night, wanting to be upstairs with us.
Yes, sir. Pal was quite the barker. But he was also sweet.
Our next door neighbors weren’t too keen on Pal’s barking. Nick claimed that he “bayed” during the day. When he first told me this, I thought he was exaggerating until I heard it myself. Anytime the ambulance or fire engine sirens whined off in the distance, Pal responded with a howling that was straight out of a Jack London novel. Whenever we heard a siren, it was one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, cue baying.
That went on until about a year or so ago, when deafness rendered him mutely unaware of the sirens.
For the first year or two, he’d try and climb the fence. Sometimes he succeeded. Once, I had to go out in the middle of the night, dressed only in boxers, to jump the fence, pick him up from the neighbor’s yard, where he was barking to come home, and toss him back over into our yard. He seemed proud of himself when he first saw me, but my low cursing sent him back to his igloo/doghouse with his tail between his legs.
Sometimes, we’d take him to my Mother-in-law’s, back when she had the house with the pool in back. We’d let him run around on the deck that surrounded the pool while the kids swam. He hated water like poison, but couldn’t get enough of being around us, his family.
On one of those trips, we stopped at a burger joint on the way home, to get a quick bite to eat. It was summer and we didn’t want to leave him in the back of the car, so Angell took his leash, one of those thick-webbed kind that are stronger than just about anything, and tied him to a tree in front of our car in the shade.
By the time we all sat down at our table, we saw Pal sniffing his way through the parking lot looking for us, trailing a chewed-through bit of leash. He was like a 13 year old boy – you could simultaneously love him and want to drown him.
As the years went by, he got used to my yelling from the upstairs bathroom window at nights, and when I told him to, he’d knock it off…unless there was a possum crawling across the phone wires above our backyard.
One of his last big “events” occurred one day when I tried to take him out for a walk at a local nature trail. Angell had replaced the chewed-through nice leash with a cheap, thin piece of nylon with a Harley Davidson logo on it that looked like it might contain a Chihuahua.
I hooked Pal up to this “leash” and opened the back gate and headed to the car. Just as we came around the side yard to the driveway, the mailman crossed our path and Pal went ape shit. He hated the mailman, whichever one came to our house, worse than anything.
Pal impulsively lunged at the mailman, who’d already unleashed a torrent of obscenities, and as I pulled back on the leash to restrain him, the leash snapped like a piece of dental floss.
Pal lunged at the mailman who tripped as he backpedalled. Pal ended up on the poor man’s chest, but once there seemed at a loss for what to do. It’s as though he’d spent all those years barking at the mailman never thinking that he’d ever have the opportunity to do more than yap.
Pal barked at the man’s face. I ran over and jerked him away by his collar. The mailman got to his feet, cursing me and cursing Pal. I apologized profusely, but the mailman didn’t want to hear it. He cussed me out and told me that if I didn’t do something about my dog, I’d never get any mail delivered again.
We didn’t go to the nature trail that day. Instead, I scolded him for being such a knucklehead and put back in the yard and went back inside, laughing at how funny it had all been…and how lucky for everyone involved. And we bought a good replacement leash.
Since then, the years have flown by. As they did, Pal’s muzzle got whiter and whiter. As I mentioned before, he grew deaf. His vision started to go. He turned in to an old man. The barking jags almost went away completely, except for his morning call for food. He turned into a chill, nearly invisible, nearly forgotten member of the family, just like many old folks.
This past summer, I noticed that Pal struggled getting up and down the steps to the back porch, where we fed him. I also noticed him stumbling and falling as he’d run back and forth to torment the mailman each day. One day, when the meter-reader was here, I took him to the basement so the guy could get his reading, and when I called Pal, he got half-way up the stairs, then tumbled back down them. His back legs had given out.
I carried Pal up the stairs, and that was the first time I knew what has coming. I knew that I’d soon have to put him down.
I mentioned this to Angell and the kids, but they didn’t want to hear it. From time-to-time, I’d joke about it, as I’d done for years, but this time they knew the threat was real, and they didn’t like it.
Angell and I decided that when I had to do it, we wouldn’t warn the kids. I’d just do it, and they’d come home to the news. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong. It’s probably wrong because they didn’t get to say goodbye. But that’s Pal all over.
Today, I hunted for that replacement leash and went and got his collar out of the shed (It’s been a couple of years since we’ve taken him to the nature trail, where he loved to run and hunt). I lined the back of Angell’s hatchback with a tarp, in case he peed all over the place, which he’s been known to do.
When I went around back to get him, he had no idea I was in the backyard (this same dog’s hearing was so good, that when the kids were younger and we got home after dark, I would make them walk up the driveway in near silence to avoid rousing Pal and setting off a 30 minute bark-fest). I watched him as he stiffly hobbled over to his water bucket to get a drink. When his head was in the bucket, I whistled. He paused, unsure of what he heard, then went back to drinking. I whistled again, then he rose and looked…in the opposite direction of where I was. I shook my head at him like I’ve done a million times as he turned to me.
When Pal saw me, he perked up. When he saw the leash, he got excited. In a flash, years seemed to melt away as he got excited at the memory of what the leash meant – an adventure! I spoke tenderly to him as I snapped the collar and leash on him and took him for one last ride.
When he saw the open hatchback, he tried to climb in, but the years told on him. I had to pick him up and put him in the car. I closed the hatch and got in, tears welling up.
Pal being Pal, this last trip caused me to yell at him one last time. He jumped over the back seat, as he always tried to do when in the car, and then got down onto the floor where he proceeded to eat up the kids’s scraps of uneaten Pop Tarts from a few mornings before. I told him that if he pissed on the floor I’d kill him. He couldn’t hear a word I said, and as I noticed this, I realized that I was indeed going to kill him.
We ended up where we began, all those years ago, at Feeder’s Supply. He jumped out of the car, curious as ever, and as we made our way to the vet’s office, I felt sick, like I was betraying a sweet, old friend – a friend you’d spent years bitching about, but deep-down inside, you loved him.
The folks at the vet’s office couldn’t have been kinder, and it was a peaceful end for our one and only dog. I hope to never have to do this again.
A few years ago, we lost our beloved cat Peko. It was horribly sad, compounded by the fact that Peko was inside the house 24/7, and slept with Daisy every night. That cat was her buddy. And the morning we all sat and stroked that poor, sweet thing is one of those big family moments I’ll never forget for the sweet sadness and the passing of an era it commemorated.
I mention Peko because I think of how much we actively loved that old cat, and when I compare her to Pal, it makes me sad to think of that smelly old dog that you couldn’t love on very much because if you did, you had to use gasoline to get the smell off you and change your clothes. So, Pal didn’t get the attention of Peko. Didn’t get the hugs and caresses that he desperately sought. Didn’t get to lay on the couch with us as we watched TV. Didn’t get to sleep in one of the kids’ bed each night.
No. Old Pal was the lonely sentry who stood watch over 2515 Savannah Road every night (except when it was too cold) for nine years, ready to give his life for ours. And today, his life, as well as a chapter in our family’s story, came to an end.
So long, old buddy.