Excerpt from a work-in-progress on this National Mutt day for my most beautiful mutt.
I hear, tonight, no distant thud-drone of a beach goer’s car
No shore break. No train.
Seagulls sleep silent in the spring cool.
Your breathing, ended forever, opens a gulf of aching peace.
I want my disturbed sleep back—my dreams punctuated with mumbling monsters that sounded oddly like wet, canine snores. I miss 4 a.m. earthquakes as you threw yourself against the bed to wake me for urgent backyard trips. I want to trip over the dark hulk of you lying curled on the floor next to my bed, your musk gathering on my heaped winter clothes.
It’s a fact that only you can truly fill this dearth of dog.
Your grumbling groans. Your dreamy sighs. Your shifts and turns and the tick
shish tick shish of claws on tired old limbs as you shuffled to your bowl in
the early morning dark for a sloppy drink from crockery.
It’s a fact that though there will be another furred friend, loved, adored even—you are a piece of my soul like no other. There is no Big-Dog shaped peg left in this universe. You were the one and only. I waltz over a shadow in the dark—your pillow, so dense with you—and moments later return and spin, sink into my covers, embrace the silence—and sleep.
Those were the words I used to describe our first encounter
with Big Dog in 2006.
My husband and I had gone to the pet store after lunch at our favorite restaurant to get treats for our ailing female Dalamatian. We’d passed the Saturday adoption dogs with a brief glance at two female Chinese Shar Pei mixes in their crates. We couldn’t consider adding a dog since our old girl had become isolating and aggressive (Brain tumor? the vet surmised).
As we waited in the checkout line, a chunky, brown mutt, loose,
paddle paws slapping the cold tile, dragged a smiling but out-of-breath
brunette across the store and straight toward us. When he reached us, the dog
enthusiastically sniffed us with his significant nose—mm, chicken tikka
masala—seemed to look into us with his giant, knowing eyes and worried brow,
then splayed out on the floor and set about investigating the shelf next to us.
Chunky, brown mutt’s handler said, “He likes you. He’s
usually kind of shy.”
“Must be the Indian food,” my husband said.
The woman then told us, “Yao Ming is completely blind. He’s a total sweetie and still a puppy.” We also learned he was a Chinese Shar Pei mix. Momma and sister were sighted and healthy. Yao Ming, however, might be put down if someone didn’t adopt him that day.
We thought he was pretty impressive. How had he navigated
the store and made his way to us so unerringly? We left full of regret over our
inability to save him.
I cried halfway home. I tried to put the dog out of my mind
and could not. I posted on a hobby forum (pre-Facebook days) in the hope that
someone in the Houston community would see and take pity on the big guy.
As I said above, I began my post on that forum with, “I met
a dog today.” Not, “I saw a dog” or “There was a dog at…”. The distinction is
important. I felt as if I’d met an intelligent being. A personality. A
character. In those couple of minutes of interaction, I met someONE.
That he had fur and paws and a tail didn’t make him any less a character to me
than someone on two legs in manufactured clothing. I wrote my post with teary
eyes and included a picture that the rescue group emailed me at my request.
A month later, we had to say goodbye to our beautiful Bayta
Another month followed.
A month of grief.
Of an empty house.
Of silence and loneliness.
Of guilt and thinking I didn’t do enough for Bayta (because
we never think we do enough for them at the end time).
Then an email arrived. The rescue group that had provided
the picture of Yao Ming informed me that he still needed a home and asked if were
we interested in adopting him.
I don’t recall there being much discussion but maybe there was. Maybe we talked at length about whether we should take the chance adopting a “special needs” dog. Maybe we both had fallen so hard for him that there was no question.
Whether we did or didn’t, Yao Ming (later called Big Dog) was
never really a special needs dog, but he was always special from the very first
day we met to his very last.
To ease my now dog-less life, I walk dogs at the local SPCA. So far, the pups are all friendly and gentle, if energetic from being locked up much of the time. None, as yet, has tugged at my heart or looked into me with giant, knowing eyes. I tell myself, and it is true, as yet, that I don’t want another dog because there can’t ever be another Big Dog.
But at times there are the tender memories I would relive in perhaps different manifestations. There are the little soft moments of silence and loneliness that ache to be filled. In those briefest moments, I find myself hoping I will someday come home and say to my husband, “I met a dog today.”