We had to put our dog to sleep last week. I wasn’t going to write about it but then I thought about how she liked to sleep curled up beside my chair with her nose on the heat register, content to be doing nothing, which brought to mind a book my son gave me one Christmas called The Art of Doing Nothing which inspired a long forgotten poem in which I mention this same little dog when she was still a puppy and I thought about another writing room and another time . . . and so it goes.
Sunny was twelve but still spry until the week after Christmas when her belly suddenly bloated and overnight she could scarcely walk. It seemed her legs would no longer support her stomach. After a couple days of this we thought she was constipated (too many Christmas treats?)and our local pet store said to give her pumpkin, and if she wasn’t better in a couple of days to call the vet. We gave her pumpkin. She ate it; she would eat anything.
She had lost weight but with her long hair we didn't notice it(we never cut her hair in the winter) until she got into a briar patch and had burrs from behind her ears to between her toes, and we had to take her to the groomer and they ended up shaving her to get them out, and we were like....My God! You can see her backbone! But this was two weeks before Christmas and with the chaos of the approaching festivities we neglected to do anything about Sunny because she was acting the same. We put her sweater on and forgot about the weight loss.
So we went with the pumpkin experiment, but she didn’t get better. She used to bound up and down the porch steps, but now she could only manage the down. When she finished her business she just stood there looking up with her mournful little shih tzu eyes. So there we were, carrying her inside and out, up and down, like a puppy.
My laptop sits on a table beside that heat register I told you about (her favorite place), but now she wouldn't get out of bed. I put a fried egg in her dish. She ignored it. Yeah. A very bad sign from a dog who used to eat everything.
The next morning, she lost control of her bladder, legs splayed in a widening pool of discolored urine. I looked down at her in horror. My husband called the vet and put on his coat. He told me to take a picture.
The prognosis? Possible kidney failure or a tumor or any number of other age-related ailments. The cost? $120.00 for a diagnostic blood test and $80.00 for an X-ray, and this just to find out what was wrong. Surgery, recovery . . . who knows? The vet said she could still die in six months. Our other option was $58.00 for euthanasia and $120.00 for cremation if we wanted the ashes. If not, they would do a “group” cremation for $50.00.
“My God!” my daughter said. “That would be like Auschwitz!”
The kids didn’t want her cremated. They want her buried on the farm with a marker.
My husband carried her home in a bag while I was at work. But we had a problem. The ground is frozen.
This dilemma made me think of the burial-delayed funerals in the U.P. They have a no-shovel season from November 15th to March 1st. Digging into the ground would be like trying to penetrate 8 inches of concrete. Cemeteries have thinly-walled buildings that rely on Mother Nature not refrigeration to keep the corpses cool. The caskets are tagged and slid into storage racks until spring. They’re used to this up there. There’s a large Finnish-American population in the U.P. Back in the old country, bodies were stored in the church’s bell tower until the funeral.
We don’t have a bell tower but we have mounds of rich, organic compost, freshly spread from the barnyard, snow covered but not yet frozen. So as of now she’s nestled under a mound of compost,
and next summer she’ll be spread around the farm. Is that so bad? Do the kids know this? No. They want her buried with her blanket and stuffed animal and a cross over her head, or a marker on which could be inscribed: Here lies Sunny, a good dog. She never peed on the floor until the day she died. She liked carrots and biscuits, eggs and pumpkin. She liked people.
I've subjected you to the tale of her passing, so I may as well subject you to the poem as well.
THE ART OF DOING NOTHING
The mercury outside my window
is covered with ice.
Even the inside of the window is frosted.
I scrape it off with my nail—
it falls into the sink.
The furnace drones without pause
and my summersick dog lies on the register.
A draft runs through the house.
It sets chimes ringing and makes her nervous.
I inventory things not to do.
It’s in a book—The Art of Doing Nothing.
Meditate and you can see things that aren’t there . . .
brandied cakes and a bottle of wine
set out on the sideboard as if for a friend.
I look behind doors and pause at the stairs
Come full circle to see myself sitting there—
in the old winged-back chair.
It’s a special friend.