My husband Michael and I begin the days normally: coffee, smoothie, 3-mile dog walk. Only the walk is different than in pre-pandemic days, in that it’s the morning’s main event and one of 2-3 long walks we take in the ‘hood to keep from going mad. Mind you, we’ve had to “borrow” Jamie, the chocolate Lab, for the purpose. She is technically my son’s dog, though I raised her as a pup until he graduated from college. But at the beginning of this covid, shelter-in-place mess, we lost our beloved Bichon, Buffett, just two days shy of his 18th birthday. He was a 20-pound, tail-wagging fixture, a proper family member. When the kids were young, I talked for him in a special hoarse voice, saying silly things like his favorite saying: “If looks could kill, you’d all be dead by now!” He was handsome, indeed—with his soft brown eyes and powder-puff Afro— and he knew it.
As he aged and lost functioning, he became unable to walk or do much of anything but sleep and moan in pain. I spent the bulk of my time caring for him: carrying him to his favorite grassy knoll to do his business, bathing him gently—which made him feel better—and taking him with me to work or to run errands. He loved riding in the car, even toward the end.
Losing him left an awful hole in our lives. Appropriately, it was Friday the 13th of March. Our faithful veterinarian Brent came to our house and encouraged us to give him his favorite treat—Blue Bell homemade vanilla ice cream—before putting him to sleep. The family gathered ‘round, said our goodbyes as I cradled him in my arms. Our daughter, Owen, now 31, repeated his favorite saying in his characteristic hoarse voice. We cried. Brent administered propofol, the Michael Jackson drug, to relax him before giving him the lethal drug. It was a peaceful passing, his beard damp with a swath of melted ice cream.
A week later, I asked Jesse and Amanda if we could take Jamie for a while, to comfort us. Our house was empty, desolate. Since they recently had a baby boy, lending out Jamie lightened their load (or so I told myself). It was only with Jamie in tow that I could steel myself to drive to the vet and pick up Buffett’s ashes and ceramic paw print. She understood; I couldn’t have done it without her.
This pandemic has been a boon for family dogs. Suddenly, everyone is home, hanging out. Dogs are getting lots of walks and much more attention than usual. But there are many dogs who’ve been dumped at shelters; some owners have lost their jobs and incomes and can’t afford to keep them. Many dogs are being fostered temporarily; others, surrendered. This is a good time to get a dog, either short- or long-term, if you’ve been wanting one.
For now, I’m grateful for Jamie. I know I’ll have to give her back one day, but by then, maybe I’ll be ready to risk my heart again.