Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Bad Country Song, or, I Miss You Apollo

You know that old joke, the one where it says "what happens if you play a country song backward?" You get your wife back, your car back and your dog back?

I wish I could play back the last few weeks.

February is officially trying to kill me. Or my spirit. Either one really.

This month has been host to a series of bad, stressful events. My doctor seems to think that I'm okay. A biff told me "just get xanax off the street, like everyone else."

And just when I thought that I knew what true crap felt like, it, *of course* got worse.

My dog died.

I've complained about him, yelled at him, wished he would slink off to the other room just so I could VACUUM for the love of God, and turned him into a hyphenated "damn-dumb-dog" more times than I can remember. He woke me up by getting his butt stuck under my bed, having a dog dream, and shaking the bed like the devil in The Exorcist. He messed up my carpet, slobbered all over my throw blankets, and snuck up on the couch when we left to run errands.

He got into the trash, scared the cat, and dropped enough horse-sized poo in the yard to make walking in the grass a scary proposition. He had horrible gas, routinely got ear infections that stank and occasional cysts on his skin that would burst and make me throw up in my mouth. He would eat something he shouldn't have, and throw up hideous giraffe-sized vomit all over the place. He would tromp on my foot and impale me with a giant dog claw. He was always behind me, so I'd trip over him, and it didn't matter where I was - there he was.

He'd pick up green (or black really) walnuts in his mouth, and since his mouth was SO big, I wouldn't see them until he had spit it out on our carpet. He did it, really and truly, because I found it funny. For awhile, I called him "Pauly Walnuts" - from the Sopranos? Awesome.

He was a pain in the ass.

But I loved him. I loved that big, drooly, pain in the ass.

I loved that he would lean against me when I was sick, when no one else wanted to be near my ebola-covered carcass.

I loved that he would stick his huge head out the door, and I never had to buy a damned thing from a solicitor. (One time, a lady was so disconcerted, she literally ran backwards and hid behind our pillar on the front porch.)

Last Thursday, he started to act funny. He'd pace and stop and stand, and walk just to flop down and close his eyes. He wouldn't respond when I said his name. He finally lay down and closed his eyes and when I sat with him on the floor, I could see him trembling. I knew he was in pain. I assumed, even hoped, it was (another) arthritis flare up. I called the vet. The Man took him while I waited at home.

It wasn't the arthritis. It was a mass in his abdomen. It had shoved his organs up and he wasn't getting enough air. It was cancer. It took his loving, sweet heart and compressed it. The only answer was the hardest one.

And if you're not an animal lover, if you've never buried your best friend, the one who steals your food and pretends they didn't, or who pees on your floor and feels terrible about it, or who sits with you when you're crying over something, and just LOVES you, if you're not one of those people, well go somewhere else. Because that damn-dumb-dog was worth more than just about anything.

All my friends knew, knew better than I did, that no matter how vocally I bitched about the dog and how he needed to get out of the kitchen or whatever I said, that I'd be the one barely hanging on when something DID happen.

It finally *did* happen.

The Man was with him. He held him. He did the last thing that a person can do for an animal whom they've loved and who has loved them back, unconditionally. While I had gathered the kids and me around him before he left, petting him, telling him in whispers that we loved him, had always loved him and that he was a GOOD BOY, The Man did the hardest part. And it broke his heart.

Since Thursday, I've seen him a hundred times. I've walked through the dark in my bedroom, skirting the place he used to lie, out of habit. I've cut off the ends of hot dogs, with no one there waiting to eat them. I haven't vacuumed the floor because I can still see where his giant dog butt had flattened it. I haven't moved his big, hair-covered bed, or his half drunk water. I keep waiting to hear that awful clicking noise his nails made on our laminate flooring.

I made arrangements with the vet's office, although I'm not 100% sure the lady could understand me through my sobbing. He'll be coming back home in a little dog urn, because I couldn't stand the idea of him being anywhere else. I'll get a packet of flower seeds that I can plant. I will plant them. I will keep those flowers alive, although I typically kill anything green and growing. Those will be the flowers for the best damn-dumb-dog who ever lived.

I've always been a spiritual person. I believe strongly that there is more than just this life. I believe that animals are as spiritual as people, if not more so, because they're free from things like greed or revenge or hatred, and I know that those spirits go on. I know that he's out there, free from pain, spreading his love and joy and goodness in the universe.

And all dogs DO go to heaven.

I know that things here will get better. It's just as likely that blessings are around the corner as it is that pain is around the corner. I know that in the darkest moments, there is always light. I know we have to find that light and hold it close. I know that Apollo just made that light shine a little brighter.

But it's still hard. It's hard when my daughter, she of the Cat Lovers' Club, sobs at night, wishing he were here, wishing she could see him or hug him. My heart breaks all over again when my kids ask me "why?" Because I don't know. I don't know why we love and lose. I don't know why we have pain in the world, or suffering, or anything else. I'm no theologian. I just know that there WILL be love again.

And that our love for a big, smelly dog will never disappear. Love is always light. And he was mightily loved. My daughter asked that I write a prayer request at church last Sunday; asking prayers that our dog was with God now. Just yesterday, she received a hand-written card from our senior pastor, assuring her that God cares for all his creatures and that Apollo and the pastor's cat were both with God now. That card meant the world to her, and to me. One gesture does matter, for a dog who mattered.

Rest in peace, without pain, in a garden of dog heaven, chasing ducks and eating goose poo, running after your big, blue ball Apollo.

Comments, questions, visit MASTIFF RESCUE to help this wonderful breed. Or donate to your humane society today.