(Dog) funeral blues

I answered the phone in a tone that sounded more frustrated, angry, than I had intended. It was 10 till  9 on a Friday morning and I was late for work. She caught me in the bathroom trying to run a straightener through my unruly hair in an attempt to look like less of a total mess.

“Hey, are you busy?” My mom had asked. “Yes. What?!” I had snapped.

“I  just called to let you know we’re taking Maggie to the clinic on Tuesday.”

I immediately regretted my response. I’d been waiting for this call. It wasn’t that she was taking our 9-year-old golden retriever/lab mix dog for a vet appointment, it was about what would happen there.

Maggie had been sick for a while and we were nearing the end. A tumor on her throat had grown to the size of an orange, something her sandy blond fur made it difficult to see. It was easier to notice with your ears. The tumor made it hard for her to eat or drink. Each time she tried she went into a coughing fit.

I hung up the phone and made plans to be in Kentucky Monday, Maggie’s final day.

Everyone says this about their pets but she really was the best dog. She was good with kids — even with three  little girls clamoring around and sometimes catching rides on her back.

She used to visit me in Charleston on weekends sometimes. She got along with my jerk cats. She won over my coworkers, who gave her cheese fries and  belly scratches. I don’t think she met anyone she didn’t like.

She loved you, too. It doesn’t matter that you never met her.

That night my parents and I kept a strange and modern death vigil — me with my laptop, headphones and the new season of House of Cards camped out next to a blanket on the floor where Maggie rested. Mom and dad sat near by, watching TV.

I went to bed, but Mom couldn’t stand the thought of Maggie alone like this. She slept on the couch by her. It wasn’t the first time she’d done it,  but it would be the last.

There’s nothing like a dog’s love. We should all be so lucky to experience it, a friend posted on my Facebook the other day. And I can’t stop thinking about the truth of that.

Our love was mutual and not complicated. I never had to earn it.

When I arrived in Ashland Monday afternoon, she didn’t ask me where I’d been.  I went to see her in the hallway where she slept behind a baby gate, separated from my little nieces, who were visiting.

“Hey girl,” I said. She perked up a little at my voice. That stump tail of hers began to wag. So I laid down beside her, ran my fingers through her fur a little. She lifted her leg, an invitation to scratch her belly that I accepted.

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The next morning, Mom and I loaded her into the back of their SUV, picked up my dad from the office on the way into town.

Getting out of the car, I couldn’t bear to put a leash on her — I don’t know how much pain the tumor gave her. Instead I lead her through the parking to the clinic without it.

It felt a little strange, taking her in past the other dogs in the waiting room. One owner made a comment that I can’t quite recall,  something about her own dog looking like Maggie when it gets older. And I wondered if she saw the tears that streamed down our faces — by then we’d stopped trying to disguise them.

The vet tech explained things to us in calm, compassionate tones.

No, she won’t feel anything. Yes, it will be quick, probably even before the injection is done. Yes, you can pet her while it happens. 

They lift her onto the table and before long Maggie has drifted off.

“I don’t know how you all do this everyday,” I say to the vet and vet tech after everything is over. You have to think of it as helping them, she says, and I know she’s right.

Taking her into that vet’s office was the last loving thing we could have done for her.

All you can do with a love like that is return it, and hope you’ve done right by it.

Throwback Thursday: Little Bitt’s Life

My mom was going through old things to take to a consignment sale when she came across one of my earliest-known journalistic works: a biography of my hamster. It’s a pretty short work: four pages of notebook paper stapled together. The first is a title page and the other three have short paragraphs of surprisingly legible handwriting.

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The title page to “Little Bitt’s Life.”

I don’t know exactly how old I was when I wrote it. The story says I got the hamster for Christmas 1992, so I would have been 8, but I don’t know when the hamster died or when I decided to give an account for his time on earth.  I was home schooled at the time and I’m pretty sure it was not a part of my school work.

I write about getting him and naming him, about my brother also getting a hamster, about going to my grandmother’s house to spend the night, and about my sister finding Little Bitt near death in his cage. “We still don’t know how he deid, but he did,” I wrote before summing it up quite succinctly with “the End.”

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Little Bitt the hamster

I do remember the hamster well. I loved that hamster. I used to put him on my shoulder and walk around the house with him. I remember begging my mom and dad for a hamster. I didn’t think they would get me one, but low and behold, on Christmas Day, here was this tiny baby hamster. I called him Little Bitt because of his size but I think it was also a reference to a popular cartoon of the time.

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This is me (with pinkeye maybe?) holding one of my family’s hamsters, but not Little Bitt. I think this one belonged to my brother.

The story has pretty good spelling and grammar, considering a child wrote it. And it’s not much of a story, but it has a beginning, middle and and end. It’s fun to go through old personal artifacts like this and get a glimpse kid Lori. I like it that she was already writing even then.

**UPDATE: as requested, the following is the full text of Little Bitt’s Life.

   

   

You might be a cat lady if

Earlier this year I adopted my second cat. I joke that a cat was the only thing a woman should buy herself when she’s in her late 20s and still single. Actually, I didn’t intend to have two cats. I was happy with Mouse, a small gray thing I’ve had since 2008 when I first moved out on my own.

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But I was browsing through the adoptable pets at Petsmart one day when I saw him — the prettiest long-haired orange cat I’d ever seen. I just had to have Frank.

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“How many cats can I have before I’m a crazy cat woman?” I wondered aloud, and even asked the question on Facebook. But I’m beginning to think maybe “crazy cat lady” isn’t about the number of cats you have. In other words having two cats doesn’t make me a cat lady, but maybe the following does.

You might be a cat lady if:

  1. You decide whether or not to wear a clothing item based not on if there’s cat hair on it, but the amount of said cat hair. I mean, cat hair is a way of life. I gave up trying to be completely hair-free when I adopted a long-haired orange cat. A little hair is OK and a lot of hair can be usually be fixed with a lint roller.
  2. Someone offers you a pillow with cat faces all over it, and you accept it. “This would look great beside my cat figurines and cat-training books,” you say. OK, I don’t really have cat figurines or cat training books. But my aunt gave me this pillow the other day. ImageShe said she thought of me when it came into her possession. Isn’t it fabulously tacky? There was also a cat soap dispenser, Brillo Pad rest and three cat books. “Oh. My. God. Are they grooming you to be a crazy cat lady?” That was the response I got from a friend when I sent him a picture of all my new cat things all laid out in a row. I think I may be well on my way, no grooming needed.
  3. Hearing about a strangers cat dying makes you cry. Again, this happened to me this week. I was curled up in bed under my electric blanket with my cats laying on top of me, reading Slate. In one article, the writer thought her cat told her she was going to die. That story had me choked up twice. And I very rarely cry. Read it for yourself if you need a good cry.
  4. You keep lint rollers in your car, at your front door and at your desk at work. Just in case.
  5. Your Instagram feed is two-thirds cat pictures. (And your friends probably secretly hate you for it).
  6. The Instagram and Twitter accounts you follow are two-thirds cat pictures.
  7. You celebrate National Cat Day by changing your Facebook profile pic to a cat selfie and posting more Instagram pics of your pride.
  8. It’s early November and you’re already thinking of what your cats might want for Christmas.
  9. A typical first date question for you is, “Are you allergic to cats?” Because if it’s him or the cats, it’s the definitely the cats.