My dog is dead.
She was never really my dog, but I always thought of her that way. Her name was Gracie – sometimes just Grace – and she was 9 years old when she died on the operating table this morning in Memphis.
She was a sweet little 45-pound pit bull, a rescue that my wife, H, had in college and who later came to live with her parents for the past five years or so at their idyllic country home outside Memphis. She was covered in scars from being used as bait in dogfights, and she was scared of lightning, guns, and loud noises. But Gracie could play hard, as she did over the last year with our boykin spaniel puppy, Kara, despite her creaky back legs and her natural inclination to take day-long naps. She was injury-prone due to her love of jumping fences to run around in cow pastures, and had the scars (and the name, Grace) to prove it. She also enjoyed burgers, tacos, burritos, and pretty much anything that would fit into her mouth, including student papers. She is in the right of this picture, which was taken last April. Kara is the puppy. She is now Gracie’s size.
Anyone that ever met her knows what a pure and good soul Gracie had. I mean pure as the driven snow, the Platonic form of good. I don’t even believe in souls and I think that. If you think all pit bulls are mean, vicious creatures, then you’re an ignorant idiot, plain and simple; choose what you think is a good dog and I’ll put Gracie up against them any day. That dog was so soft-hearted that she never even barked.
I loved that dog so hard that it is really hard for me to think her not being here anymore, and I am having to stop and think of something else for a few minutes so I can stop crying.
When I went back to Memphis over the holidays, I spent most of my time sitting next to her on the old loveseat that she used as a napping post. I would look down at Gracie peacefully snoring away and think that there ARE really good and true things in the world, that it’s not all crap and artifice and hardship and disappointment.
H once told me that she knew I was ok because Gracie liked me. In a funny way I knew I was ok, too, because Gracie liked me, like I’d gotten the blessing of someone higher up on the ethical chain. If this dog trusts me and likes me, I thought, then I could, indeed, possibly be a good person if I tried hard enough.
I’m an agnostic. I have searched and waited patiently for evidence of a God, or a heaven, or a hell, or an afterlife, or anything like that, to no result. I expect to die one day without ever finding any. The only thing that has ever given me pause and made me think that I have been too stubborn-headed about the nature of existence is that dog. Because if there is a Gracie, then maybe there is a God, and he/she/it is good. I don’t know. There are many horrible, evil things in this world. I do know Gracie was not one of those things, and if there is an afterlife that rewards virtue, then she is lounging on a sunny porch, taking a long nap, with an unlimited supply of Sonic burgers without cheese. I do know that the last thing she saw was my sister-in-law, Jessie, and that she was surrounded last night by people and animals that loved her just as hard or even harder than I do.
She hadn’t eaten for a few days, and my mother-in-law took her to the clinic yesterday, where they suspected cancer. Jessie, who just passed her boards as a vet (go Jessie!), immediately drove up from Mississippi, and she and Dr. Tower operated to save her, but her heart stopped before the operation was over and wouldn’t restart. And so she’s gone. There is nothing to be done about it – I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to try and save her, and I wouldn’t have wanted her to linger in pain.
So in a way this is good. But it doesn’t feel that great, not yet at least. H and I are just reeling – just stunned, almost struck numb – we haven’t figured out how to mourn properly, if there is such a thing as a proper way. It doesn’t feel real, I think, because we weren’t there. To me, in a way, she’s still alive, because the last time I saw her, she was, and she seemed ok, her usual sleepy, gentle self.
If you’ve never had a dog, or think of them as just animals, then all this probably seems pretty silly. It’s not silly to me at all. It’s life and death, and nothing is more important. H and I do not think that dogs are just dogs and pets are just pets. They are more like kindred spirits that accompany us and remind us of who we are, and as a result, I feel like a part of myself is gone.
I will probably dream about her, and I think those dreams will be pleasant echoes. Despite a rough start, she had a pretty good life. I wish it had been a little longer, but we have little control over such things.
I hate death right now.